Friday, June 22, 2007

Adventures in Radiology

Radiology is boring.

The waiting room is friendly, almost inviting. A look behind the swinging doors reveals just a handful of offices and mostly empty patient rooms. No one is being cut open on operating tables, no one is scrambling frantically in response to nervous sounding pages, no one is making a sound much higher than muted conversation. The pace is leisurely. The mood is sedate. And I haven't once heard anyone request cc's of anything, stat.

Then again, this is what makes radiology so intriguing. The ability to look inside of a human body with mind-boggling precision is granted by techniques so low in risk and so minimally invasive that, from a quick look, it all seems so, well, mundane.

Mundane, until you see the processed pictures...

I am currently splitting my time between Dr. Martin Prince and Dr. Matthew Cham, both of the Radiology Department at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and Dr. Jonathan Weinsaft of the Cardiology and Nuclear Medicine Departments.

In my first week of the Summer Immersion program, I have observed all three as they made diagnoses, ranging from the typical to the bizarre. Tucked away in an unassuming room, half-seriously dubbed “The Cave,” my advisors analyze series of images and movies streamed from various imaging sites housed throughout a three-block section of uptown Manhattan. Computerized Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance (MR), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT), it’s all here. The images, splashed across an array of five of the largest LCD screens I have ever seen, offer probing insight into the condition of their subjects. That is to say, in the eyes of a seasoned observer.

“So what do you think is happening here?” they cheerfully ask, as a cine MR sequence is looped across The Wall.

I see a heart beating. It looks fine. I venture a guess.

“It looks like a heart."

I sense they want more.

"...I think it's beating?"

It turns out I was right. Well, somewhat. The patient is suffering from infracted myocardium and irregularly functioning valves, resulting in both mitral valve and tricuspid valve regurgitation. A simple case. A consensus is reached among those present, myself excluded. The final diagnosis is quickly developed and it’s onto the next case. All without ever coming within two blocks of the patient.

“Don’t worry, you’ll pick up on it.”

I hope they’re right.

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