Take Your Daughter to Work Day
Center for Diagnostic Imaging
My father's office was hushed, enclosed like a bunker in concrete and lead. Studies arrived all morning, in batches requested by the ordering physicians. They were printed on films: oversize, translucent plastic pages, which quivered audibly as he clipped them into the lightbox above his desk.
His job was to look for signs of disorder—fractures, impingements, excrescences—and to describe what he found, a procedure called reading. He spoke his findings into a Dictaphone; what he said would be played back and typed up by a medical transcriptionist. Through a window in the recorder, I watched the microcassette tape unspooling and respooling:
triple-phase scan... venous phase... hepatic parenchyma unremarkable...
numerous small round calcifications in the right lobe...
typical granulomata or atypical metastatic carcinoma....
There was no feeling in his voice, which sounded strange to me—monotone, automatic, impersonal. It was as if he wished to absent himself, to channel pure language, pure text. He used specialized words that were faithful to the facts, the more faithful in their terseness.
I took home an unlikely souvenir: an MRI of my own brain. The study showed an axial slice of my head, visualized from above. The cerebral sulci glowed, as if you could see the neural charges passing through them. The ventricles, too, were bright, as if what they held in reserve was not fluid, but energy. There were textures and asymmetries, fissures and networks of branching shadows. And the structure was surrounded by a soft-edged halo, a representation of my skull.
As far as I can remember, there was no medical reason to scan me. The exam was performed just for fun, during an interval when no patients happened to be scheduled. I suppose my father was showing off; he wanted me to know what powerful technologies he had at his disposal. Or maybe he hoped to convey that, because we were so alike, he would always have an inside view of my psyche. Or maybe his unconscious wish was to see me emerge head-first from the cylindrical machine; then to issue me a second birth certificate and affirm, there's nothing wrong with you. Whatever his motives, I came away with an image of my thinking organ in its fullness—young and undamaged, in radiant greyscale, a universe encompassed and in bloom.
Melissa Tuckman teaches in the English Department at Rowan University. Her writing has appeared in Rust & Moth, Tiny Molecules, and Feed. Her Twitter handle is @MelissaTuckman.
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