A fleeting moment too long

September 12, 2006

As we rush toward the RSNA meeting, months away yet so close that preparation for it is upon us, time seems to have accelerated. We are asked to do more than get ready, we must be ready. Doing more with less time places a premium on getting to the point. Ironically, this happens just when doing so is hardest.

As we rush toward the RSNA meeting, months away yet so close that preparation for it is upon us, time seems to have accelerated. We are asked to do more than get ready, we must be ready. Doing more with less time places a premium on getting to the point. Ironically, this happens just when doing so is hardest.

It's easier to meander from one idea or task to the next than to wrap all one's bothers into a cohesive package and address them efficiently. Pascal said it best (or was it Mark Twain?), "Please excuse the length of this letter; I do not have time to be brief." Uncomplicating things takes time. My friend Dimitri knows this well.

One of the most accomplished, yet least recognized, engineers ever to grace medical imaging, Dimitri recently began dabbling in the nexus of metaphysics and psychobiology. He has long theorized that the crush of work that descends on those who attend conferences such as the RSNA dulls the senses. The result is an inability to take advantage of what could otherwise be learned. Worse, such dullness could render attendees unable to draw conclusions about the value of what is being seen and heard. After returning from northern Wisconsin this summer, Dimitri focused his efforts on overcoming the barriers to efficiency that plague medical conferences.

"My friend," he boomed as I walked into his laboratory. "You've come at last. I've been waiting."

Dimitri stepped to his workbench, strewn with an odd array of items, and swept his hand from one side to the other. One invention, a plastic bag with a tube and needle, fashioned into a shoulder holster, could make the difference between success and failure at the RSNA meeting, he said. In gold lettering across the bag, Dimitri had written, Inocu-latte.

"Intravenous coffee," he said. "Use it when you're running from room to room."

Another prototype, a kind of LED-based strobe light affixed to a head mount, flashed sometimes quickly, other times slowly. Rather than pointing outward, as might be expected, the light flashed inward at the eyes of the device wearer.

Dimitri seemed especially pleased with himself to have come up with this device. His trademark smirk stretched across his grizzled face as he explained, "It is an anti-dopeler device."

"Doppler?" I asked.

"No, no!" he replied angrily, as Dimitri is prone to do. "It counters the dopeler effect, the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they are coming at you rapidly."

By jiminy, I thought, Dimitri's got something there. His ideas had always run to the fringes of science and this was certainly one of those occasions. But attacking the problems that accompanied medical conferences at their roots was eminently reasonable.

It was then that I spied a flask in the center of the workbench. A blue mist was swirling within it even though there was no apparent energy source that might cause such agitation. Intrigued, I stepped toward the flask and, reaching out, raised it to the light to better see its contents.

The flask was bitterly cold and getting colder by the millisecond. A moment after picking it up, it was impossible to hold, and I released it. Everything that happened afterward seemed to occur in slow motion.

Dimitri, realizing what I had done, tried to catch the flask before it hit the workbench, but to no avail. It shattered, sending shards of glass tumbling in all directions. One struck an inch below my eye, another simultaneously hit my arm. But it was Dimitri's bear-like hand, sprawling across my nose and mouth, dragging me to the floor, that got my attention most.

The room filled with a bluish haze and the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees. A roar surrounded us. I could see the gas being drawn into ventilator ducts on the walls and ceiling. A hazard light atop the desk flashed from red to green and Dimitri removed his hand as I gasped for breath.

"What...what was that?" I stammered.

"Bozone," he said. "It's a gas that surrounds stupid people. It keeps bright ideas from getting through and makes them use big words. Often those affected by the gas are very angry and intolerant of others."

Precisely at that instant - as if someone had flipped a switch - I lost interest in everything Dimitri had shown me. I had come to realize that each and every one of the things he had come up with was just plain dumb.

I couldn't help but think how much time I'd wasted in coming here, time I could have spent doing something, anything, else. I would continue my preparations for the RSNA meeting. I would review and analyze companies' new offerings. And I would decide for myself what had value and what did not.

"Inocu-latte. Dopeler effect. Bozone!" I shook my head. "What drivel," I muttered, breaking into a disgusted stride for the exit. Then I stopped, thunderstruck. I whirled to see Dimitri, who had begun to sob quietly. I could not know, nor could he, if my conclusions were based on logic or contamination.

Dimitri understood instantly the question I wanted to ask.

"We'll know in a few months when I read your RSNA coverage," he said.

A few months indeed, I thought. I have deadlines every day!

Editor's note: Inocu-latte, Dopeler effect, bozone and their definitions are jocular contrivances of unknown contribution, harvested from the Internet and shamelessly presented as Dimitri's own discoveries. It's clear to anyone with half a brain that true creativity comes not through iterative developments, but out of the blue, unlike the ideas that have come to characterize Dimitri's work in and outside of the physical sciences.