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Head in the Clouds


Applying radiology peer review to child’s play.

It was a nice day. More sun than clouds, and a warm breeze to move those clouds along, morphing them into different shapes as they went.

A radiologist’s son and his playmate, having momentarily expended their energy playing in the rad’s backyard, had taken to sitting idle and watching the skies, and eventually sharing what their eyes and imaginations told them various passing clouds resembled.

The radiologist himself materialized at some point, and settled into a nearby lawn chair, silently regarding the kids. Silently, that is…until he wasn’t.

The playmate’s friend had just opined that a particular cloud looked like an elephant. “No, that’s not an elephant,” the rad proclaimed, startling the lad who had until then not noticed his presence. “It’s a rabbit.”

Neither of them noticed the rad’s son looking first dismayed and then disappointed, as he had a pretty good idea of what was about to happen.

The playmate, peering again at the cloud, expressed his belief that, to him, it looked like an elephant. He was old enough to be annoyed at somebody correcting him, over something so-he didn’t know the word ‘subjective,’ but in a few years that’s a word he would have thought. Also, ‘trivial.’ Had he been a couple of years older he might also have included an expletive or two to emphasize his unshaken perception of an elephant.

“No, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. A rabbit.” The rad produced a pocket-sized notebook, and regarded the playmate. “Timmy, isn’t it?” The boy nodded, and the rad proceeded to scribble something down in its pages.

Timmy frowned. “What are you doing?”

The radiologist gestured vaguely with the notebook. “This? Oh, I’m just keeping track of your stats. Don’t worry, that was only a minor miss for you. Don’t mind me, keep at it.”

Timmy looked at the rad a moment longer, said nothing, and turned back to his friend and the clouds. As they continued, he occasionally heard more scribbling going on in the notebook, and sometimes even unintelligible mutterings from the radiologist. He tried to ignore them.

However, when he’d identified an ice-cream sundae amongst the clouds and distinctly heard a derisive snort from behind them, he practically whirled around. “What,” he demanded.

“Sorry! Sorry, that just slipped out. I couldn’t help it…that was a major miss. No way was that a sundae. It’s clearly a whale.”

Timmy didn’t get how a person, looking at something and offering his honest opinion as to what he saw, could be so conclusively proclaimed wrong by someone else doing exactly the same thing. Had the word ”obnoxious” been in his readily-accessed vocabulary, that’s what he would have called it. Instead, he said, “What makes you right and me wrong?”

The radiologist condescendingly gave a little spiel about how he had many years more experience than Timmy did, and besides, this was nothing to get defensive about. He summed up with some quip about nobody being perfect, and everybody having room to learn and improve.

“So how come we’re the only ones saying what we think about the clouds? When do you take a turn so we can tell you how wrong you are? …and if it’s just about learning and getting better at stuff, why are you keeping track of how many times you call us wrong?”

The rad stood up, offered some patronizing remark that did more harm than good, and headed back inside. The rad’s son looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“What the heck was that about?” Timmy asked him. The rad’s son said, “I’m not sure…something called Peer Review. They do that at his job.”

“Sounds like a lousy job. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think that job could make you a real...” Timmy’s developing vocabulary finally came through for him: “…a**hole.”

He didn’t come over to play much after that. Which wasn’t much of a surprise to the radiologist’s son, who had lost more than a couple of playmates this way.

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