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My New Telerad Copilots


Lessons in radiology from furry friends.

Longer-term readers of this column may remember that I began my telerad career with an assistant. A right-hand man, if you will…the individual in question did indeed habitually sit on my right, but was neither a “he” nor a human. Fraidycat provided countless nocturnal hours of moral support and excuses to take breaks.

Fraidy attained a ripe old feline age, and (alas) is no longer with me. Other changes have also occurred: The couch upon which she would perch so as to be at eye-level with me at my workstation no longer graces my home office, and indeed the entire home has been replaced with a domicile more to my liking.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the expression goes, and there is now a trio of furry quadrupeds who have decided they prefer my home-office to other areas of the house. Prior to their entering my life, I’d had next to no experience with ferrets, but they’ve done their best to make my learning curve nice and steep.

Unlike Fraidy, who would lounge nearby and intermittently regard my work, the ferrets couldn’t care less what’s doing with my screens, mouse, or keyboard. They nevertheless regularly try to keep me mindful of some things I might otherwise forget in my endless pursuit of productivity and strong QA stats.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"24806","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_3963775191562","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"2194","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 180px; width: 200px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©CoraMax/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Gambit, the alpha of the three, looks to be anything but. He’s physically the smallest, generally the most laid back, and would seem to be ready to let anybody else ahead of him in the pecking order, but he keeps his adoptive brothers in line. When it comes to humans, however, he comes across as the sweetest and most docile, in large part because, unlike lots of ferrets, Gambit does not bite. Ever.

Thus, the first ferrety lesson: It doesn’t take much to stand out as the nice guy. Being the radiologist who’s accessible, even pleasant when approached, might similarly get people speaking positively of you: “He doesn’t bite.” When the best that can be said of your colleagues (or competitors) is that their bark is worse than their bite, you’re well on your way to being sought after.

Humphrey, the youngest and most recently adopted, was a rescue: As unfortunately is the case with more than a few ferrets, he was likely the result of someone taking him as a pet, but then having a change of mind and putting him outside to go live in the wild…which, for domesticated ferrets, is sooner or later a death sentence. Happily, he was caught trying to break into someone’s chicken coop (whether for warmth or food), and wound up in a more tenable home.

Perhaps as a result of having to forage and generally figure out ways to survive for a time, Humphrey goes after what he wants, and if he doesn’t get it, he keeps on trying. Which means that, sooner or later, he finds a way by trial and error, his efforts wear down physical barriers which stood between him and his goals (such as ferret-gates intended to keep him from getting to parts of the house that are supposed to be off limits), or he wears down emotional barriers on the part of humans whose hearts melt at watching him try so hard. Ferrety lesson two: If you really want something, persistence and/or new approaches are the ways you’ll get it.

Vlad is probably the oldest of the three (not always an easy thing to guesstimate with adopted/rescued animals). It seems his original home was abusive or at least less than ferret-optimized, whether or not this led to his being deaf. Happy endings do occur in this world, however, and he seems over whatever PTSD ferrets experience, or at least he’s found ways to cope with it.

High on his list is eating; Vlad can often be found at his food dish, and as a result is a big boy. Ferrets like to steal things and take them to their lairs, and Vlad especially so; his extra bulk helps him to carry off things (like my size-13 running shoes) that his brothers cannot. Quite a repository of his loot has accumulated around my desk. He’ll bring a new acquisition in, settle it down wherever he thinks it belongs, and practically nod to himself with satisfaction at what he’s accomplished.

Would anybody but him find this worthwhile and/or pleasurable? He couldn’t care less. Lesson three: Live by your own motivations, not someone else’s. Conventional wisdom might be a physician should join a solid group, prove himself, and become a partner. Or work his way up the chain of command in a hospital department. Maybe being tied down with responsibilities other than actual radiology is the last thing he wants, however, and he’s happier reading cases, clocking out at the end of the day, and not having another thought about the job till the next time he comes in. Maybe he doesn’t even like the thought of a steady job, and prefers to go traveling from one locums gig to another.

Vlad’s a large enough fellow that it seems fitting for him to provide an extra lesson. He likes to gnaw on things, especially rubbery stuff with resistance to it. Why? I’ve heard that deaf ferrets might get some conductive hearing sensation from their teeth against whatever they’re chewing. Whatever his motivation, one thing he particularly likes is a good cord. Electric, USB, iPhone charger, you name it.

I’ve never known him to do any actual damage to something more substantial than the sort of threadlike things people have for earbuds, but that doesn’t stop me from keeping an eye on him in this regard…especially when he wanders behind my computers and starts fiddling with their wires. Last thing I need is to find myself disconnected when I really needed to be able to use my mouse, get online, etc., so that’s usually my cue to physically extract him from my office. This includes removing myself from the room, too, for however long it takes to put him back in his gated-off living area (and maybe play with him for a minute or two to cushion the blow). Not a bad thing for me, too, to get away from the electronics and live in the real world for a smidge, so lesson four: Unplug yourself once in awhile.

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