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The Case of the Mystery MRI


What do you do with a CD of imaging that has no information on the doc requesting the radiologist read?

I recently received a CD at my home address. It was a c-spine MRI from somewhere in Virginia.

I wasn’t expecting it. I have no affiliations in that state, and off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of anybody I knew there.

I examined the mini folder that contained the CD. It proudly displayed the info for the medical center that had performed the scan, as well as my name, address, and phone number. Inside, the disk offered the date of study and patient’s name, date of birth, etc. I had no idea who she was.

There was no note enclosed to tell me who had sent the thing or what he or she wanted me to do with it, nor was there a locally furnished report of the study to give me other clues.

I am no stranger to receiving such CDs. Friends and family know they are always welcome to send me whatever imaging they have had, and I will happily review the stuff to explain what their docs might be telling them. Once in a while, I may make a subtle additional finding or reassure them about something that turned up in the official report. If I ever significantly altered the trajectory of someone’s care like this, I don’t remember the occasion.

Folks are almost always grateful for and respectful of my time. That includes advising me in advance of sending me a study. I have almost never gotten an unexpected disk like this.

That “almost” isn’t because I was taken for granted or it slipped someone’s mind. One or two people, after requesting copies of their stuff to be sent my way, evidently got a note in their medical records to just send me everything. Henceforth, it happens automatically without their even knowing until I inform them that their latest X-ray or ultrasound is fine. Not uncommonly, they reply with a perplexed “They sent you that? What a waste of your time. Sorry!”

A teeny-tiny bit of curiosity told me I should just pop in the disk with the mystery MRI and see what was on it. Maybe it would jar my memory. One or two folks I talked to about it were of the same mind.

That curiosity lost to a voting bloc of my laziness and ethics. I read cases all day long when I am working. Why would I want to do any extra for funsies? Plus, if this thing was sent to me in error, it seemed to me that looking at it would be a breach of the patient’s privacy.

I put it on my desk and figured it could sit there until/unless someone came forward to explain it. In the meantime, I remembered one distant relative who had the same first name as the patient, but I couldn’t recall her last name. Could it be her? I shook the branches of my family tree to see if anybody knew and eventually someone confirmed that the last name was wrong.

I thought about calling the medical center where the scan was done. After all, the mailer was essentially one big advertisement for the center. Then I remembered the godawful waste of time it always is when trying to phone any organization of that size. You’re lucky if you get to talk to a human, very lucky if it is someone relevant to your situation, and pretty much a lottery winner if you get the information or results you sought.

Accordingly, the CD has sat in its mailer on my desk. A week has gone by and there haven’t been any developments yet. Initially, I decided it could stay there “a couple of weeks” while the authors of this mystery take their time coming forward.

Now that half of that interval has elapsed, I am already second-guessing whether a fortnight is long enough. What if I shred it and someone calls me a week afterward? Pack rat that I am, I just know it will wind up on a shelf with all of the other CDs I have been sent over the years (just in case anybody ever sends me something I can compare with their older studies). The mystery MRI CD can have the honor of being the only one I have never opened.

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