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14 July 2009 @ 08:08 pm
Red Wine Thoughts  

Tuesday evening, on the balcony floor among the potted tomato plants. The sun has sunk behind the tall building at the end of the street, but the bricks and concrete hold the warmth. mr conclusion went on holiday today, to London and Barcelona with a friend, and I’m enjoying some time on my own. On Sunday, I’ll be leaving, too, for a three-day radiation shielding course in Portugal. That’s further away from home than I’ve ever been before, I checked on the map. Right now, however, I’m going to take another sip of leftover wine and tell you three things about work.




Maybe it’s only known to people in the healthcare business and fans of hospital soaps, but there’s a fabulous technology for looking inside the human body called PET scanning. I first heard of it in my third year of engineering studies, and the way I remember it, that was when I first realised the appeal of medical technology as a field of studies and future work.

Simply put, a PET scan is done by injecting the patient with a short-lived radioactive substance, most often an isotope of fluorine disguised as a sugar molecule, that decays by sending out positrons. The positron is an anti-particle and as soon as it encounters an electron – its exact opposite – they both annihilate, leaving two photons that shoot off in precisely opposite directions. If you put the patient inside a ring of gamma-ray detectors, you can trace those photons and use that information to construct a functional image of the body. Areas where the uptake of sugar is high will blacken, and tumours will stand out like droplets of ink in the image.

I could hardly believe it when, after a couple of weeks at my job, they told me that they wanted me to specialize in shielding arrangements for PET facilities. Thanks to this, one of my lesser dreams came true today: I got to spend the whole morning in the control room of the PET bay at the nearest hospital, watching the technicians scan people and the images develop on their computer screens. It was absolutely beautiful. (The patients whose insides I got to peek at were seemingly cancer-free.) Then one of the computers crashed and had to be restarted, while the patient – who really deserved that epithet – waited inside the scanner, coughing timidly now and then. It sometimes comes close, but real life still isn’t like the sci-fi shows.



I’ve taken a mild interest in Buffy the Vampire Slayer for several years, and mr conclusion has at last agreed to watch it. There’s something about it that apparently doesn’t mix well with my job, though (or maybe that’s just what it does): I often wake up with a feeling that I’ve dreamt some kind of crossover between work and Buffy. It’s remarkable, beacuse we also watch a sci-fi series called Farscape, and that one leaves my subconscious alone.

Sadly, I can never remember exactly in what way the two mix in the dreams – if Giles is my boss and tells me which veterinarians to visit to check their x-ray machines, if the staff at a dentist’s practice suddenly turn out to be vampires and I have to fight them, if I’m going through a database looking just like the one I use at work in order to decrypt some prophecy, or if I’m joined by Buffy, Willow and Xander in my quest to seek out undocumented x-ray equipment in all the land and document it. Most probably my dreams are much weirder than any ideas I can come up with when awake, anyway.



Happiness and success have had different meanings for me at different periods of life, of course. Still, there have been recurring themes: stage, audience, adulation of the masses, interviews, talent. My envy of child actors knew no bounds when I was little, and far into my twenties I still entertained a secret but serious hope that one day, I’d be famous. Famous for what has changed depending on my various obsessions, but I think I’ve spent the most time wanting to be a musician. At fourteen, I wanted to be like Chopin, at nineteen, like Neil Tennant in Pet Shop Boys, at twenty-four like Ritchie Blackmore or Ian Gillan in Deep Purple. I used to do things like scrutinize my horoscope in the hopes of finding signs of musical talent there (I probably wouldn’t have bothered if such a talent had been obvious elsewhere). I wanted so much to be an artist, to be creative, that it never occurred to me that there might be other ways to happiness. Most of the time, I was actually convinced that it would happen, I’d just have to wait and make the best of my waiting. I assumed that I had, somewhere, a latent genius that would pop up when the time was right, and happily spent three years on half-hearted humanities studies at university before I made the first really adult decision of my life and started studying high-school level maths and science.

It’s silly, but it’s true: my current job has been a revelation. I really enjoy it, I really fit in, and I get to do the things I’m good at. I’m supposed to read, learn, and structure, not struggle with the romantic-sounding obstacles of an artistic life. I like making lists and going through them, organising things in alphabetic order, and putting things right if they’ve slipped askew. Those aren’t artistic talents, and however hard I tried to convince both myself and others, I was never an artist, not even a budding one. Life is good.

Kelpie: green and pleasant hillskelpie667 on July 14th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
That's wonderful, that you are so happy with your job and everything! I wish I'd achieve that kind of state (just being content with your life and with what you are doing) some day.
But to be serious, I still seem to be stuck in the "one day I'll be famous" stage (which is rather embarrassing to admit...).

And I hope you'll enjoy your trip to Portugal! Will you have time to do a bit of sightseeing/touristy stuff while you're there?
mrs_conclusionmrs_conclusion on July 15th, 2009 07:59 am (UTC)
Hmm, but you might still write a massive standard work of art history that will be used in teaching the subject for 300 years! There is some glory to be found in the academic world.

The schedule for Portugal is quite dense, I'm afraid, so I'll hardly see anything except the inside of the seaside hotel where the course is, and where everybody is going to stay. There are lectures until 6 p.m. every day!
I'm the only one who's going from the office, but I hope I'll meet other Scandinavians there.

Frescafrescadp on July 15th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)

What a great post about an important revelation.
There really is an art in learning and accepting that we are who we are. I have sometimes mourned that I cannot be a physicist, but math slips off my brain like a fried egg off Teflon. (I wonder what that would look like on a PETscan...)

I laughed to think what Star Trek, say, would look like if they showed you how things really work, ... or don't work, rather. We'd get an hour of people waiting around while some low-rank engineer (not Scotty) reset some doohickey!

" I like making lists and going through them, organising things in alphabetic order, and putting things right if they’ve slipped askew"

Oh, Mrs C., how I wish you lived here!
I need someone like you to aid in my muddle-headed ""artistic" filmmaking attempts, which don't feel romantic at all when one is in the midst of them, of course, they just feel...muddled. : ) You know, there are people in film whose sole job is JUST to track continuity... Not really in my skill set.

But I agree, life IS good!
Have fun at your conference. Good red wine in Portugal I hear.

mrs_conclusion: catmrs_conclusion on July 15th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
Yep, the engine room minions in baggy coveralls would get a lot more screen time if ST had been more technologically accurate!

After meeting a number of people who have worked as hospital engineers, I'm convinced that that's the most Trek-like job there is. The people at NASA may be working on actual spacecraft, but as a job, it doesn't seem fundamentally different from designing a new car, and it's all far too primitive to give me any true sci-fi vibes. In a hospital, things break down at crucial moments, Kirks frantically call Engineering, and Scotties rush in with screwdrivers and start checking for blown fuses. I used to aim for a job in a hospital, but again, that's a position that calls for strengths I don't have. You need to be more practical and more handy with a screwdriver, and when it really comes down to it, I'm not so sure about having a job where lives are sometimes at stake and your mistakes might actually harm or even kill somebody.

You're right, tracking continuity is probably what I'd do best in the movie industry! I'd love to come and help you with your project. That's the downside of the Internet: you realise what wonderful people you can't simply go and hang out with.

Aside from a phycisist, what else have you wanted to be?