Morning sunlight streamed through the window, painting the tiny room in a golden hue. The soft amber color of the sun struck harshly against the bright white of the computer monitors, and I struggled to find the mouse cursor. As a scribe, I was tasked with calibrating the CT scanner first thing each morning. Having performed this monotonous task hundreds of times, I didn’t really need to rely on my sight. My muscle memory carried me through the motions to awaken the machine. With a few clicks and keystrokes, the CT scanner came to life. It whirred and clicked in protest, as if upset to be awoken from its slumber. 

A cream-colored box filled the room and in front of it lay a small green chair. Two large columns stood beside the chair, supporting the rotating x-ray component above. As the x-ray part spun around, the large box behind the chair let out an awful alarm, reminding all that dangerous radiation was spewing from the device. I, however, sat safe and sound behind a protective lead barrier on a little stool. 

As I performed the final steps for the calibration, I wondered how active the machine would be today. Sometimes the scanner was turned on and that was that—it spent the entire day humming in stand-by. Other days the room was filled with many people strapped into that little green chair as beams of radiation coursed through their sinuses. 

I think back to a few days ago, when a quiet older lady came to visit the clinic. She had been referred by her family doctor who had suspicions about her disease. During the consultation, the ENT surgeon was not convinced about the sinus infection diagnosis—her symptoms just didn’t add up. He decided it would be best to get a scan, and so we all crowded into the tiny CT room. As scribe, my role was to sit quietly on my little stool and translate the x-ray picture into text. The physician called out what he saw, and I organized it into a nice, easy-to-read paragraph. 

The physician listed out the normal findings but then suddenly, he paused. I looked up to see him repeatedly scrolling through an area of the scan outside of the typical sinus routine. He eventually spoke up and declared, 

“There’s an enlargement of the sella turcica.” 

I had no idea what that was, or even how to spell it. I later learned that is it an enlargement of the bony space that surrounds the pituitary gland in the brain. 

My thoughts flooded back to the present and I realized how lucky I was to be in this hot and tiny room, listening to new chapters in people’s lives unfold before me. At first, I felt a warmth about me. I was granted a behind-the-scenes look into someone’s life. 

But this feeling quickly turned to dread. My mind started racing through all the “what-ifs” in my life. What if I miss a diagnosis? What if I am a doctor who scrolls through the scan and has no idea what to look for? What if I never saw that sella turcica? What if I don’t even get into medical school? 

The CT scanner interrupted my frenzied train of thought as it let out a proud beep, notifying me that it was done calibrating. I took a breath, tucked in my little stool, and said to myself:

One calibration at a time.