"Hey, Slick," I said to my associate, Rob Graettinger. "I'm looking in the computer, but I can't find that piece you wrote about all the new technology at Children's Hospital. What did you call it?"
"I called it Star Wars," Rob replied.
"You mean they show movies up there?"
"The thing I love about you, Levey, is that you're so literal-minded. No, they don't show movies. They just have a lot of machines that are so fascinating that, well, here, let me find it."
Rob sat down at the keyboard and pushed a couple of buttons. Suddenly, Star Wars leaped into electronic view. As a bandleader might say, it went something like this:
"Imagine for a moment that you are in a hospital room full of space-age equipment. Amid a maze of lighted dials and complex machinery is a gray-haired man in a lab coat seated in front of a large television screen.
"His hand on his chin, Dr. Massoud Majd, specialist in nuclear medicine, scans a frontal view of the human spinal column, looking for 'hot spots,' or visible areas of exaggerated light on the screen.
"Ten feet to his left, a child squirms impatiently on an examination table while a huge machine six inches above her body moves slowly back and forth, searching for any concentration of the special fluid injected into her half an hour before.
"In the next room, a machine allows you to look through a child's skull as easily as you might look through a K Street store window on a snowy winter morning.
"This is the stuff of science fiction, but at Children's Hospital, it is with us today.
"Last week, I spent an afternoon discussing advances in diagnostic medical technology with Dr. Bill McSweeney, chairman of the radiology department at Children's, and several of the specialists on his staff.
"This is a fancy way of saying that Levey let me loose one afternoon to go indulge my fascination with colored lights, luminous dials and large machines that emit strange noises on command.
"McSweeney is a heavy-set, Trapper John, M.D., look-alike. Sitting in an office littered with nautical paraphernalia, he conjures up images of the mad professor. His thoughts on radiology, however, as well as those on past, present and future developments in diagnostic technology, are anything but ivory tower gibberish.
"McSweeney said the role of the radiologist has expanded immeasurably in the last 10 years with the advent of more advanced technology. He is a firm believer in larger roles for radiologists because 'in many cases, with a pre-operative diagnosis, we can avoid surgery.'
"Dr. David Brallier, the member of the group who specializes in the treatment of neurological disorders, used the clinical example of an enlarged skull to explain how the new technology can help avoid surgery.
"With a C.A.T. (computerized axial tomography) scanner, doctors no longer have to perform a very painful operation just to arrive at a diagnosis. 'The sophistication of care given is much higher than it was 10 years ago,' Brallier said. 'In 99 percent of the cases with a large head, we find that patients are normal.'
"Next stop on the tour was an X-ray viewing room, where Dr. Bruce Markle, an ultrasound specialist, was studying an X-ray display board.
"A major benefit of the new technology, Markle said, is 'alleviation of anxiety . . . The machine lets us ask the important first question: is it normal?'
" 'Ten years ago,' Markle said, 'you had X-rays or you could inject an agent and follow its path with the conventional X-ray. Having multiple ways to look at things can simplify a problem.'
"But according to Markle, the greatest benefit from Star Wars hardware is the boost it gives to the confidence of doctors and their diagnoses.
" 'Diagnosis is a series of confidence-building tests,' Markle said, as a new set of films rolled into view. 'The technology allows us to decrease the discomfort of the patient while increasing the confidence of the doctor in his diagnosis.
" 'Especially,' Markle said, 'when you can look a mother in the eye and say there is no abnormality.'