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It took nearly 13 years of living together, but last weekend I finally asked my husband what he does for a living.

We were in Louisville for the evening and eating some pretty exquisite black bean cakes at The Mayan Café. We’d had a lovely afternoon, which had consisted of a nice lunch, a haircut for William and him indulging me by watching hours of HGTV in the hotel room. And then, all of a sudden, we were talking about ultrasounds. And how they are produced by using high-frequency sound waves to visualize soft tissue structures in the body in real time.

(By the way, the bulk of that last sentence? Yep, just stole it from Wikipedia. Sorry, not sorry.)

“Wait, what?” I said.

“Sound waves.”

“You use sound to see something?”

“Umm, why do you think it’s called an ultrasound?”

I sat back in my chair.

“I’ve never thought of it that way before.”

William went on to explain all about how ultrasound works. Then we got onto the topic of X-rays and gamma rays and radioactive decay and this stuff called technetium 99, which is a medical radioisotope. Radioisotopes, in combination with imaging devices that register the gamma rays emitted from within, can study the dynamic processes taking place in various parts of the body.

(Guess what? Didn’t write that either. Thank you, World Nuclear Association.)

Anyways, this magic stuff, technetium 99, gets driven down from Lexington every day in these canisters and is brought to the hospital. It doesn’t last (live?) that long so that’s why it needs to come down every day. And it doesn’t come down in a special truck or something, it can be a car, even a Prius if necessary, but that car does need a special sign on it saying there is radioactive material inside. William wasn’t sure if it’s the same driver every day, but I bet it is, and I bet he’s one of those people who looks completely normal but then, if you find out later that he’s a serial killer, you think to yourself, “Yeah, I can see that.”

As William put up with my inane questions, I pictured him piecing off a little bit of that technetium, which I imagined looks like modeling clay, and then dabbing it onto another piece of clay-like stuff to make a little recipe. Then he would make the patient eat it like that little cake in “Alice in Wonderland” and magic would, poof, occur.

That’s not at all what happens, but that’s what I was thinking when we were sitting at The Mayan Café.

As William, who is a radiologist, explained this stuff, nearly every second word a term I had never heard before, I once again marveled over just how damn smart my husband is. I mean, I know I’ve said it before and, yes, there are a lot of smart people out there, but, to me, understanding subjects like anti-matter and electromagnetic spectrum, well, you’re talking a different ballgame of smart. Like, if his kind of smart were a sport, he’d be cricket or that one where they cross-country ski and then, every once in a while, shoot a rifle. Meanwhile, the rest of us would just be out there ripping each other’s eyes out playing football or hockey.

And the thing about William is, he did all of this himself. I’ve never even talked about it in this column and, before this weekend, I never even thought to ask him what, in the heck anyway, is radiology. But the question was worth asking and getting to know about William is worth knowing.

Because William is, above all, a lesson to any kid who wants to make it. He didn’t grow up with money and he didn’t have parents who threatened him to go to college or else. Instead, he had three t-shirts and two pair of pants for a wardrobe. He broke his back (literally) lifting flour sacks at his high school job at Hardee’s. He went to SCC for two years to save money. He ate macaroni and cheese with tuna nearly every day of his life to save more money. But, once he moved on to UK, he graduated near the top of his class, which got him into medical school, where he worked every harder and longer and better until he graduated from nearly the top of that class too. Then he got into one of the most prestigious residencies in the country to do what? Come back to the town he grew up in so he could make it a better place.

And now here I was getting to hear him patiently explain radioisotopes to me while I polished off my bean cakes. How in the heck had I gotten so lucky? And how remiss I had been for so many, many years in not asking sooner.

So here is to William Baker, the love of my life and the smartest person I know in the world. What a gift he is to me — and, as a local radiologist, to many, many people in this little, ole part of Kentucky.

 

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