Originally Published February 14, 2007
So why did you become a radiologist, Ray?
“Well, my name?,” he said, grinning.
Raymond Solis, the radiology technologist at the Klotz Student Health Center, known by the staff as Ray, is in a league of his own. So is his X-Ray room.
An average radiology lab has bulks of equipment and a bed. Ray’s room is a kaleidoscope of serene imagery.
Aching patients await a peek of their insides while lying on the bed and looking up to see posters of exotic beaches, snow capped mountains, and wild, tropical rain forests, all complete with an occasional bear or lion.
Whether with posters, live wall art painted mirrors, or sounds of birds chirping, and running water, Solis has created an escape that could distract anyone from a routine.
“When they do the high school tours of the health center, they make sure to come into the X-Ray room,” he said.
The top hat on the shelf is not for show. Solis admits he might be inspired to entertain an injured patient or an occasional high school student.
Solis is considering installing a buzzer of a lion’s roar in the X-Ray room. “I’m cool, calm and collected, but everyone needs a good roar now and then,” he said.
This is one of the few glimpses into Solis’ psyche, which reminds an observer that despite the transcendent exterior, he can also be frustrated at times.
But Solis is not easily bothered.
“The best part of the day is coming to work and going home,” said the 50-year-old former marine.
His days in the military are a faint memory. “The older I get, the more I’m about love and peace,” he said.
Ray has an unusual work or, rather life schedule. He sleeps from 8 p.m. to about 2 a.m.
“If I wake up at three or four, I’ve slept in,” he said.
“There are all kinds of things to do. Like this morning, I washed my car because it rained yesterday. Then I go to the gym around five and come here for a cowboy bath,” he said.
Yes. The dark room houses an unusually shaped deep sink that is a cross between a large bucket and a small tub. Draped from the ceiling above the “cowboy bath,” are towels and shirts hung neatly. Also in the dark room is a crock-pot Solis uses to warm up lunch.
Ray refers to the staff, some of when he has worked with for more than a decade, as his “second family.”
For 10 years, he worked at several hospitals before coming across a newspaper ad CSUN placed for a radiologist.
“Before CSUN, I worked for long hours and was on call two to three days in a row,” he said.
“I thought, what can CSUN do to me in eight hours?”
A 40-hour workweek allows Ray time for other things in life.
He has three sons, a daughter, and four grandchildren. He and the mother of his kids have been together for about three decades, although they never married.
“If it ain’t broken why fix it?” he asked, explaining that they are happy and don’t feel the need to marry.
Back at work, three years ago his “second family” was there to help when a traffic accident kept him out of work five months.
“That’s when I found out I had all kinds of friends at work. People were donating their vacation time when I ran out of mine,” he said.
After five years of riding his bicycle to CSUN in a 12- mile one-way commute, Solis had an accident with a vehicle that broke his neck, back, and thigh and required a prescription for a Halo, a metal ring secured to the skull with pins to two metal rods, for three weeks.
The helmet he wore on the day of the accident is missing a chunk in its frontal portion. A yellow Post-It with the words “this helmet saved your life!” is on its side. The paramedic who found him at the scene left it there.
The accident was a piece in a string of life-threatening incidents that have tested Solis over the years.
About eight years ago, Solis had his aortic valve replaced.
Then, in April of last year, he passed out while driving home from CSUN at Zelzah Avenue and Chatsworth Street. At the emergency room he was told he had had two strokes earlier that day.
He said throughout that day he didn’t feel like himself, but he came to school and didn’t make much of it.
An endurance runner, Solis has completed 20 marathons in the past 30 years. Then, in early March while getting ready to run in the L.A. Marathon, Solis’ cardiologist told him about a hole in his heart and advised against the strain of the run.
Solis was puzzled. “What do you mean? I’ve been running all this time!”
He had also recently returned from a six-day cycling competition.
Solis didn’t run in the March marathon but said he hasn’t changed his active lifestyle.
“The doctor, he doesn’t say much, just looks at me. I say if you don’t tell me anything, I’m gonna think its okay to carry on as usual,” Solis said. One of these days, I’m gonna ask him: What? What? What?”
Ray is currently training a substitute for the estimated two months he is leaving work for open-heart surgery at UCLA Medical Center.
“Hopefully since they are going to open me up I’ll get a two for one special,” he said casually, meaning they can replace the aortic valve and repair the hole.
“You have to deal with things and move on, you can’t dwell on it,” he said.
Patricia Cuellar who has been a staff member at the X-Ray department since Solis’ 2004 accident, said, “No problem is too large for him.”
Solis said tough times “give me more motivation to have a real good time now so I can think about it when I am down and come back bigger and better.”
“I don’t understand people who worry about things that never happened,” Solis said. This general optimism has made Solis the go-to person of some of the staff for advice.
“If you need to talk to someone about anything, you can go to him,” said Maria Garza, who has worked with Solis at the Health Center for nearly 14 years.
After recovery, Solis said he wants to complete the Angeles Crest 100- mile run.
For now though, he is busy with his patients.
“I like having students as patients,” he said. “Students here are on a mission.”
Today, a patient with a hurt ankle walks in using crutches and Solis helps him on the bed while asking him how it happened.
“I was playing ultimate Frisbee,” the patient said, talking over the crickets singing in the background.
“You’re my second one of those today,” Solis said, laughing. “Are you guys playing for money or what?”
The student is intrigued by his surroundings; it his first time in the room.
He has a way of disarming the students who come in worried, Garza said. “Sometimes they come back just to talk to him,” she said.
As most facilities move toward digital technology, this X-Ray room is film-based.
Solis doesn’t mind. “The digital system gives out about three times more radiation,” he said.
He prefers film since “most people that come here are in childbearing years.”
His job at CSUN is “perfect,” Solis said, adding that perfection depends on a person’s outlook.
“Some people look at the rain and say, ‘Oh no, its raining.’ I say, ‘Yes! It’s raining!’ It all depends on how you look at things,” he said.
“I’m happy. I get to help kids and have a life I can enjoy and have time to do the things I want,” he said.
For Solis, the job is means to an end. It is a tool to allow him a life on his terms. “I go swimming from 12 to 1 every day, show me another person who does that.”