John F. Kennedy famously—though, it turns out, erroneously—said that the Chinese word for “crisis” is actually a combination of the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” In a similar vein, we should come up with a word to describe the feeling of going to live conventions during a pandemic that combines “excitement” and “caution.”
As I write this, I’ve just returned from the 2021 American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons meeting in Las Vegas, the first large, live meeting ophthalmology’s had since the 2019 American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting (I hope we all enjoyed that meeting, knowing now what was in store for us a couple of months later).
Even though ASCRS’ official numbers had the attendance as, understandably, decreased in comparison to past meetings that didn’t occur during a global pandemic, I’m sure the other attendees would agree that it felt great to be in-person again. Gone was the need to stare at a screen for hours, as speakers spoke over each other due to a Zoom audio delay. This was replaced by live sessions with speakers and panelists who made you feel completely engaged with the material. The other benefit, as ophthalmologists will attest, was the chance of meeting with a colleague, ending in a coffee or a lunch, where you learn not only what’s new with the person you’re speaking to, but also what’s new in their practice. What do they think about the new lens they just started using? How do they handle cataract patients who are complaining about poor vision postop? Can you believe the proposed reimbursement cuts? The immediacy of these types of interactions, made possible by everyone being in the same place, was refreshing and something the digital world still hasn’t been able to duplicate.
That was the “excitement” part of our new word for live meetings. The “caution” part appeared when I opened some local news sites and read, “Las Vegas Declared Worst Metro Area in the Nation for COVID-19 Transmission.”1 That’s like reading, “Planes Crashing at Unprecedented Rate” as you tear into your airplane pretzels. Fortunately, I, and I’m guessing almost everyone else at the meeting, was vaccinated, and some 99 percent of the new COVID-19 cases are occurring in unvaccinated people. Still, one worries about the possibility of breakthrough infections, spreading the virus without getting sick yourself, and the effects of mutations like the Delta variant.
However, if we’re to live our lives and return to some semblance of normalcy, caution may be the price we pay, at least for now. Until normal life returns, maybe we can hope for just a little bit of the two things that compose the word “happiness” in Chinese: luck and a blessing.
— Walter Bethke
Editor in Chief