Back to Normal…Hopefully…Maybe…

By Sagar Lonial, MD, FACP - Last Updated: May 3, 2022

As spring arrives, we are all filled with new energy and hope for better days. The sight of blooming flowers, The Masters Golf Tournament (I do live in Georgia after all), and anticipation for the ability to get back to ASCO and EHA fill the air and our minds. So, who is ready to take the plunge and get back to the craziness of how meetings used to be? After seeing an anemic showing at ASH are we all ready to return to the “old normal” or just the “new” normal of hybrid meetings and only about half of us in a very large room at any given point? It is clear that the past 2 years have taught us that we can do a lot via telehealth or zoom meetings, but what did we lose as part of that process? Did our really large society meetings lose their way as the field has become more specialized such that most people don’t go to a broad swath of sessions, but rather focus more on 1 or 2 areas to either get updates, education, or try to ask questions of the experts.

I do think that one advantage of the push to virtual meetings has been a broader audience, not just in terms of individuals, but access for people who are never able to travel for meetings on a global basis, and in that respect, the idea of having material available archived or in real time provides a huge service in the democratization of advances and dissemination of knowledge. However, the real value of large meetings is not the information itself, but rather the small side conversations that occur outside the hall, or at dinner, or in the hotel lobby. That is where we challenge each other, where we collaborate with each other, where we build lasting relationships and friendships that lead to global partnership to push science to better treat patients.

And speaking of science, when will we be comfortable hanging out with low viral infection rates and NOT wearing a mask? Just as we use numbers and science to make decision in our practice every day, we need to be open to these same thoughts among ourselves. All of us are paralyzed in large groups now about who will be the first to take their mask off, if anyone, not wanting to be accused of being a non-believer in the validity of protection, but at the same time wanting to see each other, their smiles, expressions, and their puzzled looks. I am not sure we will ever get back to no masks in the clinical setting, and for our patients who are immune suppressed, they may never feel comfortable in public taking off their mask, with good rationale. I do so miss seeing my patients’ faces, learning from their nonverbal cues that are lost when covered with a mask. For them to see the concern on my face at a tough decision-making time, or the joy when you are giving them good news, but alas this may not be as easy a problem to solve. These are all things that we have lost over the past 2 years in our limited face-to-face interactions and are things that we need to get back to one way or another. I know that for me, I am looking forward to seeing my colleagues and friends in the next 6 months, to share ideas, stories, catch up about our families, and to collaborate, and I hope that they and you are ready to get back to our work, and the things that we all so value about each other by sharing them in person.

Sagar Lonial, MD, FACP, is Chair and Professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, the Anne and Bernard Gray Family Chair in Cancer, and Chief Medical Officer of Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Post Tags:COVID-19
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