In April of last year, I attended “The Aesthetic Meeting 20/20 @Home.” That meeting was, as you would imagine, fully virtual. The conference was the first virtual meeting I attended that required the presenters to fully record and upload their presentations prior to the meeting. The result was a virtual meeting without presenter technical difficulties, a feat in its own right! In fact, the only “technical difficulties” I encountered were related to my 3-year-old jumping on me as I attempted to focus on the lectures. This year, The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) boldly decided to hold their meeting both virtually and in-person… in Miami. By early May, the vaccines would be rolled out and the majority of ASAPS members would have some level of immunity. Still, I am sure I was not alone in experiencing apprehension and uncertainty in the lead up to this event.
Like most people, this travel would be the first I had done in a year. The airport experience was not without surprises. I arrived at my airport about an hour before boarding. The day had been busy, as I had operated that morning and rushed to get to the airport after, missing breakfast and lunch in the process. The terminal I departed from was under construction, but I did see a Mexican restaurant by the gate — what better way to set the mood for my travel! As my stomach started churning in preparation for the cheesy meats that were to come, I realized the line to enter the restaurant was only for drinks — no food! COVID closed! No restaurants were currently open. Fortunately, I was able to find a beer and a turkey roll at a kiosk. My flight was full. Totally full. Those middle seats were all taken. I received an email from my airline a day before travel stating the risk of getting COVID-19 on a plane was very low and they had exceptional air filters. “Please leave a healthy distance between passengers when unloading the airplane,” we were told on the intercom. Right. Personally, I had more confidence in Moderna.
Some parts of the travel experience were similar. As I stepped off my plane into Miami, the warm air hugged me like a wet towel. My hotel was welcoming and lively. Most of my time is spent in New York City, where the intensity of the initial pandemic surge still weighs heavy and people are cautious. In Miami, people seemed a little more lax. In fact, at times you could look around and forget 2020 ever happened. The restaurants in the area were all thriving, and each seemed to be limiting their capacity to 110%. The ocean water and sands were surprisingly warm, the sunsets were pastel, and the bathing suits were minimalist.
“The Aesthetic Meeting,” as the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons calls the annual meeting, was both similar and foreign. Every morning, I received a text around 6 a.m. which guided me toward a series of basic questions that I had to answer before entering the convention center: Did I have a fever? Was I exposed to COVID? Was I vaccinated? Luckily, I was able to pass my morning test every day and thus was allowed to enter the conference. At the door of the convention center, my temperature was checked and I was given a wrist band of approval (wrist bands are a big deal in Miami). The talks and panels were of exceptional quality, and a directive by the leaders for speakers to provide more video content really brought to life nuances in complex topics that had previously escaped me.
Still, the conference was subdued when compared to years prior. Total attendance at the conference was capped to prevent over-crowding. Resident access was very limited. The President’s Reception, which is generally known for its decadence and surprises, was an hour and a half reception on the lawn with a DJ. Friends and colleagues that once greeted with hugs now exchanged awkward fist/elbow bumps for the most part. Conference room chairs were spaced out 6 feet apart which made dialogue a challenge. Sales representatives were mostly absent from the conference (and the after-conference, which probably explains why my hangovers were also absent). Still, The Aesthetics Meeting was everything that I needed it to be. I learned new techniques. I confirmed old techniques. I saw old friends, and met new friends. I ate good food. I got sunburned. I recharged my intellect and motivation, and am returning to New York with a renewed energy.
After the conference ended, I met a plastic surgery fellow by the pool. Both of us were passing some time before our flights. As we reflected on the last few days of conferences, he told me, “Of course, it would be the plastic surgeons who have the first meeting after the pandemic.” As a group we are always changing, always forward-thinking, always adapting: these attributes were on display at the conference. I commend the leadership of the Aesthetics Society for their decision to return to an in-person meeting, and for the forethought and adaptability they demonstrated in creating a safe, memorable experience. Also, thank you Moderna.