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Pandas and Tigers and Crowds – Oh My!

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The 2023 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) concluded last week at McCormick Place in Chicago. As always (although this will start changing in 2027), the meeting started the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but as of last year, it now mercifully ended on a Thursday rather than a Friday — “Thursday is the new Friday.” The largest convention center in the U.S. held what was again beginning to feel like one of the world’s largest medical conventions — nearly 50,000 combined live in person plus live virtual, per my semi-unofficial accounting, with the opportunity for others as well as the attendees to view the educational meeting content over the next few months.

I arrived early on Saturday for an editor’s meeting. I made a beeline for the RSNA merch store for a sneak preview of the ‘stuffie of the year.’ Surprisingly, it was both the year of the panda and the year of the tiger. I bought two of each the following morning: one panda and one tiger for me, and one panda and one tiger for my seven-year-old. I was hoping for a manatee. My mother-in-law’s best friend studies, amongst other things, manatees for a living in the Dominican Republic, where she’s a distinguished biologist. Last year’s stuffie was the sloth, which would have made perfect sense and synergy: slow if by land and slow if by sea. They would both take a millennium to navigate Millennium Park in Chicago. It was not to be. They could have picked the much faster rabbit. In fact, it is the year of the rabbit, according to the Chinese calendar.

With my new fancy smartwatch, I proved over a four-day period that I was no sloth nor no manatee. I walked a median of 7-8 miles throughout McCormick and elsewhere at a brisk pace, and — thankfully, per the watch’s daily report — no major arrhythmias. I think this thing would have shocked me out of them anyway. And thank goodness for the cushy dress shoes procured by my wife; they felt like slippers.

Sunday morning, it was quite cold, and it snowed! This was comforting, as was the return of the crowds. Sunday afternoon, I chose to escort a VIP through a shortcut around a long elevator line at one of the hotels attached to McCormick; it was so crowded that they would make the opening event for the meeting on time — a radiologist’s ethical dilemma.

Networking was in full force. My mother called me right during the Field Museum’s RSNA event on Wednesday night. I thought, “Sorry, Mom, I can’t talk. There’s a current RSNA President to my immediate left (Dr. Mauro), a past RSNA President on my immediate right (Dr. Zylak), AJR Editor stage left (Dr. Rosenkrantz), and a giant extinct dinosaur immediately overhead (Sue? — nope, she’s elsewhere in the building, this might be some giant allosaurus or other species). Gotta run!”

At the Field Museum event and elsewhere, I connected with colleagues from Iran, Japan, China, the U.S., South America, and many other places from around the world. One simply can’t do this anywhere else, at any other meeting in our field. When the RSNA established the Connections Center at McCormick Place a few years ago (charmingly referred to by a British editorial colleague of mine as the Connections Centre), they weren’t kidding around. 

RSNA 2023 was a further return to semi-normalcy, even more so than last year. I finally met face-to-face with a good virtual friend and colleague (E.G., his initials, not for example), whom I had never actually seen face-to-face. We connected during the COVID-19 era, and he primarily works in a different city for my health care system — and I was not disappointed! I also reconnected with multiple good friends and colleagues as if time had not passed, even though it had. Either they didn’t attend last year, or we accidentally bypassed each other.

During this year’s meeting, I had the chance to assist with exhibit solicitation for the journal RadioGraphics, I ran a small chunk of the lectures, and I helped to mentor trainees at the "Introduction to Academic Radiology" program, which 30 years earlier I attended at its first iteration. At that latter activity, I got to talk about how to be a reviewer, writer, and editor; I encouraged the junior academic ‘troops’ to participate early in their careers and even referenced "Throw Momma from the Train" (and the actress Anne Ramsey) concerning writer’s block for the second time in a week.

RSNA 2023 was also a serious return to one-on-one dinners, small group events, and larger parties, which I’m sure was also healthy for the Chicago economy. And who knew there was such a thing as an Italian-Croatian restaurant anywhere on the planet, let alone in Chicago? I even ended up being the last one out the door at my department’s alumni event.

As with some previous RSNA annual meetings, I again went alcohol-free. It’s enough of a physical and mental marathon that putting even a few drinks in the mix further stresses my system to the max. I joke with my good friends from Utah and elsewhere that, given my baseline vegetarian status, I become an honorary Mormon for the week. However, I couldn’t give up caffeine for the week; that would put me over the edge. Let’s hope I don’t get the flu, like I did last year (so far, so good), despite getting the flu shot and masking up most of the time during that meeting. This year, I mostly didn’t bother with the masks. But I am on high alert for Dengue fever — with two recent trips to the Dominican Republic and a recent outbreak there, who knows what might happen. And one of my eleven educational exhibits covers the topic entitled “Bugs that Suck Your Blood: Imaging Manifestations of Vector-Borne Diseases.” In medicine, we all know that what we study ends up doing us in, doesn’t it?

So here’s to a truly successful 2023 RSNA annual meeting! Let’s all meet again in a year in Chicago, and let’s hope that marketing gets my memo well ahead of time about the manatees. What a group of them called? A mass of manatees? A mingle? A mess? Actually, it is a herd, or an aggregation. By Wednesday afternoon at the meeting, there were a boatload of stuffed tigers and pandas still available for sale. By that time last year, the snuggle of sloths were long gone. Oh my!

Dr. Katz has no conflicts of interest to report.

Image by VIKTOR FEDORENKO / Getty Images

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