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RSNA 2022 Annual Meeting: Three Years Later To Live in the Flesh in Chicago, or Teleportation via a Time Warp?

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With a bit of a mind flip/You’re into the time slip/And nothing can ever be the same/You’re spaced out on sensation/Like you’re under sedation/Let’s do the Time Warp again — “The Time Warp” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

Having sat out an in-person 2021 RSNA annual meeting due to continuing concerns over COVID-19, with pre-taped and live contributions from my home office in Garden City, Long Island, New York, and with submissions to the purely virtual 2020 annual meeting, it was radically different in (a good way) to have just gone all-in like the Jeopardy champion, James Holzhauer, in person this entire past week at one of the largest medical conferences in the world in the Windy City. Attendance — estimated at press time at well over 30,000 on-site registrants — was up substantially from last year, when it was reportedly eerily quiet in the halls of McCormick Place. I was there in spirit but not live in the flesh in 2021, and although not quite a ghost town with tumbling tumbleweeds, that description, I’m told, wasn’t too far-fetched. In late November 2022, it was as if time had stopped and then resumed. We seem to have teleported (one of my six-year-old son’s favorite words) three years ahead from 2019’s annual meeting, through a time warp, and back with a vengeance to in-person courses, committee meetings, dinners and events, networking, and other social activities, without much pause, but with some noticeable differences.

First, the GO transportation shuttle is gone but not forgotten, a victim of COVID-19. We used taxis and rideshares to get to and from the airport, and increasingly, the latter used to navigate the city of Chicago after hours. There were a few masks — everyone did it their way — but mostly not at all and perhaps not enough, and though I did wear a mask most of the time, it is just not realistically possible to be masked all of the time at such a meeting, this is not a hospital environment. A new development, everything is now driven by the meeting app, which has gotten quite slick. It even reminds you of everything you need to do throughout the meeting, except when to check in with your spouse, parent, child, pet, or front door delivery. Courses evolved as well, although there are still the usual refresher and scientific sessions. "Cases-of-the-Day" remained super popular, which you could view on your phone and answer as unknowns, and there are even still a few physical posters in the Lakeside Center, although most of the educational and scientific posters are now electronic. Industry was there, they were busy innovating during COVID-19 too, and there seemed to a lot of foot traffic in the North and South exhibition halls from Sunday through to Wednesday. And, as usual, a ton of meetings-within-the-meeting.

The Sunday afternoon film panel, was replaced by a growing number of very popular case-based reviews throughout the meeting in numerous specialties. Most had audience participation using various e-devices, and — in particular — the "Life in the Fast Lane: the Emergency Radiology Game," which, for a second year, filled the Arie Crown Theater to near capacity. Yours truly was the faculty for three other case sessions, including one for the RSNA’s Case Collection, and a GI/genitourinary ‘Jeopardy’-style contest. It helped that one of the cases posed to me happened to be a rare diagnosis and was in an article on vascular malformations in the current issue of the society’s education journal, RadioGraphics, which I happened to peruse just an hour earlier (talk about serendipity!) Although embarrassingly, the one case I blew in front of a few hundred people (the ‘funic’ gastric polyps from proton pump inhibitors) I happened to present the same diagnosis to several hundred other people as faculty a few weeks earlier to the American College of Gastroenterology at a radiology-pathology course. This is referred to as the ‘film panel's third circle of hell.’

Another continued very positive trend is the participation of our trainees in the meeting. There was a fantastic resident on our RadioGraphics panel, a meeting with two stars on the RSNA’s medical student committee, a trivia contest for the Case Collection, which I helped run in the resident lounge, and multiple meetings involving trainees on our other editorial boards. And that’s just my little microcosm. When I started as a radiology resident in the 1990s, none of this was even conceivable. As the Forrest Gump of radiology, being in the first Resident and Fellows Section of the American College of Radiology (n=3!, now there are HUNDREDS at the annual meeting, for example), this stuff is mind-boggling, and perhaps mind-warping.  

After we flung ourselves out of the time-warp portal, we instantly reconnected with friends and colleagues as if no time had passed. Humans are social animals, and, quite frankly, attending the RSNA from your home office, while better than nothing at all, is far from ideal. The in-person meeting was fantastic. We rapidly threw project ideas around, exchanged stories, and information of various sorts was transmitted, but hopefully not viral particles. 

Speaking of animals, to the dismay of the boss at home, I acquired not one but three of the official RSNA stuffed animals of the year, the sloth! So, what is a group of sloths called, as in a parliament of owls or a murder of crows? A snuggle of sloths. Genius. Whoever picked the “stuffie of the year” deserves a bonus in their holiday stocking. As always, by Wednesday morning, the sloths were sold out at the RSNA merch booth. You snooze, or move like a sloth, you lose.

As I sometimes do at RSNA, I went alcohol-free at the annual meeting this year. It’s like running a marathon, physically and mentally, so having ethanol on board makes it that much worse. Actually it’s more like walking a marathon. It seems that every other thing on the daily agenda is always at the extreme opposite end of the world’s largest convention center. So many things to do throughout McCormick Place and elsewhere in Chicago, after nearly a full week of this, my feet were sore and blistered, I needed some Epsom salts. So, when I got home, I enjoyed an Irish cream on the rocks, soaked my feet in Epsom salts mixed in with some sea salt, and snuggled up with my snuggle of sloths.  

Watching Jeopardy with Mayim or Ken now back home, let’s have pancreatic radiology trivia for $1,000 — and if it’s the daily double, I’m all in! Back from the live-in-person 2022 RSNA Annual Meeting’s Fast Lane, where I surely tried not to lose my mind regardless, it’s back in the high life again! 

I’ll be back in the high life again/All the doors I closed one time will open up again /I’ll be back in the high life again/All the eyes that watched me once will smile and take me in — Steve Winwood, ”Back in the High Life Again” 

Dr. Katz has no conflicts of interest to report.

Illustration by April Brust

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