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The magic of the medical conference with a difference

By Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon - 19th Jul 2022

medical conference

I wholly sacrificed myself at the altar of the recent dotMD meeting – and would do so again in a heartbeat

Last October, I opened my phone to find two emails side by side in my inbox. One was from my oncologist with the results of my most recent scan, and the other was from Ronan Kavanagh asking me to interview Dr Suzanne Koven onstage at dotMD 2022. Unbelievably, I opened Ronan’s first, then realised I better check the other one before I promised to be alive in nine months’ time.

Lo and behold, it seemed that the ridiculously unlikely miracle of my ongoing survivorship was set to continue for another while yet, so I pencilled “dotMD (?!)” into my diary for 17 June 2022, and allowed the time to pass. 

For so long now I have been tempering expectation with realism, not allowing myself to truly believe that something wonderful in the future will actually happen. Like I always say, “a pessimist is never disappointed.” And so it was on a Thursday evening that I drove my little Fiesta up the N20, still telling myself that it might not yet be true, that the positive antigen test or sick child or freak hurricane or WHATEVER was going to call a halt to my wild fanciful gallop and send me home again with my tales between my legs.

After two years of not just managing expectations, but actively culling them, it seemed beyond the realms of possibility that this wondrousness was going to actually come to pass. 

On Friday morning I entered the conference room with all of the lights, and colours, and people, and expectation. I had an out-of-body experience for the first few hours, unable to fully recognise that this was me, I was here, this was happening, and we all had made it.

The nerves of going on stage deepened the derealisation as I pretended to everyone around me that this was all Perfectly Fine. Perfectly Normal. Perfectly Perfect. I paused, less dramatically than planned, to acknowledge that we had managed to get to this place together and quoted John Spillane’s mighty words, “Well done, everyone.” Because it was no mean feat, after all we have been through, to find ourselves back in our “favourite echo-chamber”, as one wise delegate put it. 

There were so many great moments of discovery, reflection, uncertainty, and laughter. The wondrous Dr Koven did not disappoint, despite being beamed in from Boston onto the big screen instead of being present in person. Her book, Letters to a Young Female Physician, is laugh-out-loud funny, wise, and insightful, but her presentation on why all doctors should write was delivered as an instruction, a command. Who am I to argue with her? 

I also had the honour of chatting with Dr Monica Lalanda on stage about her work in graphic medicine, where cartoons and comics are used to tell the stories of both patients and doctors. The simplicity of line drawings and cartoon images allow us to super-impose ourselves onto the characters, and help us to see our own selves in the depictions on the page. I had already been converted to the idea of graphic medicine by Ian Williams at the last dotMD, but Monica helped to cement the concepts and extol its virtues. 

There were so many other great speakers and contributors, but of course the mighty WiMIN shone out for me. Noirin Russell deftly curated a conversation between the awesome Anne Enright and the exquisite Emma Jane Unsworth, about the dark crannies of motherhood that so rarely get discussed openly. Sumi Dunne was hilarious and profound, while Rita Doyle was heart-breakingly moving in her description of general practice as being a safe depository for our patients’ tears. 

We heard about the various merits of our left and right cerebral hemispheres, and then exercised them both to the point of exhaustion. Austin O’Carroll cast a spell that resulted in 500 highly-qualified professionals transforming themselves into Village People at 3pm in the afternoon. Martin Dyar took us by the hand and walked us through an undulant valley of poetry. 

I spent the weekend finding out what was wrong with me. I discovered that I am not entirely likeable. That I am occasionally an asshole. That I don’t enjoy myself enough. That I should write more, draw more, sing more, dance more. 

I loved every minute. 

It will come as very little surprise to anyone that knows me that I was fully, wholly, uncompromisingly sacrificing myself at the altar of dotMD. I laid myself out, etherised, on the table, and succumbed to the mind-assault. I’d do it again in a heartbeat 

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