Well, I did it. I went to my first in-person allergy meeting since the start of the pandemic, the Eastern Allergy Conference, to speak. It had been 15 months since I was in New Orleans giving a lecture to allergy fellows at Tulane and LSU. To be honest, I was very apprehensive about going to West Palm Beach, so I came in the afternoon of the day before the talk and left the meeting soon after I finished speaking. Yes, I had completed my vaccination protocol with the Pfizer vaccine in January, but I had yet to eat inside a restaurant and always wore a mask everywhere I went. I knew I should be safe from serious infection from the evil virus, but with so many people in the South not vaccinating, I was still very nervous.
I thought the easy part would be getting to the Atlanta airport and going through security, but I was wrong. In the past, I always took Lyft or Uber to the airport, but I had heard that with the shortage of drivers, it is not a very dependable way to get to the airport on time. So I drove the 34 miles myself instead. I knew parking was at a premium at the airport, as some of the parking lots were still closed. On my arrival at the daily parking garage, it took 15 minutes, circling and circling, before I found a space. It was another 20-minute walk to get to security. Now, it is Saturday morning and, in the past, that is not usually a busy time at the Atlanta airport. OMG, was I wrong. The lines to check a bag with Delta were the longest I have ever seen, which I understand was due to lack of staff. Thanks goodness I was not checking any luggage. I proceeded straight to TSA PreCheck to zip through security, as I am enrolled as a “Known Traveler.” Again, I was really wrong. There was a massive line. It took me 40 minutes—the longest ever for me go through security. Glad I left my house earlier than usual to go to the airport or I could have missed my flight.
The good news was that the flight to West Palm Beach left on time and arrived early to sunny South Florida. As required, I wore my mask, an N95, throughout the Atlanta airport, on the flight, and as I arrived at the hotel to check in. All the staff were wearing masks, but none of the guests were. It was strange to see so many people in a hotel and none wearing masks. The first allergist I ran into in the lobby was Joe Bellanti, MD, FACAAI, a past president of the College, who was speaking at the meeting. Since Joe is 86 years young and still as sharp as a tack and he was not wearing a mask, I felt reassured that I could go without it. Off came the mask for the rest of the meeting.
I can’t tell you how great it was to see so many fellow allergists and other attendees live and in-person. It is hard to describe that feeling. We need that human interaction with our colleagues that just doesn’t happen with Zoom. Being able to speak and connect to an audience live is something I always took for granted, but not anymore. I even remembered to wear pants to the presentation. Yes, one of the few advantages of virtual lecture is pants-free speaking.
Thank goodness the trip back to Atlanta was uneventful. Less than 24 hours in Florida but it was such a wonderful experience. You don’t know how much you will miss something until it is gone. That was me and live allergy meetings.
The Eastern Allergy Conference was a big success. Russ Settipane, MD, FACAAI, the program committee, and all the staff should be congratulated for all the hard work it took to pull it off. Now I am even more excited about heading to New Orleans in early November for the College Annual Meeting. Looking forward to seeing all of you live and in-person. As they say in the Crescent City, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” which means “Let the good times roll!”