My mailbox cracks me up.
Each morning as I walk to the end of my driveway, I look forward to the day’s catch of medical literature. My wife is in the profession, and the box bombards her with ads for medical conferences, roundtables, symposiums, seminars, webinars, and many other big words for professional gatherings. I often giggle right there at the mailbox at the irony and wordplay of these events, whether planned or unplanned.
Sometimes the irony involves semantics. For example, the Neurology for the Non-Neurologist Conference always puzzles me. In my field, would that be equivalent to a Humanities conference for the Non-Human? And does that mean that Non-Neurologists have to attend other Non-Conferences for Non-Specialists? When do they get to attend their own conference?
Also entertaining are attempts at excitement-via-punctuation for activities diametrically opposed to excitement — e.g. “Save the Date for the Wound Care Conclave!” Other non sequiturs involve images. One postcard recently featured a picture of a turtle with the question in bold print: “Chronically Questioned about Chronic Constipation?” Why smear the innocent turtle?
Sometimes the irony in the mailbox involves geography. Granted, organizers try to make their conferences attractive by offering desirable locations, but the results are often comic. For example, as a parent I especially love the “Headache Update” conferences held at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. I’m sure they don’t have any trouble finding suitable subjects for study there. I could have been one myself a few years ago when a Magic Kingdom employee accidentally poked my seven-year-old daughter in the eye. (On the bright side, that poke led to “free cuts” in the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad line.)
Or how about the “Sleep Disorders” conference on Bourbon Street in New Orleans? That one got my neighbor’s attention as I laughed out loud in the driveway. Or the Dermatology for the Non-Dermatologist Conference in, of all the skin-friendly places in the country, Key West. And “Pain Week” in Las Vegas? Isn’t that title likely to discourage attendance — and perhaps jog some traumatic memories that were meant to stay in Vegas?
Surprisingly, the most absurd medical conference titles involve the most serious health problem: heart failure. In fact, over time I have detected an almost celebratory approach to heart problems, as if some type of opposite-day spin has invaded the issue. For instance, there was the “High Touch, High Tech: Heart Failure for the 21st Century” conference, which suggests bigger and better heart failures in the new millennium. Similarly, the “Lub, Dub, and Splash” conference suggests a more playful, water-based way to experience vascular catastrophe.
And finally, the most oxymoronic medical promotion: the “Heart Failure Holiday Symposium,” held in beautiful downtown Chicago. What better way to celebrate the holidays than with family and massive heart failure in the Windy City? One of the brochures actually had a festive image of Water Tower Place on the cover, complete with holiday lights in the trees and the John Hancock Building illuminated in the background.
It’s enough to make me want to attend the Pain Management for the Non-Pain Specialist conference. And if you think about it, aren’t we all non-pain specialists to one degree or another? Besides, at least it’s held in an appropriate location for a change: the islands of Florida, well south of Disney.