ATLANTA—Following days of lengthy seminars, pharmaceutical presentations, and panels on topics ranging from retinal fluid to posterior microphthalmos, the lives of optometrists across America finally began returning to normal this week as yet another raucous Optic Disc Expo drew to a close.
"That was crazy," a bleary-eyed Dr. Martha Benford said regarding the three-day symposium on the part of the eye where ganglion cell axons form the optic nerve. "This morning I woke up with a wristband from an optic neuritis showcase I don't even remember attending."
"My staff hasn't heard from me in a week," she added.
According to organizers, this year's Optic Disc Expo was the largest in the event's history, drawing more than 60,000 optometrists to the Marriott Hotel in downtown Atlanta for what many in the field have called the craziest three days of their lives. After registering at the front desk and receiving their complimentary stress eyeballs and novelty Snellen charts, the eye doctors crowded into Ballroom A to hear Dr. Jeff Chomiak's "kick-ass" welcome address on recent technological breakthroughs in optic disc research.
While days were reportedly filled with "mind-blowing," "wild," and "fucking amazing" presentations on hyperopia in baby boomers and new ways of reducing bilateral papilledema, optometrists said they also spent long nights in their hotel rooms talking with colleagues well into the morning hours on wide-ranging topics such as the vessels that supply blood to the retina and slit-lamp biomicroscopic examinations.
The eye specialists told reporters that when they returned home from the intense weekend of nonstop optic disc lectures and discussions they "immediately passed out."
"I got maybe three hours of sleep the entire expo," said Dr. Cyrus Patel, who had to cancel nearly 40 appointments this week because he was too exhausted to go into work. "I kept telling myself I was allowed only one more optic disc drusen seminar and then I had to go to bed, but that would mean missing Dr. Lappen's keynote on optical coherence tomography, and it's like, you only live once, you know? It's not like there's another Optic Disc Expo next month. This is it for 2011."
"And besides," Patel continued, "if I go to bed I don't meet that cute ocularist and we don't spend an amazing night together debating AOS versus AOA standards."
Describing this year's convention as unforgettable, the nation's optometrists said the highlight of the event was either the "Ophthalmoscopes Through History" display or Dr. Glaston's presentation on intracranial pressure, which received a five-minute-long standing ovation and brought a number of those in attendance to tears.
"You can feel the adrenaline just coursing through you all weekend," Dr. Amanda Stern told reporters. "I always have to laugh when I hear first timers talk about going back to work on Monday. Then you see them during Sunday's closing remarks and they're completely worn down, their shirt's a little untucked, and they just look at you like, 'I knew it would be crazy, but I didn't know it would be this crazy.'"
"Well, it is this crazy," she added. "It's the Optic Disc Expo, for Christ's sake. Anything can happen. The last night of the symposium, we go to a diner, and sitting not two booths behind us just sipping coffee is Dr. Jane Robertson and Dr. Whyte T. Franklin. Legends. Just sitting there talking about anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. I mean, where else does that even come close to happening?"
According to optometrists, there is a general letdown following the expo as attendees return to the day-to-day rhythm of seeing patients, administering eye exams, and helping with everyday corneal abrasions. Hoping to eventually settle back into their typical routines, the doctors said they would be lying if they didn't admit how much they will miss the new friends they have made and the late-night conversations about glaucoma.
"Tomorrow I have to give a presentation to the doctors in my practice who didn't attend the expo," said Dr. Benjamin Powell. "They're going to want to know all about it, but there's really only one sentence that could possibly sum it up for them: 'You had to be there, man.'"