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Editor’s Page: Faces in the Crowd
Dan Cook
Publish Date: April 4, 2022   |  Tags:   Editors Page COVID-19

This is it, right? This has to be the beginning of the pandemic’s end. Masks are coming off, large crowds are gathering and restaurants are taking reservations. If the pandemic isn’t over on paper, it sure feels like it is in practice.

Life took another step closer to some semblance of normalcy last month when the AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo returned to a live and in-person event in New Orleans after a virtual hiatus.

Two years ago, Linda Groah, AORN’s CEO and executive director, made the shocking announcement that Expo 2020 was canceled just as the coronavirus began to spread across the country. 

I’ll never forget sitting with Jared Bilski, the magazine’s managing editor, in his office as we listened to the announcement on a conference call — back, believe it not, before video meetings were a thing.

That was the last time Jared and I had seen each other in person until last month when, almost two years to the day Expo was canceled, we met at the Philadelphia airport to hop a flight to this year’s meeting. We gave each other a hug at the gate before boarding and after a few awkward moments of trying to process all that had happened since we had hung out, it was just like old times.

Walking unmasked into the New Orleans convention center was unnerving at first. I went from spending my workdays with a snoring yellow lab to standing alongside thousands of people in a cavernous exhibit hall. I cannonballed back into workplace culture when a toe dip might have been a more comfortable re-entry, but being around people again was inspiring and energizing.

It was wonderful to see Bea Ebeling, the magazine’s senior director of publications, and hang out with our industry sales team. I met AORN colleagues I had only ever seen on screens and in front of virtual backgrounds.

It was also a pleasure to run into surgical leaders whom I’d interviewed over the phone but had never met in person. There was a palpable sense of joy, relief and togetherness among the Expo attendees as they reconnected with old friends for the first time in what must have felt like forever and networked with new connections.

Teams and Zoom are wonderful platforms for keeping remote workers connected, but nothing can match the depth of personal interaction. You feed off one another’s emotions and get a true sense of what is meant instead of simply hearing what is said. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until experiencing it again at Expo.

Our editorial team has thrived since transitioning to full-time virtual work, but being amongst the crowd again reminded me of the importance of coming together to learn, laugh and lean on each other. It made me want to see Joe Paone, Adam Taylor and Danielle Bouchat-Friedman, my editorial teammates who have pushed through difficult circumstances over the past two years to continually fill these pages with incredible content. We’ve learned to be productive from our respective home offices, but I can’t help but wonder how much better our collaborations would be if we worked in the same space.

Two years after the world shut down, we’re still learning to coexist with COVID-19. The pandemic is hopefully becoming endemic, but a return to normal life isn’t without worry. The impact of the Russia-Ukraine war is felt around the globe, rising inflation is hitting our wallets hard and omicron subvariants remain stealthy threats. Uncertainty in the years ahead will feel less unsettling if we remember social connections boost spirits and relieve stress. Perhaps I’d gotten too used to emailing, pinging and video conferencing, and needed a reminder of what matters most. OSM

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