I woke up early. I had a coffee for breakfast, I selected one of Kevin’s Krug coffee pods: French Dark Roast. I heaped spoonfuls of sugar to mask the bitterness. Kevin had already got up and gone to work, his 24-hour shift at the fire station having started hours earlier. My Uber dropped me off at McCormick circle, the one-way anti-clockwise when viewed from above direction traffic circle already full with taxis and Uber cars. I checked my coat in the Green Check next to the Grand Ballroom, photographed my ticket, and briskly walked East across the walkway to the East Building. I thought RSNA was huge, as it fills three entire conference buildings, until I discovered the West Building later in the week, quiet and unused. In the Speaker Ready Room I logged on and flicked through my Powerpoint. The additional slide I’d added, anticipating a question on what timing we’d chosen to measure the background parenchymal enhancement on breast MRI, had uploaded. I was good to go.
I entered the large Aerie Crown Theatre hot on the heels of a British woman who walked with purpose. At the stage I called up to the first of two Session Chairs to announce I was one of the speakers, and where should I sit? The woman turned around. “Fiona Gilbert,” she introduced herself and offered her hand. I was already nervous because the mixed scientific and educational presentations had be scheduled right before the President of the Society of Breast Imaging. “Habibi,” the Session Chair on stage introduced himself. We walked through the podium, where to stand, where the timer was, how to active the mouse pointer on screen. Fiona was in a facetious mood and kept making wise-cracks that I was too nervous to appreciate. I wasn’t as nervous as one of the Korean speakers who anxiously requested any question be repeated slowly because she struggled with English. I don’t speak any Korean so I can only imagine her ordeal.
Next time I have to present at an overseas conference – if I am ever stupid enough to submit an abstract again – I need to fly out and acclimatise a week before. My coffee and adrenaline ran out while talking to my slides and when my questions began, and there were a few (so much for large auditorium = audience disinclined to get up and engage), my mind went blank and I began to think of how soft the bed and pillow were at my accomodation. I had no idea how to best answer to one of my questions was and struggled to pull from my memory from 2 years ago when the process was explained to me how the Hologic software developer had created an automated method to calculate breast background parenchymal enhancement. Was it enhancement of the whole breast relative to pre-contrast series or a percentage of fibroglandular volume? I was not expecting to validate our method of measuring BPE; we’ve previously published it! I mangled an answer that seemed to satisfy the woman who had asked the question but when I turned to Professor Gilbert she smiled with amusement and said into her microphone, “So you pressed a button and it just magically appeared?”. I grimaced with chagrin. Years of study, hours of work and preparation and when I finally flew overseas to stand up as a peer I was reminded I was nowhere near. I thanked them and walked off stage, trying not to get in Elizabeth Morris’ way as she stormed up onto stage in her knee-high black leather boots. A lot of young and middle-aged women were storming about in knee-high FMBs.
I wallowed in self-pity for a few hours but my enthusiasm to bother with clinical research (mostly done in my own time, unpaid) was rekindled Tuesday evening, at the Philips Australasia dinner, where I spent the evening chatting with James Anderson, a very enthusiastic radiologist from back home in Perth. He’d seen my presentation and took home inspiration instead of sneering.
I hadn’t eaten breakfast so raced out at the break to pee then find some food. I settled on chicken McNuggets from McDonald’s. It was probably one of the healthiest things I could eat. I found Kirsteen, before she rushed off to fly back to Toronto, her talk being scheduled at the same time as mine. I waited for Sangeet, who had wanted to meet for lunch but had forgot his laptop so cancelled. I attended a session then met Anabel back at McDonald’s where we point-by-point went through the reviewer comments for the paper Pavel and I have spent 5 months on working on re-submission. It was dark and the conference venue was almost empty when we finished sometime after six and said our goodbyes.