#ACEM2012 in perspective

I write this in the dying moments of my time in Hobart; a city of unimaginable beauty, the hint of adventure and the trace of Antarctica in the winds, phenomenal and defiant art, and really excellent mini-bars. I have been charged with writing a report for LITFL on the week long ACEM ASM – the Conference to finally reunite the disciplines of art and science (and as Brian Ritchie, of Violent Femmes fame remarked, the things that should never have been separated in the first place).

The incomparable, energetic and visionary Dr Geoff Couser was the brainchild of this utterly unique event – he started planning this event 18 months ago, wanting to produce a meeting that brought together people with a passion to see Emergency Medicine in unique and innovative ways, and not convene talks that people could simply consume by picking up a paper or a text.  The homage to Geoff was loud and sincere, and we even forgave him his disrobing in MONA after 40 oysters and multitudinous martinis (I’m not sure that Jane Clark, the magnificent curator of MONA, would even have included this confrontational ‘performance art’ in her repertoire of challenging pieces).

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If I were a normal human, I would organize this synopsis in a chronological way, summarizing the highlights of each day, but alas, that is not to be. Anyway, it would be disrespectful to the spirit of the conference not to be at least a little creative in the recapitulation. So – what were the overriding themes and ideas that fulfilled the organizing committee’s visions?

Deeply personal accounts 

  • Paul Pritchard – extreme climber, writer and brain injury survivor (or more accurately, thriver) told us of life before and after his accident, and reflected on the lessons he learnt – in patience, suffering and renewal. With some slightly nauseating yet beautiful images of sheer cliff faces with certifiable people hanging onto the nothingness with things pretending to be ropes (yes, I’m looking at you @dreapadoirtas and @capt_skippy)

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  • David Mountain channeled Charles Dickens with a Tale of Two Deaths – of his father and father-in-law.  He eloquently showed how a lack of discussion regarding end of life issues, and a failure of coordination of care seriously failed his family, and by pointing out such deficiencies made us all reflect on how to provide care to those in the final months of their lives. (And, never forget, dementia is a terminal disease)

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  • Michael Buist, Director of Intensive Care in Burnie, shared 2 intensely personal stories, both to illustrate the point that you must listen to your patient.  I cannot do justice to his talk in this blithe summary, so I urge you all to listen to the talk in its entirety when the overworked and exhausted organizing committee gets over their hangovers and puts out the videos.

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  • Sara Wright, artist, designer and volunteer, shared her journey, deeply shaped by the death of her brother with cancer.  Her view was very different, and celebrated the courageous soul he obviously was, and credited this with her exploration into art communicating the issues around death and illness

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Issues around Death, communication, end of life planning and futile care

This was a theme that wove its way, serpent style, through the entire conference.  This is probably because it is an area that depends so greatly on the humanistic, creative and perhaps even spiritual side of us as clinicians, and thus the conflation of art and the science of medicine proved the perfect intersection to explore these things. Apart from those mentioned above, notable speakers in this area were Michael Ashby, Reverend Tate and Jane Tolman. 

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There were related sessions on care, compassion and gratitude

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A real life Q and A!!

We all felt a little like the Truman Show, with the ultra urbane Tony Jones leading a stellar panel, with a demanding background twitter feed. Issues thrashed out were the affordability of health care, leadership in medicine, the question of creativity in medicine and futile care, amongst many others.

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Social Media

By the end of the conference, many of us were beginning to speak in hashtags.  Twitter was welcomed openly and adoringly; we were for a brief incendiary moment in time the most followed conference in the world, and we even, gasp, trended!

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There was a dedicated session for social media and future technologies, including a talk by Apple Maestro Steve Atherton, who elicited a collective gasp from the audience when demonstrating Augmented Reality (a term with which I immediately fell in love – reality…, but better). There could be no conference discussion of social media without the legendary @sandnsurf, who did not disappoint with his last minute requirement to be plugged in so that he could complete his talk (and confirming a long held suspicion of mine about some of his cylon origins) PLUS, he managed to come face to face with some of his groupies (allegedly!) ….fear not @precordialthump, we did miss you.

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Art Serpent

Unique doesn’t even begin to describe this divinely bold project.  Spearheaded by Farida Khawaja, Sara Wright and with poet Anne Kellas alongside, we all contributed to a visual, auditory, literary heartfelt and magnificent behemoth.  Inspired by Sydney Nolan’s Serpent at MONA, this was so much more – a living, breathing work, containing the hearts, minds, aspirations, fears, but most of all, talents of the glorious and respected Emergency Medicine fraternity. Pictures soon to follow, I hope.

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#Nippletassles (a.k.a the ‘social‘ side)

Yes, Geoff, words fail me. Never has there been a conference social program like this one.  From the drummers guiding us along the street to the Lark Distillery, to the elegance of a Government House reception (where I could almost believe the Franklins were still inhabiting their glorious manor) to the utterly unique Burlesque entertainment at the awesome Conference Dinner, to the most ‘singularly stupendous’ art gallery the world has ever seen (excuse my hyperbole, such is the depth of my passion for MONA).

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I would encourage anyone who is reading this that may have taken photos to please post them, as I, like usual, in a state of starry eyed wonder, forgot to take a single one.

Academic Stuff

Yes, there was actually a lot of this, and the scientific papers were bountiful, although oft-times cleverly bedecked in artistic finery. There were too many to list here, and again I would encourage you to either seek out the abstracts, or watch the videos, or, hopefully, even better, get the e-book. I would like to make special mention of the scientific prizewinners, plus the wonderful @dreapadoirtas ‘s ABG analysis talk, deconstructing the Stewart Method, which was widely and wildly received, but I had to miss because I had a most discombobulating phone call to come pick up my unwell child from school.  In Perth. :-/

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A Presidential Exit

An eloquent Sally McCarthy bestowed upon us all sorts of wisdom, much of which had been accumulated during her tenure as College President.  She articulated many of the challenges that face Emergency Medicine, and challenged us all to be better Emergency Physicians on our return home.

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International Speakers

Prof. Kevin Mackway Jones from Manchester Royal Infirmary.  A bit of a legend really. Again, urbane, well read and highly accomplished in his fields of Emergency Medicine and pre-hospital medicine, wowed us with his take on evidence based medicine and recognition of the sick patient in the pre-hospital arena

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Prof. Kendall Ho from Vancouver General Hospital talked knowledge translation, future predictions (awesome slides, Kendall) and butter chicken lasagne.

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I had the very great privilege of ‘sharing’ the stage with the brilliantly funny ZDoggMD, who came to us skyped from Vegas, although he did make things exceptionally difficult for me not to guffaw in a most unladylike fashion whilst sitting up on the brutally spotlit stage.

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Legends of Emergency Medicine 

We had them all, the Titans, walking amongst us.

Ed Brentnall, Tom Hamilton, Bryan Walpole, George Jelinek and the list goes on, but my night draws to a close, and I must wrap this up

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There were so very many sessions that it is difficult to list them all.

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International Emergency Medicine, Curriculum review project, Emergency Medicine in resource poor environments, many workshops and a grand trade display.

Thank the deities that this was all recorded, so you will get to see it all eventually.

I offer up my heartfelt apologies to those I haven’t mentioned, so numerous, wide ranging and wonderful were your contributions.

Future Directions

The sadness of the conclusion of the conference is only tempered by the AWESOME line up of things to come. If you loved this conference, or have a taste of it from what we have described here, then you MUST come along to some/all of the following:

  • #SMACC2013 
  • #ACEM13 Broome winter symposium
  • Adelaide ASM
  • The Festival of Ideas – Geoff’s unbelievable, fabulous and completely spur of the moment decision – watch this space.

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Also – The FFF had their first get together – more on that soon

A Final Word

As much as social media is truly wonderfully game changing and limitless, and we are all aware of the ‘greening’ issues of perhaps holding more conferences remotely, I would like to say what an incredible pleasure it was to meet up with old and new friends in the flesh. The camaraderie and kinship of such awesome people is truly amazing – and I look forward to more in the future. Come get involved J

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No, actually we’ll give the last word to Geoff.

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  1. John Cronin (@croninjj) says

    Can’t wait to hear/see the talks online. Sounds like the bar for EM conferences has been raised again. Well done all

  2. Dean Powell says

    Michelle has very modestly left out the fact that she and Dan Fatovich contributed one of the highlights of the week with their take on the art of medicine. Well worth a watch when the videos come out. “Sublime” I think the tweet said.

  3. Minh Le Cong says

    thanks Michelle!

    I m typing this on the morning of the last day of the post conference RFDS STAR retrieval medicine course and must feedback the excellent comments from emergency physicians and nurses who attended ACEM 2012. Those I spoke to said it was the best conference they had ever attended. Congratulations to Couser et al!

  4. francis nolan says

    Thanks Michelle, Nice summing up of a wonderful conference , and a bringing together of diverse and complimentary disciplines…We had a smashing time, and the food n’ booze was awesome too…Many thanks to all invoved in the planning and execution of this landmark event. Best, Francis Nolan, MD, FACEP, Redlands, QLD