By Panayiotis (Panos) N. Varelas, MD, PhD, FAAN, FNCS
May has arrived and even in Upstate New York, nature is changing fast, few days after the last (maybe?) snow. There are already little buds in the trees and even some flowers. Everything is changing, with eternal cycles that repeat themselves, but also with changes that in our lifetimes do not repeat themselves and to our eyes seem dramatically new. Climate change may be one that I witness in my lifetime.
Changes happen in a Society like ours, which behaves like a living and thriving organism. The most important of which happened a few days ago, when Sharon Smith-Terry, our Executive Director, left our association management company, Smithbucklin, for another job. Sharon worked with us for the last four years and was instrumental in large changes that occurred, such as the 18th Annual Meeting’s swift change to virtual in 2020, the hybrid Annual Meeting successfully executed in 2021 and the birth last year of the Neurocritical Care Foundation. I had the privilege to work with her for the last three years and I feel grateful for what she did for our Society. She was kind, thoughtful, fiscally conservative and always working to serve NCS. We will miss Sharon and we wish her the best in her new job!
Obviously, there will be a transitional period, hopefully for less than 90 days, during which we will identify her successor. During this period, the Society’s management will be in capable hands — David Schmahl, who is the Chief Executive for Healthcare, Scientific and Technology Industry Practices at Smithbucklin, will oversee issues related to the Board, Executive Committee and Officers; Lynn Boyd, who is a seasoned Smithbucklin Executive Director, will oversee the Foundation and Nomination Committee; Marlee Honcoop, who has been with us for over a year and is familiar to many of our members, will oversee Membership, Finance and other Committees; Benjamin Rabe will oversee all things Annual Meeting. We trust our partner Smithbucklin, and we hope for a smooth and fast transition to a new leadership for the years to come.
On another front, I attended the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meeting in Seattle, Washington, and met with AAN President, Dr. Avitzur, CEO Mary Post and AAN Institute Board Member Dr. Hosey. We reiterated our willingness to collaborate with AAN on education, QIs, Guidelines and other projects and we enlightened our colleagues on the challenges we face, especially the ACGME issues that I outlined in my letter last month. The AAN now has full understanding of these impasses at a high-level and expressed sincere interest to help us solve them. At the same meeting, I reached out to the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) leadership about the ACGME issue and they advocated to ACGME on our behalf. Ten days ago, we also had a very productive meeting with the ECFMG leadership. In fact, they confirmed that for the new fellows starting this July, there will not be any J1-visa sponsoring issues and reassured us that they will work with all parties, including ACGME, to hopefully permanently solve the issue very soon. Finally, we received an email from ACGME this past week, suggesting that they may be additional changes coming soon. I know and feel the extreme uncertainty and anxiety that this situation has generated for all the Neurocritical Care Programs in this country and, especially, for our IMG colleagues, but I think the signs look positive for a final resolution. I’ll keep you posted!
In other exciting news: Registration for the 20th Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, is now open. Twenty years have passed since our first Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, where under the hospices of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, neurointensivists found the lot for a new home and then built upon that. We are planning to celebrate this anniversary. Under Sarah’s leadership, I expect this meeting to be the most successful ever in attendance (COVID-19 allowing), in content, value offered to our members and beyond. The first signs are already in the air, with a record number of session submissions and animated interest from our members and sponsors for a memorable meeting! So please, be an early-bird and register at the discounted prices now!
Sophocles was the second of the three tragic poets of the Classical period. One of his most famous plays is Antigone, who was the daughter of Oedipus. When her two brothers killed each other in a battle, only the one who fought to defend the city of Thebes is allowed to be buried. Antigone buries secretly the other one (who tried to invade his own city — Patria), but she is caught and punished to death by the King Creon, despite Gods’ opposite wishes. The play ends with Antigone hanging herself and Creon losing his son and wife out of desperation, as proof that human laws are superseded by the natural/divine ones. In this tragically beautiful play, Sophocles states “Πολλά τα δεινά κουδέν ανθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει” (There are many evils, but none is worse than man). I was thinking about that, as the news from Ukraine soaks every day the media and our souls. What is worse than war, and what is worse than a war between brotherly people, who speak the same language, who have the same religion and who for millennia coexisted? What is the evil that spreads between humans, conquers both combating sides and leads them to foster more evil and inhumanity? Heraklitus, more than 2,500 years has said “Πόλεμος πάντων μεν πατήρ εστί, πάντων δε βασιλεύς. Και τους μεν θεούς έδειξε, τους δε ανθρώπους, τους μεν δούλους εποίησε, τους δε ελευθέρους.” (War is the father and the king of all. Some he has shown to be gods, and some men; some has made slaves and some free). More than 25 centuries later, this beautiful and tragic quote is still valid — war still seems to be imbedded to human nature. But, contrary to most animals’ nature, war seems an intra-species feature of humans. Was then Sophocles right? We, as health care providers working in ICUs, know well that we can also reach the best…
Panayiotis (Panos) N. Varelas, MD, PhD, FAAN, FNCS
President, NCS Board of Directors
Professor of Neurology and Chairman, Department of Neurology
Albany Medical College