Enjoy interactions with colleagues

Leigh Spielberg

Posted: Monday, October 9, 2017

Take a break from technology – and your phone – and enjoy interactions with colleagues in Lisbon

Everything I needed to do to be present in Lisbon for the ESCRS meeting, I did with my phone. I sent an email to our department secretary to request a few days off, and when my conference visit was approved, I notified my colleagues via WhatsApp that I would be absent this weekend. I booked my flight via the Momondo app, downloaded a barcoded e-ticket on to my phone and, the day before my flight, checked in remotely.

I found and booked an apartment on Airbnb and, upon arrival, received an SMS with the code to the apartment’s front door lock. I checked the weather (very nice!) via the weather app so I would know what to pack. Once I got on the plane, I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and read The Economist on my phone while listening to a drum & bass playlist that I had created on Spotify and downloaded on to my phone.

When I arrived in Lisbon airport, I took one look at the long line of people waiting endlessly for a taxi and immediately summoned a car via Uber. I reserved a Harley Davidson motorcycle online and then used Google Maps to get from my apartment to the rental agency and from there to the conference centre, where I downloaded the ESCRS app to help plan my days at the conference.

I wrote this column on my computer (sorry, writing on a phone is just too slow) and I could probably find many of the presentations online after the conference. It’s all so simple, all so convenient. So why am I even here? What motivates me to fly to continental Europe’s westernmost capital (according to my phone’s Wikipedia) to attend a conference?

I guess it’s for the human connection, the discussions, the interpersonal interaction that can only occur when I put down my phone, take off my headphones, close my computer and look around at who’s sitting across from me during lunch, who’s walking towards me in the exhibition area, who’s standing behind me in the line to get an espresso.

Maybe it’s because I’m sure I’ll bump into Nic Reus, the cataract specialist who supervised my first complete phaco early in my residency, and Bart Zijlmans, a surgical mentor whom I credit with upgrading my phaco skills from “beginner” to “intermediate” in just a few months. I think it’s important to maintain some sort of contact, however brief, with mentors and those with whom I trained, not only via Facebook but also in real life.

I’ll also meet up with Thierry Derveaux, my current colleague at Ghent University and, for my combined phaco-vitrectomies, my IOL-power-calculator extraordinaire. It’s thanks to his calculations that patients referred to me after complicated cataract surgery often end up emmetropic, even after vitrectomy and retropupillary enclavation of an iris-claw lens.


I always find it fun to see people in a different environment. Especially if that environment happens to have outdoor restaurants with ocean views, vinho verde and aromatic olive oil.

We appreciate the opportunities and conveniences that technology has made possible. But we all came to Lisbon to take a break from technology and enjoy interactions with colleagues in an enjoyable environment.

  • Dr Leigh Spielberg is a vitreoretinal and cataract surgeon 
at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium and a Medical Editor of ESCRS EuroTimes