It’s been entirely too long since I’ve posted, and for that I apologize. I’ve been terribly busy
responding to nastygrams depositing my checks from Big Pet Food sneering at plebians going to a continuing education conference this past week, and what a week it was.
Like many of you, I read the Indy Star’s expose about the loose strings of pharmaceutical companies (or, in internet conspiracy parlance, Big Pharma) at continuing education conferences such as the one I was going to attend, and also like many of you, I was surprised. And excited. I had no idea this was what I had to look forward to! I thought I was just plunking down a couple grand in fees, airfare, and hotel for a measly week of polishing my science know-how, and here’s this whole seedy underbelly of riches I had no idea existed.
I arrived in Orlando for the North American Veterinary Community Conference with 16,000 of my closest friends energized, ready to be plied with jewels, cash, and cars. Kind of like The Price is Right, but with drugs.
In the past, I’ve wandered the exhibit hall for a breather in between talks, taking a peek at the new products on the market. Sometimes the companies would give us candy, or pens- enough to get us to stop by and familiarize ourselves with the product, but not enough to justify actually changing how we practice medicine. I would have done it anyway. Because becoming familiar with new products is, you know, what we’re supposed to do.
I wanted to start my day with one of the storied free food lectures, hoping to begin my morning with roasted pheasant and perhaps a fluffy souffle. Then I learned you had to get up at 6:30 and the most they could guarantee was that the food was “hot,” so I passed and had a Kind bar instead.
After a few am lectures about respiratory distress, where the speaker (and every other one at NAVC) carefully informed us about their financial ties- or lack thereof- to the topics of their talk, I hit the exhibit hall in search of fortune.
Somewhere past the forceps booth and to the left of the lasers, a long line started to snake through the aisles and out into the halls. Whatever they were giving away, that had to be good.
“Excuse me,” I said to the woman at the end of the line. “Is this where they’re handing out free cars?”
“No,” she said. “This line is for Build-a-Bear.”
“This huge line is for Build-a-Bear?” I asked somewhat incredulously. The three men in front of her turned around and to a one muttered something about little girls at home. It’s cool, guys. Everyone likes Build-a-Bear.
“Where’s the contest where everyone wins something?” I asked, and they directed me over to the east hall, where a bored looking woman instructed me to spin a ‘wheel of parasites.’ I won a chapstick with a picture of a tapeworm on it.
As I continued to wander, I heard some grumbling from around a corner, where four people were congregated around a woman clutching a big bag. “Where’d you get that?” they asked her, and she pointed to another long line snaking through the hall.
“Is that the jewelry line?” I asked.
“No,” they said. “This is for the stuffed Olaf.”
“Like Olaf from Frozen?” I asked.
“Yes,” a woman replied, “but you have to be careful. They’re really hard to get. You have to go through a screening process.”
“What sort of screening process?” I asked.
“No one knows,” she said. “All I know is that they keep turning people away who don’t own practices. I think they sell some sort of financial services. It might involve an application and a credit report.”
“I’ve tried three times for an Olaf,” said another woman. “They’re not very nice about it.”
“Isn’t Frozen kind of old news anyway?” I asked, but that was apparently not the right question to ask.
Dispirited, I walked into the booth of a large pharmaceutical company. “If I listen to your spiel,” I asked, “What do I get?”
“Information,” the rep said, pulling out a sheaf of papers.
“No car?” I asked, disappointed. “Or a trip somewhere?”
She dug into her pocket and pulled out some mints. “I have these,” she said, then brightened. “Or a pen! Do you want a pen?”
“I’m OK,” I said. “I think I just need something to drink.”
“They have coffee over by that pet food display,” she said. “I think the line’s down to 15 minutes.”
By this time, the line for the Build-a-Bear had disappeared, and in exchange for giving a journal my email address, I was presented with a small, naked bear.
“We’re having a contest tomorrow for some scrubs,” the booth person said.
“For me?” I asked. “Or the bear?’
“For the bear.”
After an hour or so of this, my tally of freebies was as follows:
-One naked bear
-A bedazzled lanyard
– 15 pens
-one urine container filled with yellow candy (this was actually my favorite)
“Why do you think these lines for all these freebies are so long, do you suppose?” I asked my friend Kristen. “Are we that hard up for stuff we’d wait for half an hour just for a chance to win a free ipad?”
“You’re veterinarians,” she said. “Of course you are.” Touche.
After a long day of lectures and wandering, I had worked up an appetite, so I set out in search of the free feasts. I searched every corner of the hotel, and couldn’t find a single one. I realized everyone must have gone to the free rock concert instead.
“Free concert?” I said, intrigued. Maybe there was some credence to this Indy Star thing after all! “Who’d they get? Dave Grohl? Bruno Mars?”
There was a long pause as my friend flipped through the conference brochure. “38 Special,” she said.
“38 Special?” I replied. “Are those guys still alive?”
“Apparently.” Pause. “My dad’s gonna be so jealous. He almost took a cruise with them last year.”
Hungry and alone, I went to my room at 10 pm and decided to order room service. After 15 minutes on hold, I placed an order for a Cobb salad and was told it would be an hour and a half, because shutting ourselves in our rooms alone with our papers is apparently a popular choice for veterinarians. I’m so predictable.