Glamorous? Yep, that’s how some people see my life, glamorous. Heck, I’ve been to Bosnia, Nigeria and now, Serbia. The day started at 5:00 AM as I walked up to the ticket counter for my 6:45 flight. It was a short hop to New York, but this particular day would be very long. Typical trans-continental flights leave at around seven or so at night and land at about seven or so in the morning. Six or more hours magically disappear as you fly into the future. During that flight it is not unusual to be waited on a half dozen times with food and beverages, that fact alone keeps even those with sleep eye masks and ear plugs from sleeping for more than a few hours at a time.
Upon landing, a greeting party consisting of the physician in charge of the conference and a representative from the hotel met us at the exit door from the airplane’s walkway, they escorted us through Passport security and took us to the hotel where they informed us that lunch will be served in 20 minutes. Following lunch, we had about 20 more minutes before my presentation and then the opening ceremonies. Approximately 900 physicians were in attendance at this three and a half day event. Present at the opening were the His Royal Highness, Alexander, Prince of Serbia, the Minister of Health, the general in charge of military medicine and numerous other dignitaries and prominent physicians.
The following day was filled with lectures and workshops, but we were on a mission to visit a rehabilitation hospital and spa. It was a three and a half hour trip each way, but our driver had amazing driving skills, and we made in two and a half hours each way without being arrested or killed. (Other drivers that we had over the three days were arrested twice for speeding and one had an accident and parked the car on a streetcar track.) The visit to the spa was amazing, the physicians were amazing, and the concept was amazing, one level beyond even our current span of modalities.
We returned to the hotel in time to jump in another car and meet personally with HRH Alexander, the Crown Prince of Serbia, a friendly man who was born and raised in England and the United States. His great grandmother was one of the Queens of England. His wife was a Greek Princess and immediately began to talk to us about her knowledge of Johnstown and her visits to Pittsburgh to assist in encouraging U.S. Steel in their successful efforts to purchase a plant in Belgrade.
The next morning we met with the Minister of Health in a private meeting, spent time at the conference and toured Belgrade. Later that afternoon we returned for the major dinner of the conference. It was during that event that we experienced a truly amazing celebration of Serbian heritage. There was an ox, sheep, and pig roast (not a good day to be a vegetarian); the country’s winning ethnic, brass band and presentations and awards for everyone, including yours truly.
At 8:30 AM the following morning we had a private meeting with the general in charge of military medicine at the country’s version of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a one-thousand bed hospital that specialized in every aspect of care including transplant surgery.
We returned to the city for lunch, went back to our rooms to pack, had a quiet dinner and left for the airport at approximately 11:30 PM Wednesday evening, 5:30 AM Belgrade time. For the next 24 hours we were in transit from Belgrade to Paris, Paris to NYC, New York to Pittsburgh and then drove from Pittsburgh to home. Truthfully, it was a nice break. Our organization’s pins are now firmly planted on lapels throughout the Balkans, and only time will tell what the future will bring. We met with several medical students who are interested in doing research with us, several physicians who have vowed to visit us from as far away as Korea and as near as the Cleveland Clinic and have made new friends from Bosnia, Slovenia, Russia, Greece, Italy, France, England, and Montenegro, to name a few.
Our work continues to be heard, discovered and embraced internationally, and our desire to make Windber an international center of excellence continues to move forward. It once again reinforces the fact that we really are all one world and that a child in Serbia has the same hopes and dreams as a child anywhere. So do his parents.