Yesterday was an interesting day, but “just another day in NYC” for a native New Yorker like me;) People living in other parts of the country don’t know how crazy the lives of New Yorkers can get. Why do we put up with the noise, the traffic, the $2000 500 sq-foot apartments and the $20 burger-and-fries “specials”? Because, if you’re willing to fully embrace The City, it is a constant source of vitality and inspiration, and most of us would not live anywhere else in the world!
I got up at 7:30, jumped in the shower, got changed and ready for work. (At Columbia med, all of us, both men and women, learned to get ready in 15 minutes, because when you have to be in the OR at 5AM prepping patients for surgery, you really truncate your get-ready routine, as nobody can afford to get up at 4AM and cut into your sleep.) The black car from CNN was outside my house in the West Village at 7:45 to take me to Time Warner building on Columbus Circle for my CNN appearance.
I told the producers that I had to take Rhett with me, because he had a photoshoot later that day, and I had to bring him directly from work. They said it would be OK, but when we arrived (a bit late, at 8:05, because of traffic), they said I couldn’t take him up with me to the studio, because the building wouldn’t allow it. This struck me as strange, as the TV shows certainly sometimes have animal guests, but we really didn’t have time to get into that. So they had the intern who was supposed to escort me into the studio wait downstairs with Rhett, so I introduced the two of them until they were comfortable with each other and playing around (giving her his paw). It’s too bad that Rhett couldn’t come up, as he does relax me as animals do (he does pet therapy sometimes), and also I was a bit worried/distracted about him being out on the sidewalk.
After getting off at the wrong floor in their massive building (because I lost my intern guide), I finally arrived at the CNN studio at 8:15. They showed me into the “green room” which is not green, had a couple of couches, and only had a Flavia espresso machine (no muffins or bagels or anything in sight). I hit the button for a hot chocolate (because I was pretty nervous so I didn’t think I needed any caffeine), then used the men’s room to wash my hands. When I came out, Jose Lesh, the Editorial Producer was there, and said “we have to go to makeup!” so I didn’t even get a chance to drink my hot chocolate.
The makeup studio was very impressive, with 4 makeup artists, each of whom had her own stations, each of which had her own station. They put me in the far seat, where I was assigned to Meredith Greene, who was very nice and friendly. She was obviously used to nervous guest like myself with no “media training” or experience, so was great at chatting to put me at ease (or at least, dial down my unease from 9 to 6). She also said that she was told that she couldn’t have LASIK, and I explained to her that Park Avenue SafeSight was expressly designed to treat patients who are not good LASIK candidates with a newer, safer, noncutting procedure, so that we have people flying in from around the US and even other countries for that. She said she would give us a call, and I hope she does, as she was very nice, and I want to thank her again.
From makeup, they brought me into a “holding area” where I could see the producers and “talent” behind glass. You kind of feel like you’re in an aquarium or perhaps a shark tank;) At this point, I was getting a bit tachycardic (heart rate up), diaphoretic (sweaty) and my felt my heart, and my respirations were up–the classic “flight or fight” to a “dangerous” stimulus. It’s funny–I can perform all of my procedures live to the outside world (the patients consent to this), and even on a “heroic” case like a patient with a Rx of -13 who was turned down by 5 LASIK centers, if you measured my heart rate, it wouldn’t increase at all, I’m sure. It’s just what you are prepared for and trained for, and after performing 20,000 laser vision correction procedures of all types (in order of progress RK, AK, PRK, LASIK, CK, IntraLase, LASEK, epiLASEK), I know the outcome will be great, so I’m not nervous at all (although the patients are, which is why we give all of them Valium, and offer nitrous oxide if necessary).
The situation wasn’t helped because they had a camera on me in the “holding pen” and some assistant director was asking me to mug for the camera and wink while holding my cell phone up to my ear and pointing at it “like you’re asking the female viewers to call you” and also said “just be yourself.” I wasn’t comfortable doing this, because I really didn’t want to help them make me look like a jerk, and also because in my real life I don’t really ever wink. Instead, I wanted to show them a screen shot of Rhett’s fashion shoot that ran in last month’s Women’s Health Thailand , especially because he had another shoot that very night for a music video (link here:http://theycallmealexalex.wordpress.com/) but they didn’t want to use that.
The assistant producer guy fooled me anyway, as he stood behind the main camera and said something like “just show me that you can wink” and I did, and then they used that shot to make it seem like I was winking at the interviewer (showing how good they are at being professional manipulators, because that’s essentially their job).
Anyway, I wasn’t thrilled with how I came across on interview, because I let them misquote the NY Post article (which they are correcting), even though they promised me that they would talk about the actual accurate email I sent which included the “requirements” (totally ignored by the media, of course) like: “sweet, kind, altruistic, selfless, not entitled, fashionable, polished, confident but not vain, hard-working, real career, sense of humor, follows the Golden Rule, nice and kind to others, ideally good nuclear family so can emulate good patterns of behaviour”.
It’s really overwhelming knowing that you will be going on national TV, live, with an audience of a million viewers, who will witness every stutter or stammer or mistake you make. They arranged me on a couch with the three hosts during a 5-min. commercial break. Michaela Pereira said something about how she was told she couldn’t get LASIK, and I explained to her that SafeSight can treat most patients who can’t get LASIK because it’s non-cutting so spares corneal tissue, to which she nodded. Chris Cuomo, who seems like a solid guy, tried to put me at ease a bit, saying he’s a triathlete and asking me about my recent trip following the Tour de France last month. I mentioned how we raised over $1,000 to start no-kill dog shelter in NYC. He said kindly “don’t worry, we will take it easy on you.” To my surprise, Kate Bolduan cut him off in a snippy way, saying : “Don’t say that.” It’s amazing how on the set, 10 seconds before you’re about to go live on national (and even international) TV, that the atmosphere can turn on a dime from warm-and-friendly to we-are-going-to-try-to-make-you-look-like-an-idiot. In retrospect, I wish that Chris had been given the “lead” to interview me, because it’s natural for “dudes” to sympathise with other “dudes”…but that wasn’t to be.
Kate opened by reading from a piece of paper that had the NY Post article excerpted, so I knew right then that it would be rough going. It’s hard to steer three professional anchors towards the truth when they’re starting from a misleading place–impossible in 5 minutes on live TV.
The actual interview went in a blur, and I honestly don’t remember most of it in any detail. I do remember that I was trying to get out the wonderful charity program we launched last month, before all this happened, but didn’t do a very good job of it. What I was trying to say is that a month ago, we decided to give our patients the opportunity to give the Gift of Sight to another individual, so someone who wants but cannot afford laser vision correction could get it for free.
How it works is that if a person chooses our top package (non-cutting, hi-def, lifetime warranty) and waives all the discounts he qualifies for, he is allowed to choose a person from our list of patients who applied for a free SafeSight procedure (e.g., a single mom who works two jobs to put her kids through school and can’t work three to get her eyes fixed). Then, we laser them back-to-back, so the generous donor gets to meet the recipient, and then they all hug in the OR because the one person not only had his eyes fixed (perhaps to better than 20/20 with non-cutting HD), but he actually gave the Gift of Sight to some deserving stranger!
Anyway, at the end of the interview, Chris the “nice dude” chatted me up more about how I was able to get up the “beyond grade” Mont Ventoux, and we agreed it was probably because I am light (he said he weighed about 200 lb. and was shocked when I said I was only 125). Michaela was also nice, and Kate was cold (probably because the stupid director made her think that I was winking at her in the beginning). I shook all of their hands, and was escorted back to the “green room,” saw my forlorn hot chocolate in the machine, downed it, and raced to the ground floor to recover my dog, who (as usual) had a crowd of people around him taking pictures;)
Bottom line: the media has their agenda, which is do whatever it takes to maximize viewership, and unfortunately the easiest way is to make their subjects look bad (there are hundreds of congressmen and senators, and they can’t all be crooks and adulterers–the problem is the media only covers those episodes).
I got back to Park Avenue SafeSight at 9:15, while our morning staff meeting was going on. We had a guest speaker giving a seminar on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. My staff was really “bought-in” and they successfully passed the quiz on our Office Motto, “We Treat Our Patients Like Family.”
Work was a typical non-surgical day, where we saw about 40 patients with the help of 4 other surgeons who work with me, some in for a Free Consultation, and one who flew in from another state who had complications from a LASIK who was wondering if it could be fixed (yes, we’re going to do a LASEK of his irregular LASIK flap). Liz and Tarek fielded an interview request from Inside Edition, which they accepted, since they agreed to shoot part of the segment from our OR, so we could get the word out about LASEK vs LASIK (which is the primary reason I am accepting these strange interview requests, so we can perform this “public service announcement” function.
I got out of work about 7PM, and had to walk Rhett to a studio in Hell’s Kitchen, for a music video produced by Alexandra Alexis (http://theycallmealexalex.wordpress.com/). She met me and Rhett in Washington Square Park a few weeks ago (he thinks of that park as his “backyard”), and said that he would be perfect as “a mystical being” for the music video she was producing. Alex donated $100 to the ASPCA in Rhett’s name as his “fee” (he has raised over $1,000 to date for various dog charities!), but the shoot went overtime, so they agreed to donate another $50 to the ASPCA for his “extra work.” He was a bit nervous, probably because the actors didn’t spend any time bonding with him before the shoot, and also because they were painted in white and were acting funny, and dogs seem to have a “sixth sense” for what is weird;) (My old dog Hershey once stopped dead in his tracks when a guy in a frog suit went by on a unicycle–apparently, even a dog can identify “there’s something wrong with this picture”;)). Anyway, I think they got some useable shots, facilitated by 2 bags of Snausages to motivate Rhett (the other producer was a bit miffed at his staff, saying “you shouldn’t have given him so much of your food, he’s no longer that motivated!” which was funny, although somewhat accurate).
Stephen Fischer, MD, a friend of mine who I met at a Columbia alumni function in Paris 2 years ago texted me that he was in NYC but would deploy soon (he is an Army MD). So he showed up at the music video shoot, had a blast watching that, and we got a chance to catch up. Stephen said he understood the position in as another doctor in his 40s, which he phrased in this way:
“People think as you move up the educational and career ladder your opportunities expand, but in some way, your personal opportunities diminish because most people want to be with someone on a comparable plane. Therefore, as you become a famous surgeon on Park Avenue, or I take assignments all over the world for that challenge, you start to lose potential great spouses, as many will not tolerate your commitment to your career, or the fact that I get posted all over the world. Plus, both of us are attracted to highly educated, successful women, and then they have their own careers and goals, which do not always match up well with ours.”
Well said, Stephen, and be safe on your deployment! I will be going to Amsterdam in Oct. to attend ESCRS, and maybe we can meet up there when you’re commuting between Cairo and Paris!:)
Tonight I will be on Larry Elder (a talk show host based out of LA) live at 7PM, and tomorrow I will be filming for Inside Edition. Hopefully we can get the word out about the miracles of SafeSight, and how it is not ridiculous to reward someone kind enough to play matchmaker (especially with something so positive as a $10,000 donation to the charity of their choice)!
Rhett’s music video shoot (RAW)