October 6, 2022

Glaucomfleckens Bring the House Down with Opening Keynote

In front of a standing room-only crowd, Dr. and Lady Glaucomflecken delivered an opening keynote session packed with laughs (so many laughs!) and important messages.

If you’re not familiar with the Glaucomfleckens, their actual names are Will and Kristin Flanary. Dr. Flanary is an ophthalmologist who specializes in satirizing the medical field with hilarious social media skits. (Here’s his iconic take on the EM residency interview.) Kristin is a superhero in her own right. She supported her husband through two bouts with testicular cancer in their 20s before helping to save him from sudden cardiac arrest in May 2020. She knows the trauma of being a “co-survivor” and uses her experience to advocate for compassion for patients and their families. 

Dr. Glaucomflecken had the audience laughing as soon as he took the stage, resplendent in his TikTok-famous emergency physician costume. He sipped from his diet coke while showing off his skin-tight, belly-baring cycling jersey with matching bike helmet and sunglasses. “OK, OK, send me all your consults,” he told the audience. “After all, you got an ophthalmologist to come in on a Saturday!”

“I've learned a lot about emergency medicine and the role you play in your communities, really acting as a safety net for society. I learned about the pandemic and how it's really impacted your profession,” Dr. Glaucomflecken said. “I've also learned that no matter what, none of you will ever learn how to use a slit lamp correctly.” 

After the initial laughs, the Glaucomfleckens walked the audience through their incredible story. During his third year of medical school, he discovered a lump in his testicle. After surgery to remove the cancer, they were ready to move forward. “[Physically] I recovered just fine,” Dr. Glaucomflecken said. “But it was the emotional and mental recovery that took some time.”

He turned back to comedy, something he had been doing since high school, to process what he went through. “When we're faced with things in life beyond our control, whether you get sick or a family member gets sick or dies or has an accident, or a pandemic, we feel like control of our own lives is taken away from us,” he explained. “What humor does is it allows you to take that thing and you just break it apart. You turn it inside out, you add humor to it, you add your own thoughts to it. And you present that to other people and you share a laugh about it on your own terms. Now you're reasserting control over the situation.”

Fast forward to his fourth year of residency when the Glaucomfleckens found out that Will was “one of the lucky 1-2 percent of people with testicular cancer who get it in the other testicle.”

True to form, he made jokes. “I’m really good at finding my own testicular cancer!” He laughed. “I can make a second career out of finding testicular cancer… which would be really weird for an ophthalmologist to do.” He paused. “But – it is all just balls.”

After he recovered again, their family was dealt another blow when Kristin awoke in the middle of the night to find her husband unresponsive, breathing irregularly and making strange noises.

“I fought death with hand-to-hand combat,” she said. The audience was rapt as they listened to her 911 phone call. She performed CPR for an incredible nine minutes. Many members had tears in their eyes as they gave her a longstanding ovation for her lifesaving efforts.

She wrote about her experience in the Journal of Cardiac Failure. “I called it the Quiet Place. It was a dark and empty chamber where no words were spoken or understood… Those of us who have survived trauma need our healthcare providers to meet us in our Quiet Place. We need them to find their way into that dark chamber, light a candle and fill it with words that build a bridge for us to walk out.”

Dr. Glaucomflecken said he didn’t want to listen to her 911 call at first because it was too hard to hear. But she explained that she needed him to listen to it because she needed someone to live in that space with her. “She was alone,” he said.

Kristin talked about how they are building a new version of normal, healing themselves with medicine, humor, advocacy. In closing, she asked the audience to pay attention to the families of patients, the ones who are walking through the trauma alongside them.

“Don’t forget that before you are a physician, you are a human,” she said. “When you encounter someone like me in your workplace – a family member, lay responders, the co-survivors – remember our shared humanity and reach out to help.”

More: If you'd like to watch the full keynote address, it will be available to all ACEP Unconventional attendees. That online conference is coming up Nov. 2-4 and allows you to participate in ACEP22 educational content from the comfort of your own home. 

[ Feedback → ]