Doctors' Funniest Zoom Mishaps

Alicia Gallegos

December 16, 2020

Emergency physician Andrew Tisser, DO, was on a Zoom call of about 75 people recently when another participant was making a lengthy point, droning on and on.

A third caller, growing exasperated and assuming his mic was off, grumbled his annoyance.

"Come on, get on with it already! Get to the point!" the impatient participant growled, making the common mistake of forgetting to mute. A few people smirked, but no one said anything, recalls Tisser. Following the outburst, the host gently reminded all participants to mute themselves, and the disruptor suddenly went silent.

"I don't think there were any professional ramifications, but it was certainly embarrassing for the individual," said Tisser, "I think the number one Zoom mishap is thinking you're muted and not being muted."

As Zoom meetings have become the norm over the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual calls have fueled countless mishaps, laughs, and embarrassing moments for physicians. Ask any doctor who uses virtual technology, and you're likely to hear a cringe-worthy story or humorous anecdote.

"Zoom has changed everything," says Elizabeth Malinzak, MD, an anesthesiologist at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina. "People have become a lot more casual. They'll be in their PJ's. You hear people eating, typing on their computer, having a different conversation. People realize this is a crazy time; having to work from home is totally different than anything we've ever done before. Zoom mishaps and mistakes happen fairly often."

Cat Zoom-Bombs Lecture

As Renée Crichlow, MD, prepared to give a university-wide lecture to 170 students and faculty, she decided to let her cat, Poe, lounge nearby. Afterall, Poe was usually mellow and liked to sunbathe while his human mom worked, said Crichlow, a family physician and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota North Memorial Family Medicine Residency, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

As Crichlow neared the end of her lecture, however, Poe leaped onto Crichlow's lap ― just out of view of the camera. Crichlow tried discreetly to brush him away, but Poe reared up, his furry head taking up much of the screen. He put one paw on Crichlow's shoulder and used his other paw to bat at her yellow tie.

 

"It looked like he was trying to adjust my tie," Crichlow said. "I had to pry him off. He was patient for all my other meetings. He was saving it up for my big call."

Fortunately, a smiling Crichlow kept her composure as she addressed the next question. Minutes later, Crichlow's phone started beeping with texts from friends and coworkers who had witnessed the guest appearance.

"They were all happy and excited to see Poe," Crichlow said. "They said, 'Enjoyed your lecture, say hi to Poe for me!' and 'Everyone loves Poe, and we're happy to see him in the Zoom!' "

Poe, a rescue cat known as #SaunaCat on Twitter, has become even more popular since the infamous Zoom bomb.

Tisser remembers a similar interruption by his dog, Lillie, a shepherd mix. As Tisser was giving a remote lecture, Lillie padded into the scene carrying a squeaky toy.

"She was just squeaking it nonstop in the background," he said.

Tisser laughed and tried to talk louder to override the high-pitched squeaks, he said, until Lillie finally ambled away with her toy after a few minutes. The furry disruption drew smiles from fellow callers.

Another time, Tisser in his casual sweatpants and a T-shirt, walked into his wife's office not knowing she was on a video call. His wife, an academic physician, proceeded to introduce her husband to the viewers, and Tisser greeted them, he said.

Unexpected Face Startles Viewers

In the early days of the pandemic, few virtual callers knew much about optimal backgrounds or best lighting for virtual calls, recalls Lisa P. Solomon, DO, a cardiac anesthesiologist based in Loves Park, Illinois. During this time, Solomon was participating in a medical staff executive committee meeting on Zoom and noticed some confused expressions from colleagues.

It took a few moments before Solomon realized that a life-size picture of her son's face, attached to a stick, was peeking out from behind her on the screen. The large picture had been made for a football project and was among several family photos in the background, she explained.

 

"It looked like we had a surprise teenager sitting in on an important meeting," she said.

Solomon explained to the attendees, which included the CEO and president of the medical staff, that the face was just a picture of her son, and everyone had a good chuckle about the special guest, she said.

Another memorable Zoom call was a bit more embarrassing for Solomon. She was lecturing to a group of about 65 students and physicians via Zoom.

Suddenly, Solomon swallowed wrong and choked on her saliva. The audience was silent as Solomon continued to cough for 30 seconds until the other panelists cut her out of the video and moved to the next speaker.

"We laughed about it offline that it was too bad I was not in a room with 60 other physicians who could save me!" she said.

Solomon's fellow panelists tried to make her feel better by telling her these things happen and that the recorded lecture would only exist for a while.

"It's there for everyone to watch for the next year," she said sheepishly. "At least it's at the end of the presentation."

Zoom Double-Book Causes Mute Mishap

Some physicians try to multitask while taking Zoom calls ― sometimes with mortifying consequences.

Malinzak described the time one attendee was trying to participate in two Zoom calls at the same time by having two screens up, going between calls and muting one call while speaking to the other group. The double-booking fell apart when the doctor made a mistake and got the meetings mixed up.

"The person was talking about the subject matter for one meeting in the wrong place," Malinzak said. "They had muted incorrectly the meeting they meant to talk to."

When Malinzak's meeting attendees saw that the doctor was on mute but that his mouth was moving, they informed him that his mute button was on. It was then that he admitted he was trying to attend two meetings at once and had become confused about which meeting to unmute, Malinzak said.

After the caller's colleagues corrected him, he straightened out the error and finished both meetings at the same time.

"He was able to continue, but I'm not sure how," she said.

For Malinzak, her own memorable moments with Zoom usually have involved her children, aged 4 and 8. Malinzak said her son and his sister frequently try to get her attention while she's on Zoom calls.

During one virtual call, Malinzak's daughter entered with her stuffed bunny, shoved the small pink rabbit in full view of the camera, and then ran away. The kids have also interrupted video meetings to ask whether they can go outside or whether she knows where a toy is located, she said, prompting Malinzak to tell them, "Go ask your father!"

"My kids love to Zoom-bomb meetings," she said. "They're really into figuring out how they can weasel their way into meetings without being seen. They basically double-team. Most of the scheming comes from my son."

Most attendees have been understanding of the minor intrusions, she said.

"Honestly, the people who are probably bothered don't say anything," she said. "But there's been support from several people who say, 'Your kids are so cute! Let them come join the meeting!' I'm like, 'No, you really don't want them to do that.' "

How Doctors Can Avoid Zoom Embarrassment

Although most physicians have come a long way with virtual technology in recent months, it can be helpful to keep a few tips in mind.

Be aware of your surroundings and think before you speak, says Tisser, who practices at Rochester Regional Health in Batavia, New York. He recently hosted an Instagram Live event that gave Zoom advice.

"A trick that some like to do is put themselves on mute for the whole meeting," he said. "With Zoom, when you want, you can just hold the spacebar and it will temporarily unmute you when you're talking. Just let go of the spacebar and you're back on mute."

Check your background and consider making a dry run to review your image before going live, suggests Solomon.

"And also understand that we're all human and to have a little humor if it doesn't go exactly perfect," Solomon said. "That's what makes us unique and human in trying to deal with these experiences. So, laugh a little about it."

As for those furry friends, find ways to keep them calm and happy during virtual calls, physicians say. Tisser and his wife now keep dog treats handy to toss to Lillie in the event of another squeak-fest. Crichlow tends to wear black pants and tops during video meetings so that Poe blends into her lap.

"It sort of looks like I'm petting my belly sometimes," she said.

Crichlow adds that now is the time for understanding and support when mistakes happen or unexpected moments occur on virtual calls.

"I think we've learned to be a little gentle with each other about things like this," she said. "We need to grant each other grace. Everybody is doing their best. That's all we can do."

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