A Birthday to Remember

Ever have one of those “special” events that turns out to be a lot more special than you wanted? That was the case with my 42nd birthday.

The week started off nicely. We initially thought I had to leave for a long business trip on Saturday. So we were all happy to see that I had some extra time and didn’t have to leave until Sunday. Rachel and I took the kids down to our church’s Fall Festival for a hay ride, pumpkin carving, games, and general merriment. You can see Katie, Kaylee, Anna, and Rachel (standing) pretty clearly at right. Katie, who’s closest to the camera, is just getting in her new front teeth.

My trip was supposed to take me first to Munich, Germany then to Dublin, Ireland and finally to Barcelona, Spain.

In Munich, on Monday night, I got to play some Guitar Hero with the folks there. On Tuesday, I presented two sessions at the SQLDays conference (http://www.sqldays.net/). It was really remarkable because someone told the attendees that my birthday was that day (Tuesday). So I had 150 Germans serenade me with “Happy Birthday”. Amazing! My colleagues were also really gracious and even had a little cake for me at the booth in the exhibit hall.

I also had the treat of riding a Segue for the first time. It’s a really awkward vehicle for about, oh, 5 seconds. But then it becomes really easy to ride and very intuitive. It simple goes in whatever direction you lean. The more you lean, the faster it goes. Lean back, and it slows down or even stops and goes in reverse. I hope to ride one of those again sometime!

Sometime on Tuesday morning, however, I started to notice that I had an upset stomach. It didn’t really bother me that much nor did it slow me down from enjoying lunch with my good friend, Christoph Stotz, who serves on the PASS board as the liaison to Europe and is president of PASS Germany. Shortly after lunch, my stomach began to send very clear signals that it was very unhappy. Thus began the frequent trips to the toilet. Uh oh! This is exactly how my other episodes of syncope and pseudo-heart attacks started.

Our venue was right next to a nice shopping mall. So I went in search of stomach medicines and Gatorade to stay hydrated. Unfortunately, German grocery stores don’t really include a large medicine section like US grocery stores do. The grocery store, called Muller’s, also didn’t have anything like Gatorade. So I had to settle for Sprite and hope for the best. I had to trapes all up and down the mall, but at long last also found a drug store. One of the pharmacists spoke English and helped me find some anti-nausea medicine and some Immodium. (All of which would’ve been impossible without the help of a native.)

I was so dehydrated that the syncope started at about 2:00 am. I lost count of the number of times I passed out at around 10 times. The clock showed 3:15 am. The good news was that my newly installed pacemaker absolutely did its job and kept my heart beating steadily. That night, as I ran back and forth to the bathroom, I thought about my options. I knew that I was going to be in a hospital soon. The question was – could I make it to Ireland and go to a hospital where they speak English as their native tongue? Or would I need to go directly to a German hospital and hope for the best.
I’m hamming it up in this picture!

I messaged Rachel and my Irish colleagues that I thought I might wind up in the hospital, then did my best to make it through to Ireland.
The taxi was waiting for me at 5:30 am. I endured as best I could and, despite intense weakness and body aches, I made it through ticketing, security and right up to the gate. But after just 5 minutes of waiting, I felt the familiar symptoms of syncope coming on. I sat a cafe table near the gate and laid my head on my arms. I was out. I came around about 10 minutes later and managed to get some help from the gate agent, thanks to a kindly fellow traveler. Soon, the paramedics and a doctor on duty at the hospital were there and had me on my way to the hospital. I can now assure you that all of those videos you’ve watched involving German nurses are completely untrue. (grin)

I felt terrible leaving my Irish colleagues in the lurch, but hey, I was unconscious. Hours later, I was able to send a few texts from my little Europhone to inform my colleagues. Julia, from our Cologne office, was extremely kind and came in to the hospital to help me out and make sure that I had everything I needed. The German medical staff was really effective and provided great care, though they made me use a weird bedpan toilet instead of a regular toilet. Ugh! I had a semi-private room with two other German men, Christian and Tomas, one suffering from a diabetic problem and the other dealing with a severe infection in his foot.

I was suprised to learn how many Germans can speak English. I would guess that one in four speaks good English and two out of that four can understand it pretty well. However, the Germans are a conscientious people and they dislike attempting to do something that they know they can’t do well. So most Germans avoid speaking English because they know it won’t be perfect. Christian and Tomas and I talked a lot about the US elections, despite the fact that we couldn’t manage too well in the other’s language. It was actually kind’a fun.

After two days, many tests, and about 24 liters of IV fluid, the German doctor decided I could be released as long as I headed straight home to recover. The diagnosis – viral gastroenteritis. In fact, they suggested that I probably caught it just before the flight to Germany since it takes a couple days to incubate. I still have no idea who I could’ve caught it from. The flight home wasn’t easy. But the anti-nausea medicine they gave me made me really drowsy.

I learned a few things on this trip. First of all, I need to get a world phone. Second, I’m going to travel with some powdered Gaterade and a small arsenal of medicines. Finally, maybe I should wear a surgeon’s mask on all plane flights?


  1. Wow, Kevin! I’m glad everything turned out ok. It’s good to have you back on this side of the Atlantic!


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