Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Hero: Prof. Dr. Franz Maurer, MD

On day six after my successful leg/knee surgery it is time to pay tribute to my new-found hero, Prof. Dr. Franz Maurer.
Chefarzt Prof. Dr. med. Franz Maurer, Oberschwabenklinik Ravensburg
Over the past week I have come to see a lot of Dr. Maurer, who, upon the tireless insistence of Sabine, took over my case even after I had been taken to Tettnang hospital. He was the one who operated on me last Friday morning, apparently shaking up his established surgery schedule to fix me first thing in the morning, since he deemed my case the most complex of the day. I can sing nothing but high praises. Obviously, we cannot know how the surgeons at Tettnang would have patched me up. However, it is difficult to second-guess a surgeon who not only after the surgery but after reviewing his handicraft through a CT scan later labels my chances of 100% recovery as extremely likely. This doc knows exactly what he is doing, and when I went under the knife I felt 100% confident that I could trust him.
CT scan showing my new titanium hardware—hold on, TSA, here I come!
There are great and exceptional surgeons all over the world; I've been lucky to have been taken on by someone with not only outstanding technical skills in his profession, but somebody who as a medical caretaker dispenses humor, compassion, and humanity. Every day he has made it a point to see me twice, and every time he gives me all the friendly and warm attention that I can ask for, and more. Much more. Thank you, Dr. Maurer, for not seeing me simply as yet another case but as the person who I am.
Handsome zippers

Comparative view
Multi-colored bruising
My recuperation so far has been coming along at a steady and satisfactory, albeit slow, pace. Well, when I say slow, I should probably put it all in perspective: Less than a week ago I was totally immobile, and now I am limping around on crutches, allowed to bear up to 25% of my body weight on my broken leg (about 20 kg). For a few days I have had visits by a physiotherapist who straps me to a robotic movement machine that gently mobilizes my leg to a bearable angle; when I started, I could stand maybe 20 degrees, and now the knee already allows close to 40. He has also shown me how to climb stairs with my crutches, something that will be essential once I am back in Freising in two days. On my first day out of the bed I was allowed to use the Porsche Cayenne, as they call the pictured four-wheel scooter.
Using the Porsche Cayenne

"Schnell, schnell, Schwester Brunhilde, die Maschine ist bei 125 Grad!!!!!"
I've been extremely lucky in that I have experienced essentially no pain at all. Maybe it's been the meds that I have been given, but more likely my pain receptors focus so hard on abdominal anti-thrombosis shots and the occasional drawing of blood that major pain gets tuned out. For what it's worth, initially I was given novalgin, voltaren, and arcoxia for pain management and anti-inflammation, and oral-dispensed xarelto has replaced those nuisance shots. I've reduced the pain meds to a minimum or less but keep listening to my body.
German engineering: bed-mounted crutch holders, TÜV-approved, no doubt
As I had mentioned in my last post, the staff in Tettnang were attentive, and here they are even better. They are amazing, just like the food, which could be served up in any half-decent restaurant. If you need to have an accident, make sure you're in Germany and close to Ravensburg.
Anybody for Kaffee und Erdbeer Torte for the afternoon coffee-time ritual?
Since the surgery I have been in a private room that provides more privacy (and Sabine can stay in the evening longer than 8 p.m.). The room has big, bright windows and a beautiful view; when I have my meals (now taken at the table) I look out onto trees and hills.
The view from my hospital room in Oberschwabenklinik Ravensburg
So, as you can see, in a shitty situation I am well taken care of and (almost) enjoying myself. Sabine comes over for visits in the afternoon—with some nice weather this week I told her to go for bike rides on the lake instead of hanging with this decrepit fella in the ward. Tomorrow we will go back to Bernd and Isolde's place in Wasserburg before returning to Freising on Saturday. I'm a bit apprehensive about the almost-three-hour drive, but I'll manage. Thanks to modern technology I've been in touch with friends, airlines, insurance companies, and my hometown physician—it feels good to get things done. My return to Lubbock is scheduled for July 1, so I will have a lot of time in Freising for rehab work. Recovery to where I can feel somewhat "normal" again will take around three months or more. Well, it could have been so much worse!

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sailing can be more dangerous than cycling

Kleiner Blaupfeil in the Nonnenhorn harbor
In a perfect world, i.e. a world without accidents, I would be a day away from leaving for a cycling vacation in Tuscany. But since this is an imperfect world, I am a day away from surgery of my broken right shin bone and tibial plateau. Yes, that totally sucks. I better tell the story—I have the time to do so, lying here in a hospital bed in Ravensburg, Germany.
Two Folkeboote, the type we sailed, on Lake Constance
After my train ride from Berlin to Freising last Thursday, I spent Friday assembling my geared Ritchey and even managed to go for a 35-mile ride—the last one for several months to come, but I didn't know that at the time. On Saturday morning, Sabine and I left for Lake Constance (Bodensee), about 150 miles away in the south-west corner of Germany, surrounded by Austria, Switzerland, and two German states (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg). Sabine's friends Bernd and Isolde live in the tiny hamlet of Wasserburg, and their boat lies in the even tinier harbor of Nonnenhorn, just a few klicks away. The idea was to spend a relaxed weekend of sailing as it was the weekend that a 30+ member Folkeboot group gets together for their annual sailing weekend.
Sabine and Kleiner Blaupfeil's captain, Bernd, after Saturday's excursion
Saturday's weather was gorgeous, and Bernd took Sabine and me out for a smooth reconnaissance of the immediate area. You can tell from the pictures how beautiful it was. Both of them, as well as Isolde, race together in regattas, and they are accomplished sailors. Sabine spent much time sailing the Caribbean and Polynesia on an almost identical boat back in the '80s. We spent the afternoon greeting and meeting fellow sailors, all friends of our hosts, as they sailed up from all corners of the lake. The evening was spent eating and drinking, and everybody had a blast.
Harbor master Fritz and Bernd discuss the following day's weather
Sunday the weather had changed, and the slight breeze had turned into a hard wind, with whitecaps and all. Everyone beamed! The boats (a Danish design called Folkeboot) are practically unsinkable and can be sailed hard into the wind, and the crew was having a ball, as was I. The wind lashed and the rain spat—it was a great feeling to sail. I loved it! And then, while preparing for a turn and changing positions from one side of the boat to the other, I somehow slipped and crashed my right leg into a wooden rail. I right off knew that this one was serious, not just a bump. I was still hoping that it was just a huge bruise and not a fracture, but I quickly realized that that was nothing but wishful thinking.
The calm before the storm
I dragged myself into the small cabin and tried to find a comfortable place to rest my leg while Bernd immediately smoothed out the ride and headed for the next harbor. It was not the most pleasant ride, but I managed the pain. EMS was on-site a short time after we landed, but then the ordeal of getting me out of the cabin and into the ambulance began. The emergency guys immediately assessed the severity of the injury and called for a doctor, who totally knocked me out. From what I was told later, I screamed like a stuck pig, or worse. I have no memory of any of that, just of a soothing dream in which I entered the Matrix as part of billions of ions and protons, swept away in a rushing river of similar particles, understanding the nature of the universe .... and then I was in the neon-lit emergency room, being wheeled here and there, surrounded by machines that go ping.
Post accident, hurting
You know how accidents go: One doesn't plan for them. We had planned for a fun weekend before going back to Freising, spending a few relaxed days there, and then leaving for a week in Tuscany to ride our bikes. This was supposed to be Sabine's vacation; instead she is now my handler and secretary and caretaker. The accident happened on a religious holiday (Pentecost) that continues to be celebrated on Monday as well—regular hospital staff are replaced by assistants. I had been taken to the small hospital in Tettnang, which has a good orthopedic ward, but after only a short time of talking to their friends (many of whom are employed in the medical field), Bernd, Isolde, and Sabine realized that Tettnang is good, but that Prof. Dr. Franz Maurer in Ravensburg is one of the best orthopedic surgeons in southern Germany, if not the entire country.
In Tettnang hospital, one day later
And so Sabine's quest began. Somehow she managed on Tuesday to get to meet Prof. Maurer between surgeries, armed with nothing but a CD with my x-rays and CAT scans and her disarming smile and desire to get me out of Tettnang and into his hands in Ravensburg. Somewhere she and he hit it off, and he immediately laid out a surgery and treatment plan for me. The only thing that was left was to ask the surgeon in Tettnang to transfer me to Ravensburg in a way that would not jeopardize my US insurance coverage.

It all worked.

Last night I met Prof. Maurer, a dynamic, laser-focused individual whom I liked immediately—and he obviously like me, too. Even after his long day he took more than half an hour at my bedside, talking not only about the surgery but my life in the US, differences in health care systems, challenges for hospitals and his profession, etc. It was as if we had known each other for years. Just now, while writing his post, one of his team members, Dr. Bartels, has once again come by to go with me over the surgery, possible problems, long-term issues, and the like. And then we started talking about cycling and triathlons, exchanging ideas and philosophies. Goodness me, I am being treated by humans and not robots. I couldn't ask for more.
Sabine preparing our hospital picnicla dolce vita, almost
In all this, Sabine has been a godsend. The way she invested herself with all her energy in finding the best possible care is something I will never forget. The way Bernd and Isolde, whom I had never met, and their other friends have embraced me is humbling. I have been posting some updates on Facebook already, and I have also sent out some e-mails, and the outpouring of love from so many of all those great friends that I have all around the world is not only encouraging but uplifting and emotionally nurturing.

This is not a good situation, but then, accidents never are. I see the glass as half full, and I am optimistic. As you can tell from some of the photos, Sabine and I are trying to make the best out of the hand that we have been dealt. Things could have been better, but they could have been so much worse.
A Room With a View, and butterflies—my hospital room in Ravensburg
With this I close this entry. Sabine will post something on FB after the surgery, and I will most likely put an update on this blog as soon as I am back to normal, for those who follow me here but are not on FB. Until then, keep riding and enjoying life. You know what they say: It's not a question of whether, only a question of when. My time had come once again, and now I'm fighting back.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Three days in Berlin

Berlin has me back, for a few days at least. I arrived here late on Monday afternoon, and now it's already Wednesday evening again, and in another 24 hours I will be in Bavaria. But I thought I should pen a quick update as I've been having such a good time over the past 48 hours.
The iconic walking man of the Berlin traffic lights
After a great American flight—front of the bus, as has become almost norm now—I arrived in Tegel. Ah, Tegel, or TXL. More than a year ago the new Berlin airport, BER, was supposed to have opened, with much fanfare. Alas, at almost the last minute it was determined that there were significant problems with the billion-dollar airport, and there is no new opening date in sight, at least not a realistic one.  The debacle is a source of much Schadenfreude among Berliners, who love to dwell on stuff like that as it shows the incompetence of the politicians and leaders they elected. Go figure.
No beach access ....
... no problem!
Berliners are an interesting bunch. Well, Germans are, too, but Berliners are a bit different. This is a big city with an interesting history, often steeped in adversity. The people are resilient, quick thinking, but also fatalist and given to commiserating about their own fate. None of that can be easily expressed in pictures as one has to listen into conversations on the U-Bahn (the local metro) or two denizens talking over a beer in an Eckkneipe, one of the many corner pubs that still exist. I got a bit of an earful today from the elderly son of a former bike racer who checked out my bike while I was having a Maibock in Germany’s smallest brewery in Köpenick.
Maibock is a strong, seasonal beer that is smooth and kicks

While yesterday’s weather was cool and wet at times (I got caught in rain during my ride through the city center with all the must-see sights, and there are no pics), today was a gorgeous pre-summer day. Central Europeans love the sun; I remember a photo I took of Parisians lined up in chairs against a wall in the Jardin du Luxembourg. In the morning, I walked around my dad’s neighborhood in Neukölln, a melting pot of Turks, a few young Germans, more Turks, Africans, the occasional foreign student, lots more Turks, and a generous helping of old German folks like, well, my dad. You can tell who the Europeans are because they will sit in street cafes, shed layers of clothes, and sun themselves in private or not so private places. Turks, by that definition, are not Europeans.
Obviously not a Turkish citizen.... Yes, Harriett, that's a Full Monty.
OK, some of them are a bit more extreme than others, but then, WTF, right? To each his own. It makes for an interesting day, though. (Almost) Equally interesting is the amazing infrastructure for cycling that exists in the German capital. If you read my glowing report of Albuquerque’s bike paths, well, start thinking a few sizes bigger. In two days I rode about 70 miles on bike paths and bike lanes that were well maintained, featured bike-specific traffic lights, and were marked with meaningful directional signs. But that’s not all: I witnessed exactly one car disregard the right of way of a bike—one in 70 miles of urban traffic! The drivers SEE bikes! They COOPERATE with bikes! Most likely, they RIDE bikes themselves!
Not exactly Copenhagen Cycle Chic material, but they sure beat the naked guy above

Still Life with Flowers and Shopping Cart
His sign reads "Piss on Disco,and both sported amazing tattoos, none of them tribal.

To wrap things up: Even if visiting my dad was the main reason for stopping over in Berlin I have to admit that I feel much more alive when I am out-and-about, be it on foot on or the single-speed Ritchey that I keep here. Berlin is a dynamic city, and I really enjoy coming here and wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks exploring the city on my own schedule and terms. But for the time being, I’m damn glad that dad is still living here in Neukölln and is keeping the Ritchey.
The older of the two Ritchey siblings, steel and single speed
But then, there’s always an encore, and this blog post needs one too because Germans don’t go to a concert without clamoring for at least two “Zu-ga-bes.” So here they are: # 1 is a billboard for the Superfreak Show featuring the Super Tall Texans (whoever they may be, but I’m glad they will appear here after my departure), and #2 advertises a Paleolithic restaurant. So you don’t know what that is? Well, I didn’t either, but by carefully studying the menu I learned that all food is planned and prepared by taking into consideration the caloric and vitamin and nutrient demands that our Paleolithic ancestors encountered. Wow.

Freakshow III—yeah!
Feel the mammoth in you, can you?
After all this I hope you will sleep well. I intend to do so to flee Berlin and run off to the safe harbor of Freising, in Bavaria, where folks don’t strip down nekkid—unless they go to the local Baggersee for an after-work swim or strut around in the buff while visiting the Therme Erding. Holy Moses, why did I even bring that up? I suppose I forgot, because it is part of genetic material. G'night.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Among pines, aligators, and really fat people

Welcome to Huntsville State Park
What an amazing world I live in: Just a week ago I was in arid New Mexico, and now I am a few miles north of Houston, in the middle of pine forests and lush greenery and the real possibility of encountering an alligator. OK, it may look green, but even here the effects of the lingering Texas drought are apparent. Still, compared to West Texas, this place is verdant.
The race course leads along such bayous
This weekend, I am in Huntsville State Park to officiate the finals of the Texas High School Mountain Bike League series. It’s been a long, long drive—by the time I get home on Monday I will have put another 1,100 miles on the Miata’s odometer. But it has been so beautiful along the way! The wildflowers are still blooming, and from Abilene on it has been nothing but an explosion of colors. The landscape keeps changing, too. I am now in the piney forests, yet there are gentle meadows and deciduous trees aplenty.
Looking forward and backward in the Miata

I stayed overnight in Waco, which in itself is already a heckuva long way from Lubbock. This morning I left the hotel and had another 2 ½ hours to the race venue. I walked the more-than-eight-mile-long course, which features lots of sand and roots but very little change in elevation. The faces are now familiar, and working alongside Vance, Brandi, Erin, Paul, Mike, and the other Paul is like interacting with family. I am already looking forward to the 2014 season.
At least the Huntsville team didn't have to travel 500 miles...
Tonight I am staying in the Hampton in Livingston, a place where Judy and I would relax after the first day of the TMBRA race at Double Lake, due south of here. The drive from Huntsville takes one along big lakes, marinas, and crawfish places. 
Crossing Lake Livingston at Point Blank
I stopped by the HEB and Wal-Mart after check-in, to gather a hotel picnic. Holy Moses, I uttered to myself, these people down here are really fat! Here comes a confession: My dad, living happily with German TV specials about “Amerika” is totally shocked by the level of obesity in this country, and he has a sick infatuation with square butts that tend to sway and waddle in abnormal ways. Well, had he been with me at either of these two stores tonight, he would have probably caused an international incident with his mouth agape and his fingers pointing.
Sam Houston, off I-45 looking north (Sammy is looking west)
On the way I drove by the statue of  Sam Houston’s, a magnum-sized version of the Texas hero. And then there was that beautiful name of the Podunk little town right before crossing the bridge across Lake Livingston: Point Blank! It hardly gets better than that, although yesterday’s “Ben Hur” and the close-by “Nimrod” should get honorable mentions. (Let’s be fair: New Mexico has Truth or Consequences.)
1991 special edition Miata claiming its spot
So, now I’m sitting in my hotel room, marveling at how little my Miata is in comparison to the ubiquitous bubba trucks. My rotisserie chicken dinner is in the digestive tract, but there are still a few beers left, thank goodness. 
Sunset from the hotel room
The sunset was pretty spectacular, but a size or two smaller than in West Texas. You know, bigger asses, smaller skies. Tomorrow will be the final race for all those kids, and some of them will go home as State Champions, maybe the first medals ever for them in a sporting competition. 
NICA now has 10 state leagues
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association will have lived up to its mission, and I will feel a certain pride in knowing that I have played an integral role in the success of this four-race series. May tomorrow's race bring lots of smiles and no injuries.