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.


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