In January each year for the last 40 years the city of Duesseldorf, Germany hosts the world’s largest consumer boating and watersports recreation show, known as the Boot Show. This global event, running 10 days, and covering 15 halls at the Duesseldorf Convention Center, dwarfs any other event in the industry. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come from lands near and far to take in this show. For an idea of size, picture one hall full of nothing but superyachts in the 100 to 140 foot range! Then multiply by fifteen!
The scuba industry is huge here in Europe, and it is truly eye-opening to see the many different products and other offerings they have here, versus what we typically see in the U.S. For the last 5 years the International Association for Handicapped Diving (IAHD) has staffed a booth and shared the news about their handicapped diver programs with the public. This year IAHD’s top dog in America, our own Dave Valaika, traveled east to join his comrades in spreading the good word. He headed over Thursday, enduring a near-Australian flying day of 16 hours overall, arriving in Germany at 7:30 Friday morning. A quick cup of “coffee in a can” (diet Coke) and he was ready to have at it for the day. Dirk Wondred, his counterpart in IAHD-Germany, picked him up and they headed to the show.
Once inside the massive event, it was non-stop meetings and introductions as Dirk showed Dave the inner-workings of the tremendous support network the IAHD has developed over the years in Europe. From equipment manufacturers to dive centers to indoor diving facilities to destinations, the IAHD program is significantly more mature on the European continent than what we have in the U.S. right now. Lots of great information shared, ideas to implement here, and new friends, even some guys wearing traditional Liederhosen as the dress of the day (No, not Dave!).
After the long day, more meetings, and finally the long drive home to Dirk’s house, Dave was running on an empty tank for sure. Falling asleep at the dinner table, he opted to head to bed for the night. Up two flights of railing-less concrete stairs (oh those German building codes!) to the third floor and we found Dave’s room, Daniel’s room, and two identical doors, one leading to the bathroom and the other back down the stairs.
Dave crashed into bed, exhausted, and began to recharge his batteries for the next day. Getting up once during the night to visit the facilities, our blearry-eyed leader headed into the hallway, opened the door, and stepped into…….yes, the open staircase to downstairs! Head over heels he tumbled down one flight, then, as if that was not enough, rolled over the edge of the landing and headed down the second flight of stairs, finally coming to a rest in a bloody heap on the first floor foyer.
Dirk and the rest of the gang jumped up at the noise but not quick enough to slow Diver Dave’s descent, and they arrived on the scene to assess the situation. The good news is that Dirk’s day job is a fireman / paramedic for the city, so he was right into action making sure the vital signs were intact and then address the injuries. Once Dirk determined that Dave was alive and could move most if not all of his appendages, they lifted Dave up and of course he refused a trip to the hospital, preferring to have a little time to self-assess the damage. So an hour or so of cleaning up the various wounds on Dave’s body, and hosing down the staircase, they put him to bed and decided to let him sleep for the night. For an added measure of safety they opted to lock the staircase door for the night – nothing like closing the barn door after the cows are out! Monitoring Dave’s vital signs were not too much of a challenge, as the moaning all night ensured that he was still breathing, and also that no one else could get any sleep in the house!
Finally Saturday morning dawned and the severity and variety of pain helped Dave know he needed to visit the local Krankenhaus, as the German hospitals are called. So, the troops hauled him downstairs, folded him (with great protest) into Daniel’s Volkswagen, and off they headed to the hospital. Of course, Daniel is Dutch, and so Dirk’s wonderful wife Angie jumped in too so she could help smooth the way at the clinic.
They arrived at the hospital, peeled Dave out of the car, and walked him into the emergency room. There, the three young frauleins on staff were quited surprised with their first american visitor, so knowing Dave, you can imagine the laughter starting and fun beginning, inspite of the reason for the visit. Right off the get-go, they speak no Dutch, and Angie speaks no English, and Dave, neither, so every bit of discussion, including the jokes, sarcasm, and punchlines, went from German thru Angie to Dutch thru Daniel to Dave, then back to Dutch, and back to German. What a laugh fest for all involved.Of course the translations made the visual aspect of facial expressions and hand signs greatly delayed, so you can imagine the scene.
We started off with the girls being completely out of admittance forms, and so they ended up searching every single cabinet and desk in the area to no avail. So out came a pad of paper, and they started taking notes, and through Angie’s interpretation, typing the information into the computer. Of course they had never seen an American insurance card like mine, but they dutifully copied it and stapled it to the paperwork. A ten Euro co-pay and we were finally off to see the doctor. So I go to the waiting area, then the examination room door opens, and who are my nurses? The same girls from admissions! So the laughing and giggling continues and of course I need my posse there to continue to interpret, but it turns out that Daniel gets real queasy over blood and anything medical, so he is not holding up so well in the exam room. What a team!
The junior doctor who is on duty that night takes it all in, and decides that some x-rays might be appropriate, so I am taken up to the Radiation Department, where a note on the glass tells us, in German of course, that the attendent is out making rounds and will be back in a while. So we wait, and she returns, and the interpretation continues, and we head in for pictures. Of course, small world, the X-ray technician lived in Houston as an au pair for a year, so she has tons of questions to ask and stories to tell, each one translated twice. We finish and head back down to the ER, X-rays in hand, and the ER has now gotten quite busy, but we have connections, and the girls bring Dave back into an exam room. Dave and the doctor study the X-rays, and see the broken ribs along the spine, but it appears that most of the rest of the structure is intact, so let’s get out of this hospital! OK, you’ll need medication, he says, so one of the girls heads out and comes back with a handful of various packets of pills, in plain white wrappers, no text or warning labels or legal documents, just drugs. Here he says, take this one three times each day, this one twice, this one at night, and Dave borrows a pen to write this on the plain white envelopes. We are clearly NOT in America anymore!
So, back into the VW, a bouncy journey back up the highway, and back to bed, preferring to pass on today’s show attendence. A good day and nights rest and rehabilitation, encouraged by good German chemistry, and we are ready for the next day. Although operating in seriously slow, painful mode, we enjoy the next three days making plans and developing programs to implement for the IAHD-Americas, and to come back to dive the indoor dive centers in the region. Overall it is a fantastic week here with our new IAHD friends and family, and we share a special bond together. Finally, it is time to head back home, and it’s only a short flight to Paris, followed by 10 hours across the Atlantic, and one more flight into Philadelphia, and we’re back home, ready to start planning for next year’s Boot show visit, sans the krankenhaus!