In June of 2013 I was scheduled to run a trade show booth at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Antonio, Texas. At the time I was working for a small educational software developer, and we were right on the cusp of some pretty dramatic success. This show was to be an important step in that process.
When you work for a small company trade show budgets are very small, forcing you to make do with nothing but a few bucks and your wits. You stay in hotels with free breakfast, you eat inexpensive fast food, you don’t expense adult beverages, and when given the choice of a cab or an invigorating walk… you walk. I flew Southwest, so the entire “booth” was stuffed into my two “free” checked bags.
I left Rochester, NY early in the morning, transferred flawlessly in Chicago, and landed in San Antonio a few minutes early. When you fly west, you often get to your destination not long after you departed due to the time change. My bags were waiting at the carousel, there was no line for a cab, and I arrived at the convention center only thirty minutes after I’d walked off the plane. I thought to myself, “I think I’m going to like Texas.”
Check-in was a breeze, I got my credentials and headed to our booth space. The few things we’d ordered were waiting for me. I went about the task of setting it all up, happy to discover I had everything I needed. When I stood back to admire what I’d created, my watch read 11:45am (Texas time). Everything was ready for the next morning when my coworker Melissa was to arrive from Austin and start the show promptly at 9:00am.
I was so far ahead of schedule, and everything had gone so smoothly, I should have known it was all about to go completely sideways.
I made the four-block walk to my hotel, checked in, unpacked and spent the afternoon wandering around downtown San Antonio. I even went for a short run in the Texas heat. It had been a very productive and (dare I say) almost relaxing day.
I had dinner plans with a sales rep we were considering bringing on board, so I showered, got dressed and headed over to meet her at the “River Walk.” The San Antonio River Walk is basically a giant water park style “lazy river” that winds through the city. There are walking paths on both sides and lots of restaurants. For a blazingly hot city in Texas, it is a very nice little oasis.
Cathy the sales rep and I met at the restaurant, and we were shown to a lovely table overlooking the river. The only thing separating me from the passing tourist boats was a stone wall replete with native plants and flowers growing out of the top.
We enjoyed a fine Tex-Mex meal and a few margaritas. As our dinner wrapped up, I paid the check, but as I stood to leave, I felt a strange, and rather severe pain in my right knee. I have been a serious runner since seventh grade, so I know my leg joints very well. I knew for sure I hadn’t injured myself on my run, nor on the walk to the restaurant, yet as I covered the half-mile back to my hotel, there was definitely something wrong with my knee.
Upon entering my hotel room, I did what every responsible adult would do… I took three Advil and went to bed.
The next morning I felt fine, but my knee was still sore. My coworker Melissa showed up right on time, and we had a very successful day showing our wares at the trade show. As the afternoon wore on, I began to not feel so great, but we had an industry event to attend that evening, so I shrugged it off with a few more pills and two glasses of water.
We attended the event at a real Texas ranch. As we pet some giant horses, I told Melissa about my growing illness and my knee pain. She pointed out what appeared to be some kind of insect bite on the back of my knee, just beyond where I could easily see it. I touched it and it hurt… a lot.
I went to bed not feeling good at all, but I drank several more glasses of water and took more Advil. I had a big day of presentations ahead and I needed some sleep.
I slept poorly.
When I finally pulled myself out of bed, I knew it was going to be a tough day, but I had no choice, I had to gird my loins and get through it.
I drank several glasses of juice at the hotel breakfast buffet, and headed to the convention center. Melissa was there already, and had actually picked me up a breakfast burrito from some famous San Antonio burrito joint. Adopting a “fake it ‘till you make it” attitude, I accepted the burrito and ate it.
The show floor opened and we began what was going to be a long day of demonstrations. Word had gotten out that our educational games were pretty amazing, and as show attendees started streaming in, our booth was pretty full, pretty fast.
I was just starting my third demo of the day when it happened. Right in the middle of explaining our product to a very interested crowd, I interrupted myself by saying, “excuse me just one moment.” I proceeded to fall to my knees and stick my head under a draped table in the back of the booth. I found the black plastic garbage can that comes with every trade show booth, and began violently vomiting every gram of breakfast burrito and hotel juice I had consumed.
From the outside, all my audience could see was a quivering pair of khaki pants, as the front half of me ferociously purged on the other side of the drape.
After a solid two minutes, I managed to wipe my face with the back of the table drape, and I emerged to continue the demo. I stood up and tried to pick up where I had left off, but one of the few remaining folks said, “you don’t look so good, maybe you should sit down.”
Melissa took one look at me and said, “you’re going to an urgent care…now!”
My brain said no, but my body quickly won the argument. Five minutes later I was alone in the back of a hot and stinky cab. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of having a fever in 105-degree heat, it is a surreal experience. It feels like you’re swimming in hot sand… and despair.
I was seen quickly at the urgent care, but they didn’t think much of my theory connecting the bite on my knee to my vomiting. In typical urgent care fashion, they gave me a prescription for antibiotics and sent me on my way. I checked in with my wife (who is a doctor) and she asked me to keep her informed as the day transpired.
I walked out into the blazing sun and realized I had no idea where I was. I looked up a drugstore on my iPhone, and was happy to see there was a CVS about a half mile away, and just beyond that on the map I saw my hotel. However, remember how this was 2013? Apple maps was brand new… and horrible. I followed the walking directions for what ended up being more than a mile, only to discover the CVS was just a dusty vacant lot.
I gave up on the prescription, continued on to my hotel, and passed out.
An hour later I awoke to my cell phone ringing. It was my wife checking in on me. She was not happy about the situation I described, and strongly recommended I find an emergency room. By now, my father (also a doctor) had caught wind of my condition and he called to recommend the same course of action. He said, “This is exactly how one of those, ‘they found him dead and alone in his hotel room’ stories starts out.”
Having not undressed nor even removed my shoes, I grabbed the ice bucket from the room and headed down to the lobby.
I asked the front desk for the closest emergency room and they suggested I ask a cabbie, so I crawled into a waiting cab and did as I was told. Ten minutes later I paid the man and stumbled through the sliding doors of what appeared to be a large hospital. While attempting to focus on the directional signs in the lobby, a security guard asked, “can I help you?” I said I needed the ER and he politely replied, “all we have here is an Urgent Care, but there’s an ER at the hospital just around the corner.” I looked at the urgent care sign and it was the same chain I’d been to earlier. No thank you.
Back out into the heat I went, clutching my ice bucket and the smallest shred of my remaining optimism.
You know when you give someone directions based on your experience driving, but then you realize you’ve totally underestimated the actual distance if you were walking? Well, the security guard meant well, but the walk to the hospital “just around the corner,” ended up being the better part of two miles.
By the time I was covering the last block to the hospital with the ER, people were starting to stare. I must have been quite a sight. As I entered the lobby, grateful for the air conditioning, a mother grabbed her toddler by the arm pulling him out of my path.
I walked up to the information desk and, using the last of my energy, asked, “Can you please direct me to the adult ER?”
The woman behind the counter was wearing some kind of blouse with cartoon characters on it, and as she began to speak I noticed the entire lobby was decorated in bright and whimsical manner. In the kindest Texan accent, she looked at me and said, “Oh sweetie – this is a children’s hospital. We don’t have an adult ER. We don’t treat adults at all.”
I was crestfallen. I thought I had finally made it to a place where I could get the help I needed, yet here I was again back to square one.
I quickly shifted from exhausted and hopeful, to angry and determined to survive. The nice woman behind the desk smiled and said, “there is a nice hospital just up this street here that has an adult ER.” Skeptically I asked, “not the place around the corner with just the urgent care?”
She shook her head and said, “No, not that place. Go out the door and turn left. Walk a few blocks north and you can’t miss it. The road ends at the hospital.” I thanked her politely and kept moving, knowing if I sat down I would not get back up.
Again, I ventured out into the furnace of San Antonio. I was on a mission. A mission to not die.
My ice bucket and I did as we were told, and before we got to the next hospital we’d covered yet another mile of burning asphalt jungle. I approached a parking lot attendant in a booth and asked where the ER might be. He proceeded to describe what sounded like a long drive all the way around the hospital complex. I politely inquired if one might get there by walking through the hospital. He thought for a moment and said, “You could do that too, and it would be a lot shorter.”
Ten minutes later I finally arrived at a legitimate adult Emergency Room and it was one of the best medical experiences of my life. Within 20 minutes I had described everything to a doctor who began pumping me full of IV fluids. He believed I’d been bit by some kind of known evil Texas spider living in the planter wall along the River Walk. They gave me pain and anti-nausea meds, and started IV antibiotics. When my wife called my cell phone, I just handed it to the doctor. They spoke and both seemed satisfied.
Ninety minutes later I felt 1000% better as I racked up another unauthorized cab ride back to my hotel. I still had my ice bucket, which was only a little crusty from my sweat. I had named him Martin.
I slept fourteen hours.
The next morning, I awoke and amazingly I felt fine. I showered, dressed, ate breakfast, and even beat Melissa to the trade show booth. I thanked her profusely for covering for me, and we went about making the most of the last day of the show.
About an hour into the morning, a guy came by asking for a demo. As I showed him all the things our software could do, he leaned in and said, “what happened to that poor bastard who was here yesterday? Man he was puking his guts out!” Not wanting to make a scene I simply said, “He’s doing much better, thanks for asking.”
When this story happened, I lived in NY and I swore I would never go back to Texas. I now live in North Carolina which is decidedly more south, but in nearly two years I have yet to be bitten by anything resembling the “Texas sore knee vomit spider.” As for Texas… I won’t be returning any time soon.
A few years after this incident, my nephews wrote and recorded a song that expressed my sentiments precisely. Enjoy.
Copyright © 2018 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved