from the International Liver Congress, Vienna
This year’s conference will forever be known as “The Volcano Meeting.”
“It’s been a good congress, but unfortunately people are going to remember the volcano more than anything that was said in the sessions,” observed Dr. Peter Ferenci, professor of medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.
The wave of airport closures began on opening day of the congress. As the closures quickly spread, attendees became preoccupied with how to get home. By the final day, Sunday, many had bailed.
The European gastroenterologists had it relatively easy. Although trains throughout Europe quickly maxed out and car rental companies were stripped bare, friendly pharmaceutical companies chartered long-haul buses to get physicians back to their home countries on The Continent.
The Americans faced a dilemma: Join the vast southerly migration to Spain or Italy and attempt to catch a trans-Atlantic flight from there, or wait it out in Vienna. Most I spoke with, shaken by TV footage of large numbers of people crammed together on cots at Frankfurt Airport and even more spartan conditions at the train stations, opted to stay put in Vienna, a lovely, laid-back city of many superb museums. Doctors rescheduled patients, plugged in their laptops to get work done, enjoyed Sunday’s Vienna City Marathon, whose 33,000 entrants seemed to course everywhere through town, and waited for a change in the weather and/or the flight control bureaucracy.
But I talked to American doctors with young kids back home who felt compelled to try to get back. Their plan was to stand in line for 4-5 hours to get a one-way rental car, drive more than 1,000 miles to Madrid, and try for a flight from there. Four others were mulling over sharing a massive cab fare to Barcelona. A drug company hired a bus to take its employees to Rome, only to find Rome Airport had closed during the 7-hour ride as the ash cloud grew and shifted.
The travel grounding has required an attitude adjustment on my own part. I’m about schnitzeled out, although in Vienna it’s quite possible to eat good Italian food as well. I’d already been in Europe 2 full weeks covering three medical meetings and was looking forward to getting home Sunday. Instead I’m going to have to return to the local laundry, where my lack of German has already resulted in hilarious confusion.