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My Readercon Adventure

Excuse any sloppy edits or typos. I write this under the influence of painkillers with insufficient energy to give it more work:

Last weekend was Readercon, quite probably my favorite convention of the year. I always have a lot of fun… well, except for this year. It started off well. I was supposed to be a dealer in the dealer's room again this year, so I brought a small fraction of my old Clarkesworld Books inventory to the con to sell off. I had a nice dinner at the hotel pub with my family before set-up and a bunch of people helped get all my boxes inside. Before unpacking, I thought I should set up the shelving. Midway through, I felt particularly unwell. I started sweating profusely and was hit with a wave of nausea. I suspected food poisoning or an allergic reaction. (I have a seafood allergy and the restaurant may have prepared seafood near or on the same grill as my dinner.) I left everything in place and returned to my room for several rounds of vomiting. After a while, my chest hurt, but it felt more like muscle strain from all the bathroom activity. It got worse and the pain spread to my shoulder. My wife called the front desk to get an ambulance.

Who's Fault is This?
The first Readercon panel I attended was a hotel employee, some EMTs and well, it's a blur. Unlike a normal panel, the panelists asked the audience questions. "Where did you eat?" "When?" "What did you have?" all the way to "Allergies?"  "What medications do you take" "where does it hurt" "how long" and then they put me on a stretcher. The rest of the panel was in motion. To be honest, I zoned out a few times, but next thing I know we have the words "Heart Attack" flash on stage and I'm flying through the lobby on my way to the next panel escorted by a few of the panelist.

The Classic Road Trip: An Overdone Trope?
The second panel took place in an ambulance. More questions I don't remember and lots of talk about possible heart attacks. Open your mouth. Icky taste. Any improvement? STAB, you need an IV line. This panel was very short, but involved a field trip to Lahey Clinic, where the next panel would begin.

Emergency Room 101
Questions flying fast and furious. Attempts to dull the pain with morphine end with me sick and nauseous, so they stop and move onto something else. Time flies, but I can tell these people are bright. Something about running a line to check my heart. They can go through my groin or my arm. "I vote arm" is my sole contribution as they wheel me away to the operating room.

Operating Room: A Chilling Metaphor or Cold Reality.
Panelists definitely leans towards cold. Ouch, someone poking at my arm. Room sort of spinning. Close eyes. Noises, voices, time passes in odd ways. Did they drug me? No, I'm here and my back hurts. "Are you almost done, my back really hurts" is my sole contribution before things blur together some more.

Recovery Room (someone renamed the Green Room)
We installed two stents. The area of your heart attack is called the widow maker. There were other problems but we decided not to deal with them. Blurrrr. Being slid onto a bed. Another IV line. Blood pressure machine on my arm. Are you OK? Anything we can do for you? Drift into sleep. Take these pills. More explanations. My wife is there. One son sleeping in the other room. I'll live. What the hell happened? One of the other audience members screams like a demon from hell. Better not let the kids visit right now.

Recovery Room 2: No Escape, but the Guards are Nice
I'm sleeping 20-30 minutes at a time, maybe. Very friendly people trying to make me comfortable. More drugs. I didn't think SF conventions were like this. Did I wander into some secret room party? It's explained just how lucky I am to have survived the other panels. Moved, I break down when the lights go out. I hear the nice people called very unpleasant things by some older people in the audience.

Yes, You Really Can Escape from Recovery Room
The real takeaway from this panel is that although you've escaped, you can only get a few hundred feet away to somewhere with fewer wires and machines taped or strapped to your body. Still, the people are nice and regularly giving me medical training, suggestions on how to eat better and how I can expect my body to function as it recovers. Do I have a new body? Doesn't quite work right. I realize that I'm the youngest person attending these panels, perhaps by as much as 20 years. A panelist tells me I am right and that several of the other panelists have been asking a doctor how that could be. No one knows. I break down again when it gets dark. Panelists offer to help.

Do We Really Have Freedom?
This was an overwhelmingly positive panel. After a momentary discussion of having to take tests to leave the panel, it is determined that a video of the procedure that gained me admittance to the panels reveals good not great news. Making good progress, but they are still concerned about a significant amount of damage to my heart, 20 percent in one region. My future is predicted three months out and two worlds exist: one with a device implanted in my heart, one without. Cardiac rehab is my best path forward and I am released into the world to return to the hotel.

Where Did Everyone Go?
The panel over, I head back to the dealers room. No one is there. The hotel is empty. Where did everyone go? Prior investigation leads me to believe that kind volunteers not only staffed my table but set it up and sold a huge portion of what I brought. I'd say it was the easiest dealer's room I've worked, but my chest tells me otherwise. I'm overwhelmed by the things people did for me while I was on the surreal track at Readercon. I'm left in awe of the program participants.

Another Road Trip Panel
It's just my family and my father on this one. We pack up and head for greener pastures. Is it the beginning or the end of the story? Perhaps just the second chance to enjoy the story to its fullest. My doctor wants to see me when I finish the 4+ hour trip home. Something about checking the blood. No vampires. Aside from the people at Lahey, he's the only one I trust on such matters. That will have to change. My life is different now. I keep reminding myself.

The Gotcha Ending
Finally home, it's time for bed. Pain ratchets across my stomach and to my back. The end??? No, a quick race to the emergency room, where I'm sick with pain. Heart attack? Kidney stone? The latter, but can't be tackled in the garden variety way. No, we've got to have drama. The heart, of course, let's make it so that the medications and procedures complicate things and require our hero to return to the Cardiac Care Unit. Do not pass GO. Now, fade. That's how it's done. 


Seriously though… A huge thank you to the people at Lahey Clinic. They saved my life and put me on the road to recovery. I will never forget that. I will not forget how lucky I was to end up there. More thanks to the people at Readercon that pulled together to help run our booth, sign cards or buy out my inventory. Every little gesture went noticed by my family and I. To everyone at Morristown Memorial Hospital. Thanks for trying to make back-to-back against the odds medical issues more tolerable. I'm not out of the woods, but I know you'll get me there. Hopefully soon. This stone thing is awful and big and scary and… you all know.

Today, I know who my friends are and they are many.


July Issue of Clarkesworld Magazine


Very disappointed


  1. You were certainly missed, loved, and respected.

  2. Best con report ever.

    Also: you don’t know who all your friends are. Some of us you haven’t even met yet, but we’re still cheering.

  3. I’m so glad you’re all right. Please let me know if there’s anything more I can do, to help out with the magazine or move the slush through more efficiently or anything else you might need really, while you’re recuperating.

    Hope you feel much better soon.


  4. I’m so glad to hear you’re ok. I was worried.

  5. Dang. That doesn’t sound like a fun convention at ALL. Maybe you should try it without so much heart attack next time.

    Get better.

  6. Anonymous

    get well soon and stay out of the hospital. I think you’ve done enough of that now.

    seriously, take care & get well.

  7. My goodness. I hope everything goes well for your recoveries.

  8. Neil, so sorry to hear you were hit with back to back problems. Here’s hoping you’ll be on the mend soon, and have a good recovery from both issues. Morristown Memorial is a good hospital, with a great Cardiac Care Unit. My mom had open heart surgery there, and they were great.

  9. Glad to hear you’re okay! Sending all possible best wishes for a speedy and full recovery!

  10. My thoughts are with you–best wishes for a full and speedy recovery!

  11. Holy crap!!! I am so glad your wife knew enough to call for an ambulance, and that they were able to save you. You would be sorely missed, otherwise.

  12. Anonymous

    Great con report – glad I missed that particular set of panels!

    Hope you get well as soon as possible.

    — Michael Walsh

  13. I think we’ll all be happier if you stick around the more usual con panels next time!

    So glad to hear you’re recovering.

  14. *hugs* I’m so glad you’re OK and that you got treated in time. Hope the rest of the road is smooth, or as smooth as can be given the occasional hospital bits.

  15. Very glad you’re okay, and hope your recovery goes quickly!

  16. While that is a thrilling con report, I think I share the general view that I’d prefer you to not be on the surreal track again but stick to conventional programming.

    Seriously though, I’m so glad that you had such excellent care.

  17. Suggest you don’t wait too long before going back to deal with the “other problems”. When something very similar happened to Judy in February, the “other problems” involved five bypasses. And a much better outlook.

  18. Anonymous

    We realized this all happened probably minutes after we saw you in the DR…SO glad you are making a good recovery, and feel better soon – Rina and Jacob Weisman

  19. For once I’m not taking notes on panel ideas for next year.

    Best wishes for a complete recovery and many, many non-surreal conventions in your future.

  20. Anonymous

    Excellent Report.

    I’m going to print up a line of Tshirts that say “I vote Arm!” on them. I could’ve used one a few years ago.

    Get well!

  21. Best wishes for a complete recovery, Neil. I certainly hope future cons will be of the boring kind.

  22. Thanks for the blow by blow. We all missed you and were very worried. Sean and others did yeoman effort to keep your table open and selling things. Relieved that you’re recuperated enough to write this eloquent description of your unexpected panel !

  23. Wow, great story — especially considering the alternatives. Glad you are still with us! and we’ll see you around.

  24. I don’t think you should attend that particular alternative universe’s version of Readercon ever again. The more mundane version is much safer.

    Sorry things are still needing to be fixed. Hope it all goes smoothly and pain-free from here on in. Looking forward to seeing you up, about and healthy at Readercon 2013.

  25. Glad I got to be a brief audience member for one of those panels. You seemed pretty upbeat and chipper, and I would hate to lose you. And I meant what I said–fandom is very much a family, and we all care.

  26. Congratulations on being able to view this incident with sufficient humor to write it up as a con report. Best wishes for a better experience at your next con!

  27. What a bravura piece of writing – especially when you must be feeling . . . the way you must be feeling.

    That said, I would very much like future cons to have a checkspace in Programming for “Panels I never want to be on under any circumstances,” with a link to this one!

    Glad you’re home and recovering well. Take good care.

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