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Dec 02

The time a disruptive technology saved my life in Helsinki

The tail end of 2019 was due to be a busy time of year for me, conference silly season was in full effect and even though I wasn’t speaking at Microsoft Ignite, I still had a number of SharePoint and Office 365 Saturday events (Zurich, Helsinki, Brussels, Leicester) and other conferences (O365 Connect and Thrive) booked up between September and the end of the year.

Between preparing for these events, doing my normal day job and then travelling and presenting there were a number of signals that I was given that something wasn’t quite right. Excessive tiredness, a reliance on heartburn medication all of which I put down to just being a bit run down with everything going on, but with my 20/20 Hindsight turned on, I know now that I missed a whole bunch of warnings that life was about to change significantly.

Thanks to the BA pilots strike, I ended up flying out to Helsinki at the tail end of September a day early so that I could miss the strike (that subsequently got cancelled after I changed my flights) and work remotely for my client. This added to the stress of the travel a little as it meant two laptops and an extra night away from home. It did however mean that I got to spend the first day exploring Helsinki with my good friend Jussi Mori, a fellow Microsoft MVP based out of Helsinki.

Jussi Mori and Paul Hunt - Helsinki Cathedral

During this exploration time, Jussi introduced me to a fairly new transportation method in Helsinki, the Rental Scooter. The rental scooter phenomenon is popping up in cities all around the world where laws permit, and they appeared in Helsinki back in Spring of 2019. Rented using a mobile phone app, the biggest complaint about the scooters is my favourite feature and that is they do not need a docking station. You can pick up and drop off the scooter at any location (within certain Geo-fenced restrictions, which also includes zones where speed is limited, and parking of scooters forbidden).

The problem here is that not every user is a good scooter user and complaints across the internet talk about how scooters are just thrown down in the middle of pavements, blocking disabled access and making the streets look untidy. I used the scooters a lot during my trip and I always tried to make sure that I left the scooter when I finished, parked reasonably and well out of the way of other pavement users.

At this point, I guess you’re probably wondering how this technology saved my life? As with most stories of this ilk, it starts with a drink. Traditionally after a SharePoint Saturday event, there will always be a SharePint, a tradition that has been around almost as long as SharePoint itself. Helsinki was no different and after the official SharePint had finished, a number of us decided to jump on scooters out to a fabulous Bar on the outskirts of Helsinki called Löyly. Following the coastal route from the centre of town, it’s about a 15 minute ride on the scooters at full pelt and with the added excitement of a couple of drinks it was a fun ride. All of us arrived safely and we grabbed an outside table under blankets and heaters and had a few more drinks.

By the time the bar closed, it was just gone midnight and we’d had more than a few drinks at this point, so the sensible decision was taken to walk back rather than ride. The direct route back through residential Helsinki was much shorter than the coastal route, so we were only looking at about a 2 mile walk. And it was during the start of this walk that I started to have problems.

Whilst I’m overweight, I’m still reasonably fit as I walk a lot when working in London. I don’t usually have problems walking any distance, so when I started getting some breathing difficulties it took me somewhat by surprise. I found myself falling further and further behind and the rest of the group had to wait for me. I didn’t get any pain in my chest, just this tight wheeziness and an inability to catch my breath. When I stopped walking it eased and I started wondering if I was developing asthma. Whilst considering this and just as it was getting uncomfortable again, I came across a fully charged Tier scooter, dumped unceremoniously at the foot of someone’s garden path! Without thinking about it, I whipped out the mobile app, rented the scooter and jumped on it. Problem solved.

Catching up with the main group, I rode the scooter all the way back into central Helsinki, eventually splitting from the group and heading back to my hotel whilst they continued into the early hours.

On my return home I decided to get some medical advice, thinking that I may need to have an inhaler. The doctor on hearing my story, referred me to the Rapid Access Chest Pain Clinic (I did point out that I didn’t have any chest pain!) at our local hospital. I went to see them (after a couple of other events that I was booked for (in hindsight that wasn’t the best decision!), and they performed a stress ECG test. Basically, this sees you wired to an ECG and placed on a treadmill. After 5 short minutes of this, they stopped the test and told me that I wasn’t going home. I was transferred to a ward and prepped for an angiogram.

I’m always an optimistic person and having discussed the results of the stress ECG and understanding I had at this point got a condition called Exertional Angina, fully expected to be told to take 2 pills a day and change my lifestyle. What I didn’t expect was the result of the Angiogram to tell me that I needed Open Heart Surgery, specifically a Coronary Heart Bypass Graft, where they use pieces of other veins to replace the blocked arteries that feed the heart and I did not expect to be told that it needed to be done fairly urgently. According to the doctors, had I not jumped on that scooter in Helsinki and had carried on trying to walk back, there was a distinct likelihood that my angina attack would have escalated into a full cardiac arrest, which at 1am in a quiet residential area of Helsinki would have had a low chance of survival.

I’m now currently in my fifth week of post op recovery and I’m pleased to say that I’m doing well. I can now sit at the computer at least long enough to type this up and to submit some sessions for events in the new year. My company (Trustmarque Solutions Ltd) have been very supportive through this process and have ensured that have time and support in place to fully recover. The current plan is to aim to return to work during January and I aim to return to doing community events in March 2020.

In addition to the support I’ve had from work, family and friends (and of course my outstanding wife Billie), I have to call out the amazing messages of support that I’ve had from my extended family around the world in the Office 365 community. So far, I’ve kept news of my condition to a reasonably selective group of around 200 friends on FaceBook, but as I’ve had to pull out of a couple of events such as SPS Leicester and the Thrive conference, word of my illness has got around the community and I’ve had some lovely messages from people. This support from the community is just one example of why I love doing what we do, it goes beyond the technology and is a reward in it’s own right and there’s just too many individuals to call out with direct thanks here. You all know who you are and I look forward to thanking you in person at events in 2020!

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