This week I travelled to Montreal to deliver a keynote at CUSEC 2020, the Canadian University Software Engineering Conference. Everything was nicely arranged and I happily took the train from Oshawa to Montreal, then a short all-inside walk to the hotel where I checked in, told the organizers I was there, and settled in for an early night. I got a light dinner from room service but oddly could only eat half of it. Ah well, I thought, they fed us really well on the train, I'm probably just full. No big deal. I went to sleep.
About 10:30 I woke up and realized I needed to throw up. So I did. And did. And did. All night. For an extended part of the night it was every 45 minutes. It was bad. And then it got worse. Now I am not telling you this to gross you out or to overshare, but to get you, as a possible speaker or conference organizer, to consider this possibility if you have not done so before (I had not.) I felt perfectly normal when I left home, and even when I first arrived in town. Whatever food poisoning or virus got me, it hit fast and hard. When the sun finally dragged itself up over the Montreal horizon and into my eyes, I was exhausted, having not slept all night, and pretty sure I was not done throwing up (which it turns out I was not.) I got on Slack with my organizers and told them I could handle being tired but actually vomiting while on stage was a bridge too far for me. Could we switch with someone scheduled for Day 2?
Of course we could. They did that lovely duck trick, where above the water it all looks smooth and simple and you have no idea what amount of paddling and ruddering is happening underwater. Someone else did an opening keynote; my keynote moved to 11 am Day 2. A much needed bottle of ginger ale appeared at my door. I spent the day in bed and slowly returned to normal. I slept that night and did the keynote the next day, and very much enjoyed the rest of the conference. I didn't shake hands with anyone in case I was contagious. When the AV people started touching my laptop I gave them hand sanitizer.
So, if this happened to you, would you be able to come up with a plan B? Do you travel with anti-nausea meds? (I do, for airsickness, and took some to help me sleep during the day since they sedate me. They had no hope of working during the worst of it, but they still had value.) Do you have a little bottle of hand sanitizer with you all the time? (I do, and always will.) Do you know how to reach your organizers with some urgency when you can't leave your room? Organizers, I hope you would all react as smoothly and quickly as my CUSEC hosts did. Ellen and Afreen were ultra professional, as was everyone else I dealt with.
You don't want to think about it, I know. But -- you should, anyway. It doesn't take long to have a disaster recovery plan. Swapping two keynotes was the obvious choice, and it worked because the keynoters were staying for the whole conference not just popping in for their morning. A little prior preparation can predict proper performance, or something like that.