When I was eighteen years old, four months after I graduated high school, I blew all the money I had saved up to take my 23-year old friend Sean and myself on a three week trip around Europe. We blew way too much money and spent too little time in some places (as little as a day in Rome and Venice, as long as four or five days in places like Dublin and Barcelona), but the main reason we were going, our ultimate destination, was the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, Germany.
I have so many stories from my short time in Europe, but this post will be dedicated to our time there and the month or two that followed.
Sean and I arrived in Munich around six in the morning, shuffling off the train that had whisked us away from a flooded Venice. We wandered around the city until we found first our hostel (not the party hostel, but the one right next to the party hostel; it was too early to check in, so we stashed our packs in a pair of lockers) and then the fairgrounds. The festival didn’t open for the day until 8 or 10 or so, so Sean and I backtracked, grabbed our dirty clothes out of our packs, confusedly managed the washing machines at a local laundromat and then took a short nap.
We awoke refreshed, found our way back to Oktoberfest and were promptly astonished at its majesty. Beer “tents” that were more warehouses that could fit hundreds, each with their own signature brew, live music and the finest German cuisine. Frauleins with a half dozen monstrous steins full of ale in their arms, baskets full of fruits, breads and cheeses. Typical Americans that we are, Sean and I found the nearest unreserved table we could, ordered a mug of the house beer and chugged it down.
Holy shit. The beer was strong and delicious but it was also heavy, and the heat coming off of so many people in an enclosed building helped it rush directly to our head. We resolved to take the second one slower and with a meal.
We wandered around a bit afterwards, making new drinking buddies, trying out different tents and marveling at how completely unimpressed the local Germans were. Of course they were! This was an annual part of their culture. It was essentially a massive state fair for them, albeit with a bunch of obnoxiously drunk foreign tourists clogging up the thoroughways. There were games to play (ring toss, balloon/dart games), souvenier shops (we bought two steins. Sean immediately broke his on mine; mine has been lost to time and too many moves), and rides.
We went on a roller coaster. I don’t know why. We were both drunk and I’m terrified of heights. Just seemed like a thing we were supposed to do. When they snapped the safety harness in, however, they managed to pinch Sean’s scrotum. A whole roller coaster ride with a pinched scrotum. He wasn’t in the best of moods after that, and he probably won’t be again when I share this post and tag him in it, letting everyone know what happened to his ball sack.
Afterwards, and after my friend had a few long minutes to recover, we met up with Australian friends Jared and Joanna whom we had previously become acquainted with in Barcelona. By “we”, I mean Sean left to find them at the train station while I got lost around the fairgrounds. I don’t know how we ended up finding each other again, but we did and we continued to drink until Oktoberfest closed for the evening.
We made our way to Jared and Jo’s hostel (the aforementioned party one, next to ours) where things got a little…out of control.
I don’t remember the name of the girl who got up to dance on the table with me. I do know I was the first one on the table, she was the first one to get up and join me, she was from the East Coast of the U.S.A. and I thought she was beautiful.
Between six and ten other people took to the tables and we were forced to cease our shenanigans on threat of removal. Fair enough. One more drink, bartender, I clearly haven’t had enough.
We drank until that hostel shut their bar down. Sean, my American dance damsel and I made our way back to our hostel and proceeded to drink until their bar closed. I ordered extra beers to drink while I used the computer while Sean went to bed.
Time passed. I didn’t notice, lost as I was in a booze stupor and the glory of the Internet.
Around four or five in the morning, Sean returned from upstairs and took a seat next to me. My friend is usually a boisterous man, full of piss and vinegar and ready to take the day by the face and flush it in the toilet. Not this morning, though. This morning he was timid, silent for several long moments. Eventually, he blurted what sounded like a confession.
Sean was sleeping in one of the upper bunks of our eight bed room when a bunch of intoxicated Australian men burst into the room, laughing. They began wrestling each other. Clothes began being removed until the Ozzies were all naked and one hopped up on the bed to try and force feed Sean a cheeseburger. My friend, confused and half-awake, politely refused and excused himself down to the lobby where he planned on waiting for them to calm down.
I stared at him, half-comprehending the story. He said nothing more and eventually left again. I followed him not long after and, to my dismay, found that not only had he been telling the truth but one of these undressed fellows had commandeered my bed and was snoring happily.
I could have raised a fuss. I did pay for the bed, I was within my rights to demand the man to vacate. On the other hand, all of these bunks but Sean’s now had foreign ball sweat all over the sheets. Pass. Back to the lobby.
Somewhat exhausted, I befriended a British man, an Irishman and a couple women from a country I can’t fully recall. The Brit had stocked his backpack full of beers from the train station and was more than willing to share them at no cost. I got my second wind. We drank and conversed for a few hours more until Sean awoke and we decided to hit the festival for a few hours before catching our train out of Munich to Berlin.
Rinse, repeat. I was well toasted enough that Sean had to steer me with one hand on my shoulder back to the hostel to grab our things, from their to the train station, and onto the train. By this time, I estimate that I had been drinking beer and liquor for around 32 hours straight. This happened.
When I awoke, my left hand had fallen asleep. It didn’t go away after five minutes. It didn’t go away after twenty minutes. Six. Hours. Later. I had fucked up tying my shoe. I had struggled to button my pants. My entire hand was pins and needles and curled into a shadow of a claw with zero grip strength and very little control over my fingers and my ability to clench.
We arrived in Berlin and headed to the airport. While we waited for our flight back to Dublin (where we were to stay for a couple days more before heading home), I purchased a box of orange tic-tacs. I shook one out into my left palm and watched pitifully as it rolled off my hand and onto the floor because I was unable to tighten my grip and hold it. I recall the moment as being incredibly sad.
I updated my MySpace – this was 2006, give me a break – with a…what did they call them? Bulletins? I think it was bulletins. I posted a bulletin saying I was almost positive I had permanently paralyzed my hand and that, frankly…it might have been worth it because Oktoberfest was awesome. It was a brave face I put on, though, because I knew something was seriously wrong.
We ended up in Dublin and met with my friend Karen – a local – and her friend. We got dinner, and lunch the following day. I clumsily handled things with my gimpy hand. We went to a performance of a comedy tour where I accidentally implied I tried to fuck a moose once because certain phrases mean different things in different countries.
The highlight was our last night in Dublin. I spent it with Karen and we found ourselves at a university choir concert. A light show was playing in the background and we sat on the steps, she under one arm, while a beautiful rendition of She Moved Through the Fair drifted across the night like a silk ribbon. It’s one of my fondest memories, bunk hand and all.
Sean and I got home fairly uneventfully, considering the hijinks the rest of our trip entailed. I went to the doctor as soon as possible, having seen no progress in my hand in close to a week. After a grip strength test (which revealed I had none) and no answers because of it, he recommended me to a chiropractor, a physical therapist and an electrotherapist.
The chiropractor was a one-and-done. He popped back into place a vertebrate that had rotated 90 degrees. BUT THAT WASN’T WHY MY HAND WAS PARALYZED. Seriously, how the fuck did I twist my spine up?
The physical therapist fitted me with an arm brace and a hand brace that would help keep me from hyper-extending any tendons. I was also given one of those stress balls to try and work my grip strength back up. By the by, if you have zero strength and your exercise is to repeatedly try to squeeze something really hard, you’re going to get really fucking frustrated really fucking quick.
The electrotherapist is where we saw (and spent) money. They taped down a bunch of diodes to my body, along my torso, hand, arm, shoulder and spine and sent electric currents through them one at a time, trying to pinpoint the nerve blockage preventing me from using my hand. And she found it! Due to thin blood and stressed nerves (likely due to over a full day’s worth of drinking) and some shitty position I must have fallen asleep in on the train, I had compressed the median nerve in my elbow.
Only the median, not the ulnar. The electrotherapist had never heard of a case where the median was compressed but not the ulnar and wanted to submit my case to a medical journal. I looked into it afterwards: it’s rare – the reverse happens more often – but not unique, so no, I’m no medical marvel.
Between electric shocks and physical therapy, I was eventually able to regain feeling and strength in my hand after a month and a half of paralysis. It’s not as strong as it used to be and sometimes it does funny things like shake or spasm, but holy shit, I’ll take that over that static, weak feeling.
I told this story at a party once a year or two later and this guy goes, “That! That right there! I want a drinking story like that!” Hahaha dude, no you don’t. That shit sucks. I mean, if it happens, it happens but please do not try to recreate a freak accident that involved a horrendously inappropriate and irresponsible amount of alcohol consumption.
A few quick, final notes:
1. Drink responsibly. Seriously.
2. GO TO OKTOBERFEST! The beer! The food! The music! The people! The beer!
3. As much as I would love to say I did, performing “the stranger” on myself while my hand was jacked up didn’t occur to me until well after I had recovered. Talk about a missed opportunity, although considering I couldn’t grip for shir anyway, maybe not.