If someone had said that, while I was editor of The Rheumatologist, I would write about my escape from a volcano, I would have said that he was crazy. Volcanoes are very rare events and cause trouble in either distant parts of the world or during ancient times. Durham, N.C., is not Pompeii, and there are no tumultuous eruptions around here (except when Duke wins the NCAA championship in basketball). Nevertheless, in 2010, Eyjafjallajökull up in Iceland (a distant part of the world) blew its top. It just so happened that, at the time, I was attending a rheumatology meeting near Nice in southern France, downwind from the cloud of ash that spewed all over the continent. The authorities wisely grounded flights from Nice and, as I have recounted in these pages, I should have gotten home via planes, trains, and automobiles although, because French train workers’ unions decided to go out on strike, I had to substitute a van for a train. Were it not for Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, and Chambolle-Musigny, I would have trouble with modern-day France (except, of course, French rheumatology).
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Although I had assumed that a volcano raining ash on a rheumatology party was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just a few days before I was scheduled to fly to London for the 2011 European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) Congress, another Icelandic volcano called Grímsvötn decided to explode and compete for its place in the Hall of Shame of travelers’ woes. One of my friends, also scheduled to go to EULAR, wrote to me in an e-mail that the gods must have it in for rheumatologists. Although a particular animus of the deities against our specialty is possible—perhaps they decided that, with the elimination of the consultation code, we are no longer worth their favor—I have a different world view. As we used to say, sh-t happens.
Tracking the Volcano
The interval between the blowup of the volcano and the time of my scheduled departure to London was reminiscent of the time in Nice. From its first eruption, however, it was clear that Grímsvötn was not that powerful on whatever the Richter scale is for atmospheric pollution by the Earth’s innards. Still, the pictures of the volcano showed dense clouds of ash that certainly seemed menacing and raised fear about what could happen if a plane hit the ash head on. I certainly did not want to be aloft if my plane’s engines would be fouled by nasty little particles roasted and toasted in the Earth’s core.