After a sleepless night, I was collected by the cab at 4am ish and whisked off to Gatwick for my EasyJet flight. In my 'state' the previous evening I didn't properly check the nearest airport and so I flew to Hamburg (when I got to Bremen I found there was an airport not 3 or 4 miles from the hospital!).
The flight was horrendous. It was the first flight out of Gatwick to Hamburg, it was a Friday and it was full to the brim with Stag parties, absolutely heaving. I was surrounded by hundreds of men, all of them in a state of expectant excitement of the weekend to come, all of them ordering beers, all of them loud and cheery.
I cannot tell you how much I just wanted to get to Germany so I could get off that damn plane!
I was greeted at Hamburg Airport by the lovely Adrian, one of John's senior keepers who was (luckily!) also on the conference and Luud, a zoo colleague from Walsrode Bird Park who had volunteered as official 'driver' and was scurrying around Germany to pick me up, drive me to the hospital and basically be a jolly fine man! The drive to the hospital took about an hour or so, it was a beautiful spring day and so I sat there and got the low down from Adrian on John's condition.
When we arrived at the hospital we went straight to the Critical Care Unit (CCU). Luud kindly translated and, after introductions, we were taken in to see John.
Can your world fall out of your arse twice? Mine did.
I don't know what I was expecting but I wasn't expecting what I got.
John, in a hospital bed, smothered in blankets, hooked up to monitors, drips, pipes, tubes, beeping, surrounded by nurses, unconscious.
One of the first things I noticed was a big bucket of blood on the floor at the foot of his bed with a pipe leading under the covers to John.
I enquired as to it's purpose.
The previous night's heart and lung bypass operation to repair the rupture had not gone to plan.
John had developed a bleed.
He was losing blood.
They couldn't determine where the blood was coming from.
It was decided, due to the amount of blood being lost, they would return John to theatre that night.
He would undergo a second heart and lung bypass.
They would try to stop the bleeding.
I called the Boys and told them they should get to Germany to see their Dad as soon as possible.
They arrived the following day with John's sister, Mag (she would become my rock in Germany!).
Later that day, another wonderful colleague of John's, the lovely Mark, joined Adrian and myself in Bremen.
Luckily, there was a hotel in the hospital complex (German efficiency!) and we all checked in there - little did I know I'd be there in various rooms for almost a month!
After dinner that evening Adrian, Mark and myself went out for a walk, pacing, agitated, waiting for John's operation to be over so that we could get some news.
I remember, at the very time John was in theatre there was an amazing storm, loud crashing, thunderous.
An owl flew directly over our heads low enough to almost touch.
We didn't know it yet, but Nature was telling us that things were most definitely not going to plan.
We were called down to the CCU late that night to be informed that the operation had not gone well.
One of my enduring memories is of Mark sitting their waiting for the Consultant to explain.
Because of the language barrier it took some time for him to tell us and all I could see was Mark getting more and more restless, willing the consultant to spit it out.
Firstly, during the operation, the flesh surrounding John's repaired rupture had torn but what followed next none of us expected.
During the second operation, John had suffered a stroke.
There was damage on both sides of his brain.
We didn't know it but he would be dead within the month.