2014 MS Blogger Summit, Day 1

When the marketing folks at Novartis (makers of Gilenya) conjured up an MS Blogger Summit, inviting a group of nine diverse posters for an all-expenses paid trip to the sleepy climes of Morristown, NJ, they probably had a preconceived idea of how the event would unfold--engaging in discussions about the communication needs of the MS online community while getting candid feedback on some of their social media efforts. And it would all start with a casual, friendly welcome dinner the night before, just steps away from the hotel. However, they didn’t count on a few things: single digit temperatures, piles of snow, icy sidewalks and a certain smartass blogger.

“I sure hope the newspaper headline tomorrow doesn’t read ‘Bloggers with MS Tragically Perish on Icy Jersey Streets. Novartis Reps: Our Bad.’”
Dave expresses concern, while Nicole smiles in the face of danger.

I often voice my opinion with tongue firmly in cheek, but there is usually just enough truth for one to take pause. And after meeting me only minutes earlier, and not fully adjusted to my candor, the representatives from Novartis likely were mortified. A gaggle of MSers, including one using a scooter and another forearm crutches (yours truly), were trying to walk to a restaurant a scant 269 feet away from the hotel. The problem? Our path was blocked by berms of fresh snow, requiring us to walk down the street to the crosswalk ... that was still chockfull of snow. (For the record, the temperature that night plummeted to a low of one degree, and let’s not even discuss the wind chill.) I was merely pointing out the obvious, and it wasn’t going to get any safer. Wine and beer was going to be served with dinner. To people with MS. Who may have balance issues. A perfect storm was brewing.

Around the dinner table were individuals with a delightful mix of talent: blogger superstars Nicole Lemelle (www.mynewnormals.com) and Lisa Emrich (www.brassandivory.org and www.msbloggers.com), author Jon Chandonnet (http://jonchandonnet.com/blog/), clinical trial advocate Jeri Burtchell (www.partnersinresearch.org), longtime poster Joan Wheeler (www.shortinthecord.blogspot.com), community advocate Jodi (www.jodibeansblog.com), and wise-cracking, heal-wearing Jamia Crockett (www.mymsheels.com). My wife Laura and Nicole’s engaging husband Tommy joined in as well. Only 23-year old Matt Allen (www.mattsms.com), who was arriving later that night, was absent.

To say we all bonded was an understatement. After all, each of us realized this may be our final meal given the conditions outside. At least I would have an opportunity to toast one last year of marriage to my wife Laura; it was our 21st anniversary that night. And with the New York/New Jersey area trailing only the West Coast in wineries, it was bound to to be a special toast.

“We have red--and we have white.” Our waiter was holding up two magnums... of Yellow Tail. Many New Jersey restaurants have a BYOB policy and Novartis, in a clear effort to wow bloggers with frugality, procured the Australian wine best known for being served free at office get-togethers. It’s not to say I won’t drink YT, and indeed I even have a special bottle in my closet. From 2006. I haven’t found anyone to take it off my hands in eight years. I suddenly felt more in a beer mood, and I wasn’t shy about saying so. About this time the poor folks at Novartis were no doubt rethinking the wisdom of inviting me.

They shouldn’t have. I give everyone I like personally a hard time, even folks I’ve barely met. To their credit, it was because of their efforts and careful vetting of bloggers that the evening unfolded enchantingly (complete, yes, with Hopfish IPA from New Jersey’s own Flying Fish Brewery). Indeed, we were all having such a wonderful time, none of us wanted the evening to end, and not just because of the impending harrowing walk home.

We needn’t have worried. Safety being a (newfound) priority, a warm ride was waiting for us in front of the restaurant. Due to liability reasons, Novartis had to use a car service--no personal chauffeuring allowed--and there were few options available at a moment’s notice. So a stretch limousine drove us the .05 miles to the hotel front entrance. Fourteen seconds. Novartis wanted to make sure that their first-ever MS blogger summit the following day was going to go off without a hitch ... and with all attendees fully, and safely, accounted for. Spoiler alert: they succeeded.


Anonymous said…
While I commend Novartis for attempting to communicate with their downstream clients, I am underwhelmed with their familiarity of the underlying impairment those clients face, otherwise, under the conditions you describe, they surely would have provided transportation both ways without your gentle prodding. Personally, I would have been a tad more blunt.

I would be interested to know a little more of the background on the team, I assume you did meet with a team from Novartis, that you guys interacted with.

An interesting writeup Dave,

(AKA: AMF Adventures)
Dave Bexfield said…
You make a good point, Larry. I think the snowstorm surprised them, and they didn't think of moving to Plan B quick enough. There were several restaurants in the hotel complex that could have been reached under cover, but I think the arrangements at the restaurant down the street (quite tasty, FWIW) had been arranged long ahead of time. There will be more info on Novartis in my Day 2 post.
Dave Bexfield said…
The Day 2 recap will be posted the first week of February. I think folks will find it interesting and a bit surprising....
I'm sure to end up last to blog this,but I'm hurrying as fast as my cog-fogged last 2 neurons can go.

Great recap of the first meeting. I know when I consulted with them on this event back in July that I had mentioned they should consider that the attendees will all have varying levels of ability and might need special consideration.

I'm sure they were bewildered at the conditions they were asking us to deal with on the walk -- especially when we hit that wide patch of thick ice on the sidewalk near the restaurant (was that a downspout or something??).

I probably would have needed that car service anyhow had it been the middle of summer. (hiccup) I'm not a drinker so I didn't have any idea we were being offered crappy wine. I drank my 2 glasses and earned my title of "drunk" - one I usually get tagged with anyhow, if you see me walk much.

Can't wait for part 2. I need to quit commenting about it and go write my take.
Dave Bexfield said…
Ha, Jeri, the wine wasn't that bad, just perhaps not anniversary worthy. And for my caregiving wife, I am very cognizant of anniversary-worthy beverages--she (as most caregivers) is worthy of far more than I can afford. As for you and wine, I should have gotten pics of you tanked. Sigh.
Anonymous said…
How interesting that must have been - meeting each other face-to-face for the first time. I assume since you put all your heads together, you came up with some ideas for a cure for Novartis to work on. I bet that'll be in Part 2 :-) Wish the weather had been better for you.
nicole said…
Dave, like I said before, you have an awesome memory! I was reading like i wasn't even there! The detail was splendid! Then again you are a writer!
Dave Bexfield said…
CDH, not to spoil Day 2, but we did come up with a near brilliant cure: a combination of water, hops, malt and yeast. Said cure was consumed immediately after the summit with mixed results.
Dave Bexfield said…
Nicole, I just read that guys have crummier memories than women. But I train my brain daily with memory games, so I think that helps.
Judy said…
Great recounting, so much so that I could feel the chill, not a welcome sensation! As a veteran of many frigid Chicago winters, though, it was easy to jump from your well chosen words to the not-so-comfortable reality. I'm looking forward to the continuing series.
Dave Bexfield said…
Judy, Jeri posted some great photos on her blog of the snowy/icy conditions. Check it out and you'll see exactly what I was talking about: http://www.partnersinresearch.org/novartis-ms-blogger-summit-recap-mssum-spons/
Jamia said…
As a fellow-tongue and cheek "MSer" , I loved reading the post...brings back fond memories of my new "crew". My blog is still in my head ready to be free...stay tuned...
Dave Bexfield said…
Jamia, that sure was a good crew. Except for you-know-who. ;)
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