Why the Cardiologist Sent Me a Tree for Christmas

Bernard PayeurWhile visiting with a friend who recently suffered a heart attack I asked him the name of his cardiologist thinking it might be the one who sent me a tree for Christmas. It wasn’t!

One of my clients had been the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, “Canada's largest and foremost cardiovascular health centre dedicated to understanding, treating and preventing heart disease”; not to mention heart transplants.

I was asked to meet with a cardiologist responsible for the Heart Institute's patients database. He wanted me to perform updates to the database which was in ZIM.

It was while doing these modifications that I recommended to Doctor D. that the Institute upgrade to the latest version of ZIM (ZIM for Windows) so as to avoid any year 2000 issues.

He declined. He said that the Institute would be migrating the ZIM application to PowerBuilder and that the new system would be in place before the year 2000, which was more than a year away.

PowerBuilder was no ZIM!

That same year, a few days before Christmas (this was after I had completed the requested modifications) there was a knock at the door. It was a delivery man from Fines with the biggest bouquet of red flowers I had ever seen. It was from Doctor D. of the Heart Institute.

I asked my wife if it was proper for one man to send another man a bouquet of flowers, for whatever reason, even as a Thank You.

She pointed out that the Poinsettia is a tree not a flower, and that it is perfectly acceptable for men to send trees to each other.

Doctor D. and the Heart Institute had to be the furthest thing from my mind when I got a message on my "beeper" to call the Heart Institute (I was enjoying breakfast on New Years morning at a hotel in downtown Montréal).

At the time, I was also consulting for Bell Canada Enterprises in Montréal, and had scored tickets to a New Years Eve Canadians game where Patrick Roy was making his first appearance at the new Forum since being traded to the Colorado Avalanche.

The worst predictions for the year 2000 had come true.

In a matter of hours I was standing with Doctor D. and the nurse-operator of his system trying the make sense of the dates that were appearing on the computer screen.

One of my first questions was: “Where is the PowerBuilder replacement?”

"It would not be available for a few more months," was the reply.

PowerBuilder had missed the crucial year 2000 deadline; a deadline that, in the case of the Heart Institute’s patients database could mean the difference between life and death.

Performing a major software upgrade in the middle of a crisis of this magnitude where lives may be at stake is not recommended, unless there is no other choice.

I asked Doctor’s D.’s nurse if she could revert to a manual record keeping operation until the PowerBuilder application was ready? She had already done so as soon as the problem became evident, and she could continue doing so for as long as it took for PowerBuilder to get its act together.

I recommended that they continue with manual record keeping. In my professional opinion, it was the safest course of action until the PowerBuilder application was ready.

An acquaintance said that I was nuts. I would never get rich that way, she said. This was an opportunity too good to miss. She would have recommended that they upgrade then and there and charged a small fortune for doing so; after all, it was their mistake for not listening to my advice in the first place*.

She was wrong about the decision I should have made, and half right about not getting rich that way.

I specialized in what is probably destined to be the last Canadian mainstream software application (Michael Cowpland is trying to keep ZIM alive with foreign customers only).

When the government abandoned ZIM, setting an example for private industry to follow, my income from consulting took a serious hit. It was almost like losing my job for the second time (the first time).

My business had not suffered because I offered honest advice for a reasonable fee, quite the opposite. I would never get rich, but by the same token, I never thought there would come a time when I would lack for money.

Bernard Payeur, January 31, 1010

* Doctor D. was very much concerned about the year 2000 which is why he invited the consultant who convinced him to switch from ZIM to PowerBuilder to meet with us in his office and asked him for his personal guarantee that they would have a replacement system up and running before then.

The consultant's assurances came in the form of "if ZIM can do it, we can do it, better and faster."

I was now very much an expert in Doctor D.’s complex heart patient monitoring database and offered to help the PowerBuilder people with their learning curve. “Not to worry,” the PowerBuilder consultant said, in dismissing my offer, “we’re fast learners.”

Not fast enough obviously.