Me with three pretty girls -- whoa, how sweet is that?
I had just taken a wicked fall on the tennis court at the Greendale Y in Worcester -- and was on a stretcher about to be taken by ambulance to the UMass emergency room. My wife Barbara was on her way to meet me there.
So what's with all those happy faces?
Impressed with how quickly and responsibly the Y first aid staff responded -- inspecting damage, cleaning open wounds, bandaging, checking for concussion, looking to my every need -- I thought a break in all the seriousness would be good for all.
After the two paramedics had loaded me on the stretcher, I put up a halting hand. To the assembled Y first aid staff, I said, "Wait. Here I am going off to the emergency room in an ambulance. Want to make me feel better? How about if you three pretty girls come over here and take a picture with me?"
I held up my cell phone.
Instantly, a male staffer said, "I'll take the picture."
Lu Lu, Danielle, and Christina looked at each other, giggled, and gathered around me. They sent me off to the emergency room with those big, heartfelt smiles you see in the photo above. And you know what? Those smiles did help me feel a lot better because, honestly, I was a little afraid.
So, you're wondering, what happened out there on the court?
First, I spent an hour hitting with my friend Joge from 8 to 9 a.m. Then I stayed out there for doubles. The first doubles set was hard-fought and tight. Bill and I won, but just barely. In the second set, Rich and Dave came roaring back.
They won four straight games and were ahead in the fifth when I, determined to avoid a wipeout, went flying through the air after a short ball -- and crashed head first onto the clay court. My right hand, my racquet hand, was caught between the ground and my falling body. Head, right hand, and both knees took the brunt.
On my face below my right eye was a big ugly red blotch. Blood spurted out of my right thumb from a deep laceration. There were two gashes on the back of my hand, both oozing blood. Both knees were bloodied.
The guys came running to help a fallen fellow player with a towel and bandages. With their help, I got to my feet and sopped up the blood with the towel. They helped me put on bandages.
The guys kept asking if I was okay, how they could help. "Nah, I'm fine," I said, flipping Rich's bloody towel to him. He gave it back to me. "Keep it," he said. "With all that blood, it's no good any more."
Despite hitting the surface so hard, I wasn't knocked out and didn't feel dizzy. Both knees hurt, but I was able to walk on my own. In all the years I have been playing tennis, I have rarely fallen and never ever fell so hard.
Making my way off the court slowly, haltingly, I figured I would be able to make it to my car and drive home and get to a doctor. But on my way out I had to go by the maintenance office. On the spur of the moment, I stuck my head in and said, "I just took a bad fall on the court. Does the Y have any first aid?"
That's all I had to say. The staff stopped everything. They sat me down and swung into action. They summoned the first aid team who went right to work on me, cleaning, bandaging, doing everything they could for me.
They called Y manager Trevor Williams who came immediately and advised an ambulance. When I agreed, he made the call and the ambulance and two paramedics were there in what seemed like minutes.
In no time, I was on the stretcher. After the happy picture above, I was quickly in the ambulance and on my way to the emergency room. While one paramedic drove, the other sat beside my stretcher. First he asked me a series of questions to see if my brain was still functioning. He didn't say it was or wasn't; he just made notes.
Then he took my vitals, starting with blood pressure. Everything was normal, he said.
He looked surprised. "I wouldn't have thought that."
I took that as a compliment.
Then we were at UMass Medical Center and the two paramedics, both a couple of kids from my perspective, wheeled me into the emergency room. I got barely a glance and not a second look from anyone. I fit right in. To everybody there, I was just another stricken old guy who may or may not walk out of there.
Being wheeled in, I saw room after room of elderly patients, many hooked up to life-preserving devices. I didn't get a room. They parked my stretcher in the hallway. Laying on it, I signed standard paperwork.
And there I was on a stretcher, alone, a part of the woodwork, taking it all in.
Talk about busy. Phones ringing. Staff rushing here and there. Nonstop calling out. Lightning fast communication. Papers being handed back and forth. A young man in blue stopped by. "Hi, I'm Andrew Cathers," he said. "We're going to get to you soon."
"You're my doctor?"
"Yes." And then, with a smile, he was off.
Barbara arrived and we found ourselves in the midst of a non-stop drama that is an emergency room. We had better than front row seats. We were on the stage -- as players.
Another doctor, Dr. Sean Rhyee came by. He was Dr. Cathers' superior, said one of the staff. With the paramedics having already sent descriptions of the wounds, he gave them a quick examination and was off.
It was about 11:30 a.m. and Barbara and I settled in to both watch the show and play our parts. A middle-aged woman was on a stretcher in the hallway, directly facing me no more than ten feet away. Obviously in terrible pain, her eyes full of fear, she regularly let out an exasperated, loud cry.
Who is she? What is her story? I had my phone and could easily take her picture and wanted to, but I didn't. I wanted to respect her privacy. Nor did I take pictures of other patients, except for one, whose identity could not be made out.
There was a sudden commotion farther down the hall. A man who had just been brought in by ambulance was yelling at nurses and trying to hang onto his guitar. His guitar! Emergency room staff and police officers were trying persuade him to give it up. As far as I could tell, the man held onto it.
My first thought was that he had to be troubled. My second thought was: maybe he is right. Maybe his guitar could give him the strength to overcome what no doctor, no level of medical science medicine could match. Here is the photo:
Now Barbara and I waited to see Dr. Cathers. And waited. The staff brought me lunch: sandwich of chicken, lettuce and tomato, plus tomato soup. An older volunteer, probably years younger than I, came by and gave me a pillow.
A staffer brought me ice for my face. Another staff member asked if I was cold. And when I said I was, he said, "I'll get you something." He quickly came back with two heated blankets. "You should be okay now," he said. "If you need anything else, give me a holler."
I felt like a VIP.
We waited. And waited. But we were far from antsy. Actually, Barbara and I were both entranced by this up-close documentary of the actual saving of lives. And, of course, I was seeing this story and already composing in my head.
Dr. Cathers trotted up and tapped me on the shoulder. As he passed by, he gave me a big surprisingly warm smile saying, "Don't worry. Haven't forgotten you. Be there soon."
"Not a problem," I said to his back. "We're good."
It was clear we had some time on our hands. So, since I had the time, I decided to make a statement. I would let the UMass Emergency Department know that I was not your typical ancient on his last legs.
"I'm going for a walk," I said to Barbara.
"Okay, I'll be here."
Actually, I had abrasions on both knees and wanted to try them out. I started out slowly, but feeling that nothing was broken, quickly stepped up the pace. Soon I was doing fast-paced laps, one after another, smiling at people, joking that I was out to set a new world record for laps around an emergency room.
I passed the elderly-younger-than-I volunteer several times. Each time, with a big smile, he asked how many laps I had done. Each time I gave him a number and he gave me a thumbs-up. Now emergency room staff were looking up from their work, some shaking their heads with looks that said, "What's that crazy patient doing?"
Simple. I was letting the staff know that I was not there to die. That's not the role I will play here today, thank you. In any case, doing laps was a lot more fun than just laying there on a stretcher. And as my laps kept going, I was soon making eye contact with staff, attracting smiles, thumbs-ups, and, I have to emphasize, those quizzical looks.
Hey, it's attention. Nobody noticed me laid out a stretcher. Everybody noticed me doing laps.
Finally, at about 1:00 p.m., Dr. Cathers returned. As I lay on my stretcher, he examined my wounds: face abrasion, right thumb laceration, knee abrasions. He and his boss, Dr. Rhyee, had discussed what had to be done. He explained that the main procedure would be several stitches to the lacerated right thumb. The face and knees would need inspection, cleaning, antibiotics, and fresh bandages.
Dr. Cathers led us into an available trauma room where he directed me onto the table. He proceeded to take off bandages and carefully inspect the wounds. He is serious about his work; that becomes quickly evident.
First job: my badly lacerated thumb. Here Dr. Cathers stitches my thumb:
But even as he works intently on me, a warmth and playful sense of humor comes out and we chat. I ask him how old he is.
"Twenty-seven," he said
"Twenty-seven!" I said. "You're a kid! You're too young to be a doctor! I can't call a kid doctor!"
He laughed. "My father was a Marine jet pilot and he wanted me to be the same. But growing up I wanted to be a doctor. I went to the University of Connecticut-- go Huskies! -- and became a doctor."
"I hope to God you are married or at least engaged."
" Nope, but I have a girlfriend. She's a doctor, too, at the University of Arizona."
"Your girlfriend is a doctor! I don't believe it." If they get married, I wondered which one would be the home-maker. She? He? Both? Hired help? "Well, that's different," I said. "I hope you're going to settle down and get married."
He looked up from stitching my finger and just smiled.
And so it went. After putting six stitches into my thumb, he went to work on my knees and face, pictured here:
Finally, at about 2:30 pm, Dr. Cathers -- I call him Andrew, of course -- is done repairing me. I want to socialize. But he has patients waiting for him and has to run.
"Tell you what Andrew," I said. "Get up on this table and my wife will take a picture of us together."
Out came that big, warm smile. "Sure," he said. We sat on the table together, put our arms around each other, and Barbara took this photo:
We look like brothers, don't you think?
So long and keep moving.
NOTE: Something Tells Her,
my new e-book, is now available on Amazon.
Jane is abandoned as a baby and raised in multiple horrific foster
homes. After her latest abuse, a sexual advance from her latest foster parent, she screams "NO!" and
runs out the door Twelve years old, on the street, alone, no family,
nobody, no money, how can she possibly survive? She can't -- except that
Jane is no ordinary foster kid. She doesn't understand "can't." Read excerpts.
Other Amazon E-Books by George Pollock
Kid: Hero of Literacy"
is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes;
is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found
their way in life and each other. "Killers:
Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for
23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I,
is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass
Medical School. “A
demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes
all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Unlove Story," is the true story of a husband -- writing anonymously as "Elvis" -- who is dumped after 38 years of marriage and lets it
all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard