My Tennis Angels

Coronado Tennis Center

On the last Sunday morning in August 2005, the Sunday that Hurricane Katrina was moving in to hit New Orleans, I was playing tennis in a Sunday morning doubles tennis league made up of teams from different tennis clubs in the San Diego area. On that Sunday, it was our turn to visit beautiful Coronado, across the bay from San Diego. The tennis club was right down the street from the Hotel del Coronado. The sun was shining. What a beautiful day and area! It was a joy to play tennis there.

Towards the end of our match, with just a few more points left to play, I hit a forehand but it didn’t feel right. It felt heavy, like I was hitting a brick, not a tennis ball. At first I thought that maybe the ball broke or had a hole in it but I watched it bounce normally so I came to the conclusion that I probably got too much sun and it was really warming up so I decided that I’ll play out the last few points then get out out of the sun and get something cold to drink.

The match ended and since we were playing on the court right next to the clubhouse, it took just a few steps to get inside, out of the sun.

As was the custom in that league, the home team provided snacks and drinks. I grabbed a water, drank some down and then grabbed a plate to put some of the delicious looking food on it. While putting food on my plate, I picked up one grape and ate it while I was still standing at the table.

Immediately I felt a little nauseous so I looked around for somewhere to sit down. The clubhouse was very crowded. There were a lot of people milling around the food table and folding chairs were set up all around the four walls of the clubhouse. I quickly saw that there was only one empty chair in the entire room so I headed right to it and sat down.

I put my plate and water on the floor and that was it. I blacked out.

The next thing I remember was a guy shaking me by the shoulder asking, “Are you okay buddy?”

I opened my eyes and looked around. The clubhouse was empty! All of the people were gone. The food table was gone. There was the guy shaking me and another guy with him. The other guy looked vaguely familiar like I had seen him playing tennis earlier that day, but I had never seen the guy who was shaking me before. The shaking guy said, “We’re here to clean up. Are you alright?”

I didn’t know how long I was out or why I didn’t fall over. I guess I was just sitting there with my elbows on my knees, out cold. When they woke me, I told them that I felt okay but I was a little tired and needed to use the restroom so they walked me to the restroom. When I came out the shaking guy asked me again if I was alright. I felt fine, just tired so I told them that I must have gotten too much sun because I was so tired and just wanted to lie down.

The shaking guy said, “I’m taking you to the hospital. Give me your car keys. I’ll drive you in your car and he’ll follow us. I thought that sounded like a good idea so away we went.

Fortunately, there was a small hospital right down the street. Although the ride took only a few minutes, I was even more tired when we got there. He helped me into the emergency room where we explained that we thought that I might have had too much sun.

They got me right into a doctor who started an exam and found among other things that my pulse was at about 40.

Then the doctor stated, “You’re not having a problem with too much sun, you’re having a heart attack!”

All I could say was, “Oh Shit!”

So they gave me some aspirin and water while the nurse started looking for a vein in my right arm so she could inject some sort of blood thinner. Unfortunately because of all of the sweating I had been doing, I was very dehydrated and she could not find a vein in my right arm with her needle even though she poked my right arm numerous times, there was no vein to be found. So she started on my left arm, but it was the same thing. She poked my left arm numerous times but still nothing.

Meanwhile they called the Cardiologist on Call whose office was right next door to the hospital.

Finally the nurse found a vein, which made her very happy, and she injected whatever she had into me.

Almost immediately I could see the results because both of my arms suddenly looked like lawn sprinklers! Blood started coming out of all of those poke marks where the nurse was trying to find a vein. It was a very strange sight but the doctor seemed happy because whatever they injected into me seemed to be working.

That’s when the Cardiologist came in. He didn’t waste any time giving me a quick exam then ordered an ambulance to take me over the bridge to a hospital in San Diego.

While riding in the ambulance an odd thought popped into my head: This was my second ride in an ambulance in my life, and both times I was coming off a tennis court. What are the odds of that? . . . but that’s a story for another day.

When I arrived at the hospital, they got me in pretty fast and into an operating room where, I know now, they were preparing to perform an angioplasty in order to open the blocked artery. They gave me some drugs and because I was still so tired, I was going in and out of consciousness, pretty confused about exactly what was going on.

Then the Cardiologist who I had seen at the hospital in Coronado came walking in. He was dressed in his operating clothes and had his name tag on. The name tag said: Dr Salami . . . yes, SALAMI, like the sausage meat! I could only think that a giant Salami was going to operate on me. I didn’t know if I hallucinating or what was happening. That was when I passed out.

When I woke up in the recovery room, I was all alone in one of those rooms where just cloth separators were between the beds. It was open a little at the foot of the bed but I couldn’t see or hear anyone. My thought then was, “Is this the last thing I’m ever going to see or am I already dead and this is it?”

Fortunately I wasn’t dead and it wasn’t the last thing I ever saw. I fell back to sleep and awoke later Sunday evening to see nurses moving around tending to me and other patients.

For a short time, I was coherent enough to realize that I should tell somebody where I am. As far as I knew, nobody knew what happened to me or where I was. My tennis team members must have just lost track of me in the crowded clubhouse. Everyone had driven their own cars to the match and must have just left when they were ready to go.

When I asked the nurse if I could make a phone call, she said there were no phones in that room and I should just rest and I would be able to make a call when I was moved to a different room. So I asked her where my stuff was. She showed me a plastic bag hanging from the bedpost. I asked her to put it on the bed. I reached into it to see if my cell phone was in it and found my tennis shoes and my soaking wet tennis clothes and then at the bottom, I found my cell phone. At least I had the good sense to grab that when I headed to the hospital.

The first call I made was to my boss to tell him that I wouldn’t be in work the next day and probably not for the rest of the week. That was the only call I made. It had drained me of all my energy and as soon as I hung up, I fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up feeling a little better but still very tired. Later in the morning, the doctor, the big Salami, came in, examined me and said that everything looked good so they were going to move me to a regular hospital room later in the day.

It turned out that there were no rooms available so after awhile they moved me to a temporary sort of a holding room to wait until a room became available. There were a few other patients in that room waiting, just as I was. Apparently that was a very busy hospital and they needed the room in the Recovery Room but they didn’t have rooms available for the patients who were ready to leave the recovery room. The advantage, they told me, of going to the temporary room was I’d be able to have visitors there. I wasn’t expecting any visitors so that didn’t matter to me.

But I was surprised. After awhile, the guy who was my partner during the tennis match came walking in with his wife.  He said someone from the tennis club called him but he didn’t know who it was. It was nice to see people I recognized. They asked me if there was anything they could do to to help me. I told them that I didn’t know when I would be released but I would probably need a ride home from the hospital because I didn’t think they would let me drive home (which turned out to be true) and I needed some clothes because the only clothes that I had was what I was wearing playing tennis and those were in the plastic bag, soaking wet. They offered to give me a ride home and get me some clothes when I was ready to go home. The wife, a Japanese lady, said, “You look like you need a foot massage.” and she started massaging my feet. That was the best thing that happened to me at the hospital.

After they left, two of my co-workers, Ken and Debi, came walking in. My boss had told them what happened so they decided to come see me and see if there was anything they could do to help me. It’s a good thing they came in because I had forgotten all about my car. I was in San Diego and my car was still in the hospital parking lot in Coronado. Ken said he would get a tow dolly and tow it to where I was living. So I gave him my car keys and fell back to sleep.

Finally a room opened up and they wheeled me over to a bed next to another guy who had just had a heart attack. The TV was on with wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. I spent the rest of the day going in and out of consciousness trying to make sense of what was happening in New Orleans.

The next morning my doctor, Dr. Salami, came in, checked me over, and said I could go home that afternoon. I was a little surprised that I was going home so soon but he said to go home and rest for a week then see him in his office.

So I called my tennis partner. He sent his son down that afternoon with some clothes to give me a ride home. Everything went smooth until we pulled into where I was living, which was a second floor apartment. As soon as I saw my car I realized that my house key was on the car keys that I had given Ken. I was locked out of my apartment! I called Ken who said he didn’t think I’d be going home so soon so he kept my keys and was going to drop them off to me at the hospital, and at the moment, he was hours away from where I was. Fortunately, I saw that I had left a window open. Fortunately, there were some workers nearby with a forklift so I asked them if they could help me. A brave worker got on the forks and another worker lifted him up to the second floor so he could crawl through the window and open my door from the inside. I don’t think OSHA would have approved of that mode of transportation. But it worked.

I rested for a week.

The next Tuesday I went to my appointment with Dr Salami, which I found out is actually pronounced Sah-Lah-May. His name is Dr. Ali Salami. He explained that he had performed an angioplasty and inserted a stent in one of my arteries and we had to set up a date so he could insert the other two stents. When I asked, “What are you talking about?” He asked me if I remembered the conversation we had at the hospital. I had to admit that I didn’t remember a word of what he was talking about. So we set up an appointment about a month away where I would go to the same hospital and have the same operation done. Only this time he would insert two stents. And I would be in much better shape going into the operation and would only spend one night in the hospital. That turned out to be pretty routine and uneventful except for when I arrived at the hospital and was walking out of the parking garage, an SUV came around the corner and almost hit me. Luckily, I was able to jump out of the way. Ironically, the driver of the SUV was Dr Salami!

But that wasn’t the weirdest thing that happened . . .

After my first appointment with Dr. Salami, I went home and decided that it was time to do my laundry. I hadn’t done hardly anything during that week I spent resting at home. When I grabbed my tennis clothes, I found a folded up piece of paper. That sparked more memories and I remembered that the guy who had taken me to the hospital had given me the piece of paper and said, “Here is my name and phone number. If I can do anything else to help, just call me.” I had thrown it into the plastic bag where all of my belongings were ending up.

So I unfolded the note . . . and there was nothing there! I mean, there used to be something there, but it had gotten wet in the bag and and now there was just an ink smudge, totally unreadable.

So I thought that I had to go back to that tennis club on a Sunday morning so I could find those guys and thank them. But the problem was I would get so tired during the week that on Sundays I would just rest at home. Then I went for the second operation and the whole cycle started again.

It was probably two months before I felt that I had enough energy to drive over to Coronado and look for those guys. I went to the address and saw tennis courts and a few people playing tennis, but it didn’t look anything like I remembered. I went to where I remembered the clubhouse to be. But it wasn’t there! All that was there was a fenced in construction area that said something like ‘Future Home of The Tennis Club” My first thought was that they were remodeling the building but there was nothing around indicating how to contact anyone from the club. I went over to the people who were playing tennis but they were tourists who were playing there for the first time and didn’t know anything about the club. I was starting to get a little freaked out.

Then I went back to the construction site and tried to wrap my head around what I was seeing (or not seeing) there. I remembered that the last court I played on that day was right next to the clubhouse so I looked where it should have been, but it wasn’t there! All that was there was grass. Then I was really freaked out.

I got into my car and started driving around the area thinking that I must have gone to the wrong place, but I couldn’t find any other tennis club in the area. So I left and haven’t been back there since.

Since then I have looked on maps and google maps and it shows the tennis club as being there but it doesn’t look like there is any other tennis facility close to it that I could have mistakenly gone to.

It’s just weird! I don’t know where I was that day!

Not long after that, Dr Salami moved his office to San Diego and I moved to northern San Diego County so I haven’t been back to Coronado since.

So I never found those guys. I never got to thank the guys who saved my life. I don’t know who they were but I keep getting the feeling that our paths will cross again some day. Until then, I just think of them as my Tennis Angels.