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SSU’s baseball coach trapped at home, waiting for his head to clear

Thursday, September 6th, 2012 | Posted by

John Goelz. (PD FILE, 2012)


John Goelz was in his 36th day Wednesday, his 36th day of being house bound, his 36th day of being shackled to his house, his aching head the chain that binds him. So Sonoma State’s baseball coach waited for his head to clear, the pain to disappear, the nightmare to end. He did this by watching movies, more television than a even a media critic could bear, his 60-inch a window to a world he has yet to re-enter.

“Caddyshack” … “Kill The Irishman” … “Superbad” … “The Natural” … “The Help” … “For Love of the Game.”

“The light is hurting my head,” Goelz said. So he turned away from looking out his patio, closing his eyes while he did it, a grimace crossing his face, the way someone would react if a police spotlight were shining in his face. It’s an invisible hell he suffers, for nothing can be seen that cries calamity. No gashes, no scars, no cast, not even a tiny black-and-blue mark appearing anywhere. Goelz is damage-free, it seems, as if July 31 never really happened.

It was July 31, 10 o’clock at night. Goelz was 50 feet from taking the northbound exit off 101 to Rohnert Park Expressway. Traffic was stopped. Erin Rock, an administrative assistant at SSU, was his passenger. Goelz had just dropped off his girlfriend, Debbie Tambussi, at her house in Novato. Goelz was doing Rock a favor, picking her up from San Francisco Airport and taking her home. Not moving, waiting for the car line to move to the exit, Goelz was a sitting duck.

“Oooh,” was Goelz’s initial thought upon the impact. Someone driving a Chrysler 300, at 55 mph the police estimated, hit the Goelz vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, from behind. The force propelled the seat-belted Goelz forward, then snapped him back, collapsing his seat, his head and back now lying flat on the back seat. Goelz was driving Tambussi’s vehicle.

“The police said if I had been in a smaller vehicle,” Goelz said, “I might not be here today.”

The Chevy Tahoe was totaled. Rock was sore and achy but did not suffer any broken bones or significant injuries. Goelz initially thought he might be as lucky. But then the pain came, all along the right side of his body, and then there was the headaches, but Goelz, ever the optimist, had experienced concussions and made it through them in short order.

“Once I had no memory of the second half of a football game,” he said. “I also didn’t remember the six innings of a baseball game once. So I knew what to expect from concussions.”

“Bridesmaids” … “Bull Durham” … every televised minute of the London Olympics … “View To A Kill” … “The Change-Up” … “Cars.”

Goelz is now entering his sixth week of recovery and he is good for an hour. That’s it. An hour of sitting upright and conversing. The movies, of course, last longer, which explains why Goelz falls asleep many times in the middle of them. His brain, his pain, tantalize him and then betray him. Like last Thursday. He woke up feeling pretty good. Time to go for a walk with Debbie around his neighborhood. He made it 150 feet.

“I started to sweat and the headaches came and I had to turn around,” Goelz said. “The next day, I was wiped out.”

Wiped out like sleeping and staying in bed and finding an hour of brain activity to be so exhausting that he had to close his eyes.

“The Andy Griffith Show” … “South Park” … “Wanderlust” … “The Three Stooges” … every San Francisco Giants baseball game … “Flubber” … “Moneyball.”

“I’m in a cave,” Goelz said pointing to his living room and the 60-inch TV. He points and scrunches up his face while he does it. Goelz loves his couch all right, but not as a place to live, to exist. The couch may be comfortable but his body is not. He has to shift his body every five minutes because those ribs, neck, head, right arm, cannot tolerate a stationary position. He’s been out of the house about five times, mostly to see his doctors.

“I ask the doctors if I can go to a chiropractor,” he said. “They say no. How about steroids? They say no. How about physical therapy? They say no.”

Be patient, John, they say. It’ll take time. They have told him that around Sept. 10, maybe the 15th, he can start working an hour a day.

“What job can you work for an hour a day?” Goelz asked. Yet his season is close, Oct. 15 the beginning. His coaches, SSU officials, friends have come over. People have brought food, well-wishes, those “atta-boys.” Tambussi, a kindergarten teacher in Novato, comes over every other day to cook and help clean and provide a tender arm to rest. That’s all good but it can only go so far.

“I’m a P.E. guy,” said Goelz, referring to physical education. “I need to be out, doing things. But this … I thought I knew concussions and the doctors say this is a concussion, an ‘enclosed head injury’ is what they call it. But this isn’t like any concussion I have ever had.”

At the most intense it is like this for Goelz: Everything around him moves at the same lightning speed, television sound, people walking, people talking, birds chirping. His mind can’t parse one image or noise from another. It’s a hyperkinetic drum-beat of a dissonance in which Goelz can’t slow anything down. He would have to feel like King Kong trying to swat at the airplanes from the top of the Empire State Building, not touching one.

“The doctors thought four-to-six weeks to recover,” Goelz said. “Now they are saying maybe another month or two. I know they don’t really know. No one does.”

“The Inventor” … “The Last Play at Shea” … “School of Rock” … “Terminal” … “Tree Of Life” … “Larry The Cable Guy” … “Superman” … every NFL preseason football game … “Seinfeld” … “Grease.”

“I am watching spiders,” Goelz said, “make their webs.”

John Goelz tried to sound vaguely interested in that last sentence.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

  • Phil Maytorena


    Hope you feel better soon and our prayers are with you. I am Paul’s father.


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Nick Walden is our Rohnert Park + Cotati correspondent.
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