NASHVILLE – As a football player, former Titans safety Myron Rolle loved game days.
As a neurosurgeon, Rolle gets the same feeling when he's scheduled for surgery. His new bride has already been around him long enough to know what his day will be like just from hearing his voice.
"The operating room is like the Super Bowl to me – that's how much I love operating, and that's how much I am excited about helping somebody with my hands, doing something physically to fix them," Rolle said on Tuesday.
"Dealing with the brain, a very beautiful organ that is such intricately intertwined with wonderful, beautiful networks that control different parts of the body, I think that is amazing. And to have a blessing of being able to operate on that … it feels like a game day. I get fired up and excited. You have to control your emotions and stay calm and make sure you're doing the right thing, but I love it. And if you ask my wife, she'll tell you I am different when the operating room is on the docket for me for the day. She's like, 'Oh, you have surgery today, huh? I can hear you talking differently.' I found a second passion in life that equals football and that's a great thing."
These days, however, game days are much different for Rolle, a third-year neurosurgery resident at Boston's Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School.
Life, in fact, is a lot different.
A look back at former Titans safety Myron Rolle's tenure in Tennessee. (Photos: AP, Donn Jones)
Rolle, 33, recently volunteered to take part in the fight against COVID-19. He's part of a massive redeployment effort at the hospital, where the neurosurgery floor he's spent so much time in has been transitioned to a COVID-19-only floor.
Rolle sent his wife of just four months to be with her family in Georgia, so she'd be out of harm's way. Meanwhile, he's spent his days in the middle of the danger, helping patients any way possible while his work as neurosurgeon has taken a backseat for now while working shifts in the COVID-19 surge clinic. While he's still doing work as a neurosurgery resident, his workload there has been reduced so he can take on a bigger load during the pandemic.
"This right here is completely different," Rolle said. "I am used to my daily life, going in, taking out a brain tumor, fixing a degenerative spine, doing the neurosurgical operations and interventions that I am passionate about, and studied and trained for. But that is on the backburner because these elective cases have been canceled or postponed and now it's about volunteering your time to be a part of the surge clinic and take care of these COVID-19 patients who are coming in off the streets, or being redeployed to different parts of the hospital to help COVID-19 patients, or taking care of our own neurosurgical patients who have COVID-19 or are being tested. So, the strategy is different (with the testing) … It is not typical of the day-to-day life for a neurosurgery resident and a neurosurgeon, so it is an adjustment and an adaptation we've all had to embrace."
A sixth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Titans, no challenge has ever been too big for Rolle, who skipped his senior season at Florida State to study medical anthropology for a year at Oxford University. Rolle received the Rhodes Scholarship to attend the school. In 2010, Rolle was chosen as the second-smartest athlete in sports by the Sporting News.
Rolle spent the 2010 season on Tennessee's practice squad, and after playing in four games for the Titans in the 2011 preseason, he was released. Rolle finished his career with the Steelers in 2012. While he never played in a regular season game, Rolle said his memories with the Titans remain with him today.
On a day off in between one of his 24-hour shifts this week, Rolle recalled the draft day call he got from Titans coach Jeff Fisher back in 2010, and his friends in Tennessee. He stays in contact with former teammates Vinnie Fuller, David Thornton, Ryan Mouton and Michael Griffin, among others. Former Titans player and assistant coach Marcus Robertson called to check on him the other day. Rolle said Titans Senior Director of Community Relations Tina Tuggle, the team's Director of Player Development when Rolle was with the team, was a great asset to him as a young man.
Rolle said he proudly wears a Titans beanie on cold days in Boston.
"Playing for Tennessee, for them to give me a chance, that meant a lot," Rolle said. "It meant they believed in me, and they helped provide an opportunity I wanted my whole life, and that was to play professional football.
"My time with the Titans, it's a time in my life I'll never forget, that I'll always cherish. I have so many great memories from my days as a Titan. Those guys, they'll always have a special place in my heart."
A third-team All-America performer at Florida State, Rolle said he looks back at his football-playing days for mental and physical strength, and that's needed during some scary times at Massachusetts General, and across the world.
On Tuesday, Rolle said his new daily routine starts with him putting on a facemask and using hand sanitizer before being funneled through a security line similar to what he's seen at airports. He's checked for COVID-19 symptoms each time he enters the building.
He described floors at the hospital transformed into coronavirus units, and the efforts to protect staff from infection. Among other things, Rolle is working in the hospital's surge clinic, triaging patients off the streets alongside other volunteers from all corners of the hospital. He's diving in wherever he's needed in a hospital that's getting close to being overwhelmed – Massachusetts General is currently dealing with over 10,000 cases of the virus, and that number is expected to go up dramatically in the coming days.
Just like hospitals across the country, there has been sadness. Rolle has heard heart-wrenching stories from his colleagues about patients with worsening symptoms, and them being unable to have families at their bedside as end-of-life discussions begin to take place.
"When you read on social media, or you hear that some people aren't taking this seriously, I wish I could take them into the hospital to see some of these things, and to hear some of the really sad stories," Rolle said. "These stats you are hearing, these figures – hundreds of thousands infected, 10,000 people in the United States dying – these seem like distant figures, but these are real lives and families are being changed by this very infectious disease. The hype is real, so people need to do their part: Stay at home, keep social distance, wear masks when you go outside. People need to do their part while people in the healthcare world are doing their part."
Rolle prays at night for strength, and for the scientists searching for answers.
"Honestly, right now I cannot see the fourth quarter," Rolle said. "I think we are just getting out of the first quarter, and we are not even at halftime yet. And the numbers are going to get a lot worse. I think this is going to be a couple of more months, maybe even up to a year before people feel comfortable resuming their normal daily lives. Obviously, there's things that people would love to get back to doing, sports being one of them. But with the numbers we are seeing, and the amount of stress it is putting on our major hospital … it is going to be difficult to manage this and get over, especially if there is not a collective buy-in from the general public that this is serious and they need to take it as such. We have a ways to go, and I think right now it is about placing a premium on the health of our people so we can flatten the curve and give our wonderful scientists and bright intellectual minds who are doing the thinking of getting vaccinations and cures and ways to prevent this from happening again, give them the time to work and to do the necessary things so we are able to resume that normal life again."
As Rolle prepared for another 24-shift scheduled to start on Wednesday, he was anxious, and ready to attack another day like game day.
A phone conversation with his wife, Latoya, was on the docket, where she'd check on him from afar. Such much-needed sleep was hours away, which would recharge him for the next day.
And, of course, more prayers.
"I ask God to continue to cover me as I go into the hospital every day and expose myself to potential harm and danger," Rolle said. "And I also ask Him to let me continue to help people the best way I can, because that is what I want to do.
"There's a toll that comes with this, but it's one that I am OK with because this is the fight and this is the duty, and we have to answer the call. You have to stay focused and locked in on the No.1 goal, which is to take care of these patients. I am happy to be in a position to help."