Dr. David Attaway was looking forward to his flight Saturday night out of Rio de Janeiro and getting back home to New York City, but the 2001 Baylor School graduate — and son of Lookout Mountain, Ga., residents — was basking in his Olympics experience.
An emergency medicine senior resident at busy Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, Attaway spent 26 days living and working in the Olympic Village. The 33-year-old was the director of the emergency section of the Polyclinic, the command center for all the medical posts in the village, and had 80 to 100 doctors, nurses and other personnel under his leadership.
He downplayed the lofty sound of his role, however.
"I feel more like their colleague than their boss," he said Thursday night by phone from Rio. "In the emergency section I'm the only one who's been here the whole month, so I was able to provide continuity. There are lots of layers of responsibility, and a lot of the doctors and nurses and techs were here for only five or so days at a time."
Attaway got to work some exciting events in various venues of the Games in the last few days, including track cycling at the velodrome, the women's 10-meter diving finals and Brazil's semifinal victory in men's soccer.
"It will be good to be back home, but I've had a really great time," said Attaway, who officially was a volunteer but received his regular salary plus a grant from his hospital as part of its international rotation program.
The pre-Games medical concerns did not live up to the fears, thankfully, and Attaway himself "went swimming on the beaches a few times. There's one bay here that reportedly is horribly polluted, but people certainly have been on the beaches and in the water."
He said he personally tested only one person for the Zika virus, and that patient asked for the test. Most of the cases were relatively minor respiratory complaints and typical sports-related conditions such as sprained ankles and muscle and back pain.
"Several people required transfer to our partner hospital in Rio for more extensive care each day," Attaway said. "And a coach went into heart block. I believe he had a pacemaker put in at the hospital.
"For anyone who needed an operating room or an overnight stay, we had ambulances waiting outside the polyclinic at all times. You stabilize, then you send."
Attaway also had no complaints about what he saw of the Olympic Village and enjoyed immensely most of the people he met.
"It's been incredible," he added. "Brazilians, everyone you meet take you under their arm, and they're a very fun-loving people."
A highly efficient but friendly Brazilian woman was the manager of the Polyclinic and helped oversee all of its sections, including dentistry, ophthalmology, physical therapy, chiropractic and all the standard diagnostic and lab services, and the overall director of medical services at the Olympics was Dr. Antonio Marttos, a renowned Brazilian trauma surgeon and University of Miami faculty member.
Another emergency physician at Maimonides, Dr. Matt Friedman, knew Marttos and made the connection for Attaway fairly late in the preparation process. That required getting official approval from the International Olympic Committee, and Attaway eventually bought his tickets to Brazil before that came through.
"After I put in my application with the IOC, I would call Dr. Marttos once each week to see if he'd heard anything, and he'd say, 'You're going. Don't worry. You're staying in the village,'" Attaway related. "And I'd feel OK for about 48 hours. But the IOC is a big organization and had a lot to deal with, so it took a while."
He has progressed fairly rapidly in the medical field despite a late start. He majored in economics and Spanish at Georgia, with no pre-med courses, and then worked in Atlanta for two years in grants management for the state of Georgia. From when he decided he wanted to be a doctor, it took 16 months to go back to school for life sciences courses, pass the medical school entrance exam and be accepted to the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
Leaving there, he had 14 hospitals who considered him while he considered them for emergency residency, and he wound up at his first choice, Maimonides. His sister Mary already was in Brooklyn then, and now sister Alyson is there, too. David lives in Lower Manhattan, "a few train stops away from work."
As part of his hospital's off-campus services, he's worked New York Yankees, Knicks and Rangers games as well as U.S. Open tennis and major concerts.
Sports activities always have been big for Attaway, whose family spent the first four years of his life in North Chattanooga and then moved to Lookout Mountain, where his father and mother, Doyle and Martha, and his brother, Denver, still live.
"I like to stay active. Currently I'm doing things like scuba diving, cycling and playing soccer and basketball in my neighborhood," said David, who played junior varsity soccer and basketball at Baylor and continued those sports in intramurals and on the amateur level during college and med school.
He wants to return to the Olympics.
"I'm going to put in my application for Tokyo in four years, and Korea in two years," he said.
The 2018 Winter Olympics will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.