Carl Goldman’s surreal cruise story helped bring the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak into sharper focus here in the United States.
The owner of AM-FM radio station KHTS in Santa Clarita, Calif., started blogging his story in early February, shortly after he and his wife, Jeri, found themselves quarantined with some close friends on their Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohoma, Japan.
The blog started on his radio station’s website, but eventually, as the virus and the news of the virus spread around the world, Goldman became a national story, and there was one constant as he kept telling his version: Goldman always wore an Eagles hat.
“I’m wearing it right now — proudly,” Goldman said late last week during a telephone interview from his home in Santa Clarita.
Born in New York and a Southern California resident for more than four decades, Goldman has an interesting link to the hat.
“I was from New York, but I had gone to undergrad school at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.,” he said. “Jeff Lurie had gone to Clark University about 40 or 50 miles away, and some of my mutual high school friends were also at Clark. That was our original connection. After college I came out to L.A. to go to graduate school, and right around the same time Jeff came out.
“There was a circle of us here in Los Angeles who became close friends and we would play tennis together all the time. It was back when we were all single guys in Los Angeles with good careers. I was already working my way up at a radio station and Jeff was doing movies under the Chestnut Hill company he had set up. That was in the mid-'70s, and Jeff did not move from L.A. until 1994.”
That, of course, is when Lurie left for Philadelphia to become the owner of the Eagles, which is also when Goldman became a hard-core fan of the team.
“Carl and I have been friends for over 35 years,” Lurie wrote in an email. “He was one of my weekly tennis partners as well as a good friend when I lived in Los Angeles. He and his wife have been to many Eagles’ games, including this past season when we played the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field.”
Fans who are friends with the owner do have benefits. Goldman said he sat five rows in front of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and right next to Puff Daddy — or was it P. Diddy? — and his entourage at Super Bowl XXXIX, when the Eagles lost to New England in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2005.
Goldman sat directly below Lurie’s private box in Minneapolis when the Eagles beat Tom Brady and the Patriots for their first Super Bowl title in February 2018.
“A couple of Jeff’s other friends came to our house for Thanksgiving that year, and this was before [Carson] Wentz was injured and we all just felt that this was going to be the year. So we all booked our flights and hotels for Minneapolis during Thanksgiving week," Goldman said.
Two weeks later, Goldman and some of Lurie’s other L.A.-based friends ate brunch together and talked about the magical season the Eagles were enjoying. That afternoon, Wentz suffered his season-ending torn ACL injury. But that did not stop the Eagles from winning it all with Nick Foles at quarterback.
“It was the dream season,” Goldman said.
Two years later, Goldman and Jeri were near the end of a dream vacation — a 16-day Asian cruise on the Diamond Princess — when word surfaced that a passenger who had departed from the cruise in Hong Kong five days earlier had tested positive for the coronavirus. Suddenly, they were stuck on a floating petri dish with news helicopters and boats circling around them as medical personnel escorted passengers off the ship and into ambulances.
“We were all quarantined on the ship as of Feb. 4, and then on Feb. 17 the State Department flew in two 747 cargo planes to Japan to take the Americans back,” Goldman said.
Lurie learned about his friend’s ordeal after he and his wife, Tina, received a text message from Jeri Goldman during their quarantine period on the cruise ship.
“It was extremely unnerving,” Lurie said. “I was concerned for Carl and his wife, but I was also thinking about everyone aboard the ship and what they were going through at that time. I was thinking about their loved ones, too. You could tell it was a helpless situation.”
The Goldmans, like everyone on the cruise ship, were administered COVID-19 tests on Feb. 15, but the results would not be revealed until after their return to the United States.
“The test showed that I was positive with no symptoms at the time, but I didn’t know that when we left the ship,” Goldman said. “We were all piled on to buses and on our way to the airport some of the tests for some of the other passengers came back, and they had tested positive. So the State Department, Japanese health officials, and the Princess people were all trying to figure out what to do. We ended up sitting on buses with no bathrooms for 6½ hours. That was the hardest ordeal of them all.”
Eventually a quarantine area was set up on the cargo planes that had been sent from the United States, and 300 Americans headed back to their home country. But not all of them actually made it home.
“I still didn’t know I had the virus,” Goldman said. “I got on the plane with no other symptoms other than a full bladder. There were only two toilets, and the line was about 50 people long. But no one was complaining even though the toilets were pretty nasty by the end of the flight. Our plane was headed toward Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, and it was an all-night flight. So I dozed off next to my wife.”
Two hours into the flight, Goldman awoke with 103-degree fever. He was escorted to the quarantined area of the flight by one of the three men in hazmat suits.
“They were our flight attendants,” Goldman said. “One was an Air Force doctor, and the other two were his medical team.”
When the 10-hour flight landed in Sacramento, Goldman, now aware he was positive for the virus, learned there would be another leg to his unplanned itinerary.
“When we got to Travis, more guys in hazmat suits came on, and they talked to the guys in hazmat suits already on the plane,” Goldman said. “They decided they were going to take off all the passengers, including six of the nine of us already in quarantine. That left three of us on board for a flight to Omaha. They gave our spouses the option of also going to Omaha, which they all took.”
After the three-hour flight to Omaha, Goldman was put on a stretcher and got a limo ride with a police motorcade escort that he described as being longer than anything he had ever seen for the president or the Queen of England. Instead of a trip to the White House or Buckingham Palace, however, he was headed for the biocontainment unit at Nebraska Medicine, a specially equipped medical center that had previously been used only for Ebola patients.
“I’m 67 years old, and I have Guillain-Barre syndrome," said Goldman, referring to a rare condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. "So I was definitely an at-risk patient for coronavirus.
"What was so weird is that there were never any symptoms, like a cold. I didn’t have a headache or a sore throat or a stuffy nose. I did have a dry cough, which lasted about 2½ weeks. And the first few days I walked around my quarantined biocontainment room I would get out of breath a little bit. But other than that, there was nothing.”
Goldman spent 10 days, including his Feb. 22 birthday, in the biocontainment unit.
“It was like a scene out of the movie The Andromeda Strain,” Goldman said. “No one entered without a hazmat suit. I was sealed off, and they had two cameras on me at all times. It was wild. The medical team sang Happy Birthday to me virtually.
"Unlike other hospitalizations, there is no cure for the virus, so all they could do was give me a little ibuprofen to make sure the fever didn’t come back. They also gave me gallons and gallons of Gatorade. I’ve been through all the flavors. The light blue is the bomb, but stay away from the grape. It’s nasty.”
Eventually, Goldman was moved out of the biocontainment unit and into a lower level of care. After three straight days of testing negative for the virus, he was finally allowed to return to his home in Santa Clarita on March 16.
“It took 29 days for me to get rid of the virus,” Goldman said. “The longest patient out there is 37, and that was a record I didn’t want to break. I came home [last] Monday night, and now, of course, California is on total lockdown.
"This is my fourth quarantine environment, but this one is fun. I’m home. … My two dogs are here, and I get to clean up their dog poop, so I am a happy camper.”
His famous friend from Philadelphia is relieved.
“I was obviously tremendously relieved for Carl and his wife and all the others who were finally able to go home,” Lurie said. “At the same time, we were and still are in a global health crisis that will impact all of us in many heartbreaking ways. … So I continue to be very concerned about that.”
While the homecoming has been mostly happy for the Goldmans, it has also been accompanied by some disturbing torment.
“My wife has had death threats,” Goldman said. “When we got back here, 98 percent of the community embraced us with open arms. But two percent still don’t want her anywhere around them, and she’s the safest woman on the planet. She never had the virus. The poor kid who stayed at our house and watched our dogs the whole time we were gone … he was immediately fired by the owner of the company for being in contact with my wife when she came home.
"Hopefully that will become an example of what not to do. That was when things were still quiet here in the states.”