David Bruce: Anecdotes About Illnesses and Injuries

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Gymnastics can be dangerous. At six years old, Carly Patterson attended a birthday party in a gym where some children were practicing tricks such as flips on the tumbling mats. Later, at home, she attempted to do a back walkover. Eventually, she succeeded, and she showed her mother, a former gymnast, what she had learned. Her mother said, “You are going to hurt yourself!” To give Carly the proper gymnastics training—needed to keep her from hurting herself—her mother enrolled her in a gymnastics class. Of course, even with proper training, one can get hurt, especially while attempting to do some high-risk, world-class gymnastics. At the 2003 World Championships, Carly fell during a practice and hurt her arm. Her elbow swelled up so much that she could not straighten her arm. However, Carly declined to let a doctor look at her arm because she was afraid that the doctor would not let her compete. She helped the United States win a gold medal in the team championship, and she finished second to Svetlana Khoukina in the all-around by less than .2 points. After the competition, a doctor discovered what was wrong with her arm—she had broken it. Competing on a broken arm may be foolhardy, but fortunately Carly recovered completely (after three hours of surgery and three months of rest) and defeated Svetlana to win the gold medal in the all-around at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, in addition to winning silver medals in both the team competition and the balance beam event competition. Her mother offered to buy her an Olympics souvenir necklace, but Carly rubbed the gold medal hanging around her neck and said, “This is all I wanted, right here.”

Father Damien is famous as the leper priest. In 1873, Father Damien began working with the lepers who had been settled on Molokai so they would be away from healthy people. He found a lawless society there, with prostitution and killings. Following one killing, police arrived to investigate, but the lepers ran toward them and rubbed their ulcerous wounds on the police officers’ bodies. The police fled. Immediately, Father Damien set about bringing order and civilization to the leper colony. He first cleaned the unused church and began to hold services. He built a small presbytery. He erected a fence around the lepers’ graveyard to keep wild pigs from digging up the bodies in shallow graves and eating them. He learned from a medical doctor who had leprosy how to dress wounds and perform amputations, and he provided much medical care to the lepers. He built a system of pipes to bring clean water into the colony so that water would not have to be carried to the colony in rusty cans. He built schools and houses. And he built hundreds of coffins, including many for children. Father Damien himself contracted leprosy; he died of leprosy on April 15, 1889. Today, effective treatment exists for leprosy.

When she was a child, young people’s author Peg Kehret suffered from polio, being completely paralyzed from the neck down until one day she felt an itch in her leg and reached one hand down to scratch it. She was so excited that she yelled, “I can move my hand!” Nurses came running to share in the excitement and the happiness. For a while, as Peg regained more mobility, she moved around in a wheelchair she named “Silver” after the Lone Ranger’s horse—she even learned to pop wheelies in the wheelchair! Peg learned to walk again and was able to return home, grow up, get married, and write books. Eventually, she wrote an autobiography titled Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio about her experiences with polio. One boy started crying after he had finished reading the book. When his mother asked him why he was crying, he replied, “Because the best book I’ll ever read is over.”

When comedian Jimmy Durante’s longtime friend and partner Lou Clayton was severely injured in a serious automobile accident, racking up medical bills of $70,000 (a lot of money now and much more over six decades ago), Jimmy took out personal loans to help pay Mr. Clayton’s medical bills, his first wife (Jeanne) sold valuables from her safe-deposit box to help pay Mr. Clayton’s medical bills, and the Durantes’ housekeeper (a wonderful woman named Maggie Arnold) offered to work without being paid so that the money thus saved could be used to help pay Mr. Clayton’s medical bills.

Stunt rider Matt Hoffman is a good man on a bicycle. In 2002, even after breaking his wrist, he decided to go to Brazil to take part in a tour throughout South America. He performed a number of tricks, then he noticed three Brazilian fans wearing shirts with the number “900.” Mr. Hoffman invented the very difficult 900 trick in which he turns two-and-a-half times while in the air. Even though he hadn’t performed the trick for seven years, he decided to try to perform it for these three fans. Despite his broken wrist, he performed the 900 trick perfectly.

Rabbi Aryeh Levine was once shocked when a man asked how he should treat his wife. He replied, “A wife is exactly yourself. Treat her exactly as you treat yourself.” Afterward, his wife’s foot began to hurt her, so the good rabbi took her to a doctor and said, “Her foot is hurting us.”

Whenever comedian Jackie Gleason got overly obese, he would check himself into a hospital for a strict, medically supervised diet. Writer Leonard Stern once went to visit him in the hospital, but the nurse told him, “I’m sorry. Mr. Gleason wasn’t feeling well, and he went home.”

When the young granddaughter of artist Edna Hibel developed “lazy eye” and had to wear an eye patch under her glasses, Ms. Hibel taped over one lens of her glasses and painted a rose on it as a decoration to make wearing the eye patch a more pleasurable experience.

Opera singer Emma Eames worked hard and seldom forgot a word while on the stage. She stated, “If by any chance I forget a word on the stage, I know my health is run down, and I then at once take a rest for several days.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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