David Bruce: Illness and Injury Anecdotes

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When he was a child growing up in Harlem, children’s book author Walter Dean Myers used to dance in the streets for money, which he used to buy his favorite red-colored icy pops. One day, after he had danced and eaten, danced and eaten, for hours, he went home with a stomachache. His mother set him on the toilet, then rushed him to the hospital after seeing red liquid come out of his body. At the hospital, they learned that the red liquid was not blood — it was red-colored liquid from the many, many icy pops young Walter had consumed that day.

In Havana, Pasquale Brignoli was disappointed with the audience’s applause one night and therefore decided that he would claim that he was ill and so could not sing the following night. A physician examined him, saw that he was not ill, and to teach him a lesson, looked very serious and told him that he had yellow fever. Frightened, Brignoli immediately said that he was not ill, and he went on stage and put on an electrifying performance that resulted in the kind of applause that he most desired.

As a little girl, Ernestine Schumann-Heink used to sing with great volume. One day, she was practicing her singing and really belting out the tune. The little boy of the rope-maker who lived nearby came running and gave her a glass filled with liquid and asked her to drink it. When she asked what it was, the little boy said, “My mother says you must have an awful stomachache because you are screaming so loud! She says that you should drink this and then go right away to bed.”

Kristi Yamaguchi won the gold medal in women’s ice skating at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. She had started ice skating as a little girl for a very good reason. She was born with clubfoot — her foot turned inward too much — and her parents felt that skating would help to straighten her legs. The skating, in combination with corrective shoes and a brace she wore at night, worked. She did not need surgery to fix the clubfoot.

Opera singers hate to catch colds and the flu. While in New York, Luciano Pavarotti came down with the flu. Fellow opera singer and friend Mirella Freni felt badly for him, but she didn’t want to catch his flu. Therefore, she made hot soup and left it outside his dressing room door. Then she ran away from the door, muttering, “Povero amico mio, povero ragazzo” (“My poor friend, poor boy”).

Willie Nelson’s friend Zeke Varner suffered from back pain, so he went to a doctor for some pain pills. The doctor showed him the available pills for pain, saying that the red pills offered the best pain relief, but that they were very addictive. Mr. Varner replied, “Doc, I am seventy years old. I am addicted to nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and a dozen other things. What’s one more?”

Rodeo clown Benjie Prudom once found herself in a tight spot with a bull in an arena. She put her hand out in front of her, and the 1900-pound bull ran into it. Of course, people were concerned about her, and when she had gotten out of the arena, someone asked if her hand was broken. She replied, “No, but my fingernail is.”

Emma Calvé once performed a notable good deed for a cancer specialist who was dying of the disease to which he had devoted his life. He had enjoyed music and the theater in addition to performing his surgical work, and she arranged to sing a concert at the bedside of the dying man.

In 1953, the National Institute of Fine Arts gave Mexican artist Frida Kahlo a one-person show — a great honor. She was ill at the time of the exhibit, but she attended anyway, arriving in an ambulance. Once inside the building where the exhibit was located, she lay on a bed.

When Abraham Lincoln was a child, his mother died of “milk sickness” — an illness caused by drinking the milk of cows that had eaten poisonous plants. Before dying, Mrs. Lincoln called Abraham and his sister Sarah to her and told them that they should be both kind and good.

The 19th-century actor Edwin Booth once gave what he felt was a wonderful performance in The Fool’s Revenge; however, after the performance, his daughter asked him if he were ill, since that performance was the worst she had ever seen him give!

Dancers often are able to dance with injuries through a kind of mind-over-matter discipline. Oleg Tupine once had a broken kneecap as he danced the Prince in Swan Lake. During the performance, he felt no pain; after the performance, he couldn’t walk.

When she was little, Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, and her sisters got measles. Neighboring mothers sent their children to play with the ill little girls so their children would also catch measles and “get it over with.”

Nicole is a child who has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Like others suffering from the disease, she has developed skills to cope with and make up for her loss in mobility. For example, when she was in the third grade, she was reading at a high school level.

Opera singer Matthew Best points out that singers are not good people to be around when you are seeking sympathy because you have a cold. The response of the singer is likely to be, “You have a cold? Get the hell out of here!”

When dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham was very ill, he went to his doctor, who soon cured him. Mr. Cunningham thanked him, but the doctor replied, “Don’t thank me. Thank your parents for a good constitution.”

Even at age 10, Maria Montessori was busy doing and learning things. Her mother stayed constantly by her side when Maria was very ill, but Maria told her, “Don’t worry, Mama, I cannot die; I have too much to do.”

Dagmar once asked comedy partner Jerry Lester, “What do you give a man who has everything?” Mr. Lester relied, “Penicillin.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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