David Bruce: Illnesses and Injuries Anecdotes

On January 28, 1958, Brooklyn Dodger catcher Roy Campanella had an accident on an icy road in the days before cars had seat belts. He tried to turn off the engine because he knew that the car might catch on fire, but no matter how hard he tried he could not move his arms; that is how he learned that he was paralyzed. When someone stopped to help, Mr. Campanella told him, “Would you please turn the key in the ignition? Turn off the engine. Please. I don’t want to burn to death.” With lots of hard work, Mr. Campanella regained some use of his hands and arms, but he was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. At New York University’s Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, aka the Rusk Institute, he became a morale booster for other patients. One patient had a leg amputated. He was given a wooden leg, but he refused to walk on it, preferring to sit in a wheelchair and feel sorry for himself. Mr. Campanella told him, “You think you’re the unluckiest man in the world because a little thing like that has happened to you. But you’re wrong. You’re a lucky man. Just think how much worse off you could be. My goodness, I’d give a million to be in the condition you’re in. You can walk. Man, how can you sit there in a wheelchair when you can just get up and walk is beyond me. Why, you can walk right out of here if you’ve a mind to. All by yourself without having to depend on anyone else.” For two weeks, Mr. Campanella encouraged the man to walk on his wooden leg. Soon, the man did, and he walked out of the Rusk Institute with a cane and his wooden leg. Mr. Campanella made a good life for himself, hosting a radio show called Campy’s Corner, coaching occasionally for the Dodgers, and writing newspapers columns. He stayed positive, despite being in a wheelchair. He said, “I’ve accepted the chair, and I’ve accepted life.”

Nathan Saavedra, a toddler who was almost two years old, needed a kidney transplant because he suffers from Prune Belly Syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the urinary system. The Elgin (Illinois) Courier-News wrote two articles about the toddler after Nathan’s mother, Tina, contacted the newspaper, and Chris Doing, a 38-year-old Information Technology specialist who did not know the boy or the boy’s family, read the articles and decided to donate his kidney if it were a good match for Nathan’s body. Mr. Doing did not at first let the family that he was being tested to see if he would be a suitable donor. He said, “I was really motivated and touched by the story and picture of Nathan. It prompted me to keep pushing forward. But I didn’t want to give the family the play by play, in case I was disqualified. I didn’t want to give them false hope.” His kidney was a good match, and on October 25, 2010, the successful transplant took place. Mr. Doing did not meet Nathan and his family until after Nathan was released from the hospital. Nathan’s mother, Tina, said about Mr. Doing, “He is very heroic. I will always feel so happy to have met him and for him to have saved my son.” Mr. Doing said about his donation, “I don’t think of it as an act of heroism. Help was needed, and I was able to help. I can’t fully explain how or why I was motivated. Just knowing Nathan is doing well was all I was looking for.” Mr. Doing was influenced by the donation of his grandmother’s organs after her death 17 years previously. He said, “I remember how rewarding it was to get letters from recipients and for something good to come of it. I always hoped that if someone was in need in that way, I’d be man enough to assist them.”

In 1987, tenor Jose Carreras learned that he was suffering from leukemia. He got chemotherapy treatments, and then he got bone marrow treatments, and his cancer was cured, but it took a long time for him to be cured. During his treatments, both good and bad things occurred. Photographers sometimes dressed in hospital gowns in order to try to get access to his hospital room, and newspapers prepared his obituary in case he died. In a New York Times interview, he said, “My first reaction was to ask over and over, ‘Why me?’ But when I was moved to the hospital, my floor had twelve rooms, and in eight of those the leukemia patients were little children. Then you don’t ask, ‘Why me?’ anymore.” Fortunately, a good thing that happened was that he received more than 150,000 pieces of mail from people wishing him well. One of the first things he did when he could sing again was to perform at a benefit concert for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which is located in Seattle and is where he stayed from November 1987 to March 1988.

Jazz drummer Buddy Rich was a personal friend of Johnny Carson. When Mr. Rich became severely ill and worried that he might not ever play the drums again, one of Ed McMahon’s friends called him and said, “Ed, I’m going to make a strange request. Buddy is as down as a man can be. Would you and Johnny consider coming down to visit him? And the sooner, the better.” Ed told Johnny that Buddy was ill, and Johnny immediately thought of a way to cheer him up: He and Ed would visit him and do a sketch with Johnny portraying Carnak the Magnificent. Carnac, of course, was gifted at divining the answers to questions. He would say the answer, and then he would open a sealed envelope that contained the question. As Johnny wanted, the jokes were somewhat bawdy. One example: Carnac stated that the answer was, “Dry hump.” The question was, “What does a camel do after a bath?” The laughter therapy worked: Buddy made an incredible recovery.

“My illness is due to my doctor’s insistence that I drink milk, a whitish fluid they force down helpless babies.” — W.C. Fields

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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