David Bruce: Illnesses and Injuries Anecdotes


Maurice Stokes played center for the Rochester-Cincinnati Royals (now they are the Sacramento Kings), along with forward Jack Twyman. In 1957, during a play-off game, Mr. Stokes’ head hit the floor hard. He got up, but later while on an airplane he started vomiting and became so ill that he was baptized and given last rites on the plane. It turned out that he was suffering from a major head injury. Both Mr. Stokes and Mr. Twyman lived in Cincinnati, and Mr. Twyman visited Mr. Stokes for four months while Mr. Stokes was in a coma. When Mr. Stokes came out of the coma, he was paralyzed and could not speak. Mr. Twyman devised a way for Mr. Stokes to communicate. Mr. Twyman recited the alphabet and when he reached the letter that Mr. Stokes wanted, Mr. Stokes blinked. Later, after Mr. Stokes regained some movement in a few fingers, Mr. Stokes drew a diagram of typewriter keys on a piece of cardboard and Mr. Stokes pointed to the letters and spelled out words. In addition, Mr. Stokes and the NBA raised much money for Mr. Stokes. The Celtics, Hawks, Pistons, and Royals all paid their own expenses as they put on a doubleheader with the profits going to Mr. Stokes’ care. Fans also sent contributions. One fan who sent money in a letter to Mr. Twyman wrote, “Where else but in this country could I, a Jew, send money to you, a Catholic, to help a black man?”

Major-league baseball pitcher Bob Gibson was sickly — and impoverished — as a young kid. He remembers a rat biting him on the ear — this is one of his earliest memories. He suffered through a number of illnesses as a youngster: He had rickets, bronchial asthma, and a rheumatic heart. At age three, he nearly died from pneumonia. His older brother, Leroy, whose nickname was Josh (after Negro League standout hitter Josh Gibson), carried him to the hospital. Bob wondered whether he would die, and Josh told him, “No, Robert, you’re not going to die. And when you’re well, I’m going to buy you a bat and glove.” Of course, he did recover, and he became a late-blooming star in basketball as well as baseball. In fact, he was on a college all-star team that played the Harlem Globetrotters, a team that hardly ever loses. Bob sat on the bench for three quarters with the Globetrotters taking and holding the lead, and then in the fourth quarter he came into the game and scored 15 points to lead his team to a one-point victory. The impressed Globetrotters immediately offered him a contract to play for them, and he did for four months, in 1957-1958, earning $4,000.

The general managers of opera houses have to know how to handle opera singers who call in sick when what they suffer from is just an attack of nerves. Metropolitan Opera general manager Giulio Gatti-Cazazza was not surprised when tenor Giacomo Lauri-Volpi called in with a sore throat, saying that he could not sing that night. Mr. Gatti-Cazazza knew that Mr. Lauri-Volpi was NOT sick, but he murmured a few sympathetic words and told him not to worry, for he would find a replacement to sing in his place that night. He waited a little while, and then he called Mr. Lauri-Volpi to tell him that Beniamino Gigli — Mr. Lauri-Volpi’s arch-rival — was in wonderful voice and had agreed to sing in Mr. Lauri-Volpi’s place that night. Soon after Mr. Gatti-Cazazza had hung up the telephone, it rang again. Mr. Lauri-Volpi was calling to tell him that his throat was much better and that he could sing after all. No fool, Mr. Gatti-Cazazza had not even bothered to call Mr. Gigli, but had made up the story of Mr. Gigli replacing Mr. Lauri-Volpi.

Art Linkletter was a famous daytime TV show host in the mid-20th century. He once took part in a miracle. He and his wife, Lois, were in Tahiti following a visit to their ranch in Australia when they received a telegram that his wife’s mother, Peg, had suffered a stroke and was unconscious. Of course, they immediately came home, and Mr. Linkletter followed an impulse to hold his mother-in-law’s hand and tell her in a voice of authority, “Peg, I know you can hear me. Lois and I have flown all the way from Australia to tell you about our sheep. Now open your eyes and say hello.” Peg opened her eyes and said, “Hello, Art.” Then she closed her eyes again. This time, Mr. Linkletter said, “Come on, now keep those eyes open. We love you.” She opened her eyes, and this time they stayed open. Mr. Linkletter says, “It was the only miracle I ever witnessed. I was glad it was for my mother-in-law.”

Many dogs are good with and for injured or ill children. Peter Howe’s dog, Bobby Blue, is well known as a visitor to pediatric patients at Beth Israel Hospital. When Mr. Howe and Bobby Blue get in an elevator together at the hospital, people often greet Bobby Blue by name, but they don’t know Mr. Howe’s name. Bobby Blue is even allowed to visit patients in the intensive care unit. Once, Mr. Howe was going to take Bobby Blue to the other side of a bed so that a little girl could see him, but the nurses explained that it was time to move the little girl so that she would be lying on her other side — unfortunately, a move that was painful to the little girl. The little girl cried as she was being moved until she saw Bobby Blue, and then she stopped crying and started smiling as she stared at him.

Even though pro football player Brian Piccolo was deathly ill, he snuck out of his patient’s room for a while to visit a small girl who had broken her neck and had only a short time to live. Not long after, Mr. Piccolo died. Mr. Piccolo’s friendship with running back Gale Sayers is well known. Accepting an award at a Pro Football Writers Dinner, Mr. Sayers stated that the award should have gone to Mr. Piccolo, who Mr. Sayers said showed more courage battling the illness that would kill him than Mr. Sayers showed on the football field.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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