David Bruce: Illnesses and Injuries Anecdotes

Major league umpire Bill Klem wore an inside chest protector, which afforded less protection than an outside chest protector, although Mr. Klem maintained that umpires could avoid injury by weaving with the ball. Even so, he once had his collarbone broken while umpiring. When it healed, a hole was left in his chest which you could stick your finger in. Later, fellow umpire Jocko Conlan had his collarbone broken while working a game. Mr. Klem told him, “You’ve got to weave.” Mr. Conlan had roomed with Mr. Klem, and so he knew where the hole left by Mr. Klem’s broken collarbone was located. He stuck his finger in the hole and said, “How did you get that?” Mr. Klem replied, “I didn’t weave either, that day.”

While serving as a soldier in World War II, Spike Milligan knew a young soldier named Sergeant Cusak, who became the first in the group to get crabs. Sergeant Cusak went to Piccadilly to fill a prescription for blue unction — whose only function is to treat crabs. Not wanting to be embarrassed, he whispered to the pharmacist, “Can I have some blue unction?” Unfortunately, the pharmacist said loudly, “BLUE UNCTION?” Knowing that everyone had heard the pharmacist, Sergeant Cusak replied twice as loudly, “YES, I’VE GOT BLOODY CRABS!”

When Quaker humorist Tom Mullen went into a hospital to have his colon removed, he met a nurse who had undergone the same medical procedure and so was able to answer his questions and joke with him about the procedure. With no colon, the patient must wear a bag into which the feces collect. Mr. Mullen asked what he should do if the bag broke, and the nurse replied, “Stand downwind.” The nurse also said that men have an advantage over women in undergoing this procedure: “Both men and women wear bags, but we women have to find shoes to match.”

Acting leads to a dichotomy between reality and appearance. The 19th-century actor O. Smith remembers seeing the great John Kemble perform heroic roles of enormous valor and vigor near the end of his career. He also remembers Mr. Kemble being attended to by his servant during intermission. Because of Mr. Kemble’s infirmity and asthma, the attendant was obliged to support him as he walked, but when Mr. Kemble was in front of an audience playing such characters as Cato, Cardinal Wolsey, and King John, no such support was necessary.

Not all hospital pharmacies respect privacy. Gail Sausser went to a hospital clinic, where she was given a prescription to take to the hospital pharmacy. She did so, then sat down as she waited for the prescription to be filled. A pharmacist eventually looked at the prescription, then loudly asked, “Sausser, what clinic did you get this from?” More than once, she tried to quietly answer, “The fourth-floor clinic,” but eventually, she gave up and with everyone staring at her replied loudly, “The V.D. Clinic!”

Baseball manager Leo “The Lip” Durocher and umpire Tom Gorman had some notable arguments on the baseball field. In a play at first base, when Leo’s runner and the first baseman collided, Mr. Gorman’s leg was broken. Mr. Gorman was lying hurt on the ground, and he heard someone above him say, “Did he call him out, or did he call him safe?” Mr. Gorman asked, “Who’s talking?” The answer came, “It’s me, Leo,” and Mr. Gorman said, “Well, if it’s Leo, he’s out.”

President Abraham Lincoln was besieged by people asking to be appointed to various offices; unfortunately, there were many more people than offices. Once, he suffered from a mild form of smallpox, and the office-seekers were afraid to come near him. President Lincoln enjoyed their absence, but he told a friend, “Is it not too bad that now, while I have something to give to everybody, no one comes near me.”

Lesbian comedians Robin Tyler and Patty Harrison used to do a routine about faith-healer Brother Ripoff. As Brother Ripoff, Ms. Tyler would say to Ms. Harrison, who was playing an ill lesbian looking for healing, “This woman’s come to me and she’s a lesbian and she wants to be healed. I’m going to put my hand on her and I’m going to heal her. Hallelujah! You are now healed — and you’re still a lesbian!”

A surgeon once removed a huge bone chip from the ankle of American gymnast Vanessa Atler, and he was shocked by its size, even after having worked for years on the injuries of the Dallas Cowboys. Ms. Atler joked, “See, that makes me tougher than all those football players.”

Before George Burns and Gracie Allen were married, Mr. Burns had a rival. Once, Ms. Allen was ill and in a hospital, and Mr. Burns was supposed to tell her beau the news. Mr. Burns didn’t do that, so the beau didn’t send flowers — but Mr. Burns filled her hospital room with baskets of flowers.

We have forgotten how much devastation the disease polio caused. In 1956, Tanaquil LeClercq, a George Balanchine dancer, contracted polio. It paralyzed her below the legs, and her dancing career and walking days were over at age 27.

Stand-up comedian Jonathan Solomon won’t mention some things in his act. For example, he never mentions herpes because he figures as many as 25 percent of his audience has herpes and he doesn’t want to remind them of it.

A friend once said to country comedian Jerry Clower, “I see you got the furniture disease.” Mr. Clower asked what the furniture disease was, and his friend told him, “Your chest has done dropped down into your drawers.”

Comedian Groucho Marx frequently suffered from depression. According to his friend Dick Cavett, “He needed a Groucho to cheer him up. He was the only person who couldn’t have one.”

Some women visited a sick friend and told her, “We will remember you in our prayers.” The woman replied, “Just wash the dishes in the kitchen. I can do my own praying.”

Richard Pryor got a lot of comedic material from his own life. After suffering a heart attack, he joked about the lengths he would go to in order to get new material.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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