Archived Story

‘Cardinal Charlie’: Stroke started the writing nearly 500 columns ago

Published 11:26pm Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In reading the latest Horizons, when I saw the heading Emergency by Air, my memory went back to Nov. 28, 1988, when I had my brain-stem stroke.

gillIt was because of my stroke that I started writing as I recuperated.

This was about 6 p.m. and I was lying on the bed watching the news on TV, and surely not having a thought that shortly I would be that “emergency in the air.”

I knew that I had a terrible pain in my head, and was also having trouble getting off of the bed.

I was sure that something was terribly not right.

I could not make it to the living room without the help of my wife, Peg, who finally got me into a chair and called 911.

Our neighbor, Vern Murphy, came and helped put me in the ambulance for the trip to Lee Memorial Hospital.

I told Vern and my wife that I’ll never make it back home as they put me in the helicopter to take me to Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo.

This had been decided after being diagnosed as a severe medical patient by the emergency room doctors.

They called for the helicopter, as I was sweating on only one side and everything was spinning around.

I do remember lying in the helicopter and looking up at the top.

It seemed to be the floor, as my head was really spinning ’round and ’round.

I guess the flight to Borgess was only 12 or 15 minutes and Dr. Jewitt was waiting on the pad after being called from home.

He was a neurologist and after all of his tests, he said, Mr. Gill, if you don’t have another stroke you’re going to make it.

Well, I spent six days in critical care and one of those mornings at 4 the little flight nurse in her blue uniform came in to see how I was doing and she told me they didn’t think I was going to make it before they got to Kalamazoo.

The next move was to Mercy Memorial in St. Joseph by ambulance for therapy.

My right side was affected, as were my balance, swallowing and no feeling in my left hand.

I had four kinds of therapy on the hospital’s new sixth floor, and after 33 days I was able to come home and only had to use a cane.

Jean Dhomer was the head nurse of the sixth floor when I was there and 21 years later when I went to visit Lester Skibbe, who was on the sixth floor, nurse Jean was still there.

Also, I’ve written this before, but I met the flight nurse on my flight years ago when she was out at the airport with the helicopter and I thanked her for saving my life.

“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City. E-mail him at

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