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When A Child Was Sick

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A man I considered a friend, who helped a lot of children and a lot of people in general, passed away Thursday morning.

Charles Hicks and Donna brought us home to Meadowsweet in late 2015, the same way they gave a home to many stray and unwanted critters. Dr. Charlie wanted us there, in part, to help Donna as the Doc continued his fight with cancer.

I had met them a couple years before, through Cape Fear Equine Rescue; Donna wanted to start volunteering, and I went by to introduce myself.

Charlie waved from the porch, and offered me a beer. When I told him I didn’t drink, he directed me to the little refrigerator of tea, water and juice, and told me to help myself. He didn’t know me from Adam’s housecat, but I was a guest, and he was a host.

He was grumpy sometimes, but everyone gets that way, even without cancer. He was happier more times than he was grumpy, at least while we knew him.

He was also one of the finest, bravest and gentlest men it has ever been my honor to know.

Above all, he loved children, and hated to see them suffer. He had a touch with the little ones; I didn’t see it very often, but I saw it enough that I could imagine what it must have been like at the Pediatric Center, which he founded the Pediatric Center in Wilmington more than 40 years ago.  The center came about after he had worked at the famous Babies Hospital at Wrightsville Beach.

By an actual count, I personally know or am closely acquainted with five families whose children were cared for by Dr. Charlie. In two cases, two generations of those families were in his care.

That’s just up here, and all those miles from the city he loved, that his family called home. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of others whom Dr. Charlie made feel better.

It breaks my heart I didn’t get all of his stories written down, but that’s life. The front porch-sunset stories I remember most were of his days as a military doctor, then the miracle babies and kids.

Whether it was a child with a mysterious illness (turned out to be a tick-borne ailment) or the baby that was run over by a fertilizer truck (and survived unscathed), he could put you there in the examining room. Listening to the change in his voice and seeing his eyes, you could see that this was a man who would move heaven and earth to help a child.

We need more men like that.

The corporate nature of modern medical care disgusted him, even more so as he fought through the red tape trying different treatments for the disease that would finally kill him. He told me once, in a moment of frankness, that while he was indeed fighting to stay alive, he also wanted future patients to benefit from whatever could be learned from his battle.

In one of our political discussions, he let it be known one of the biggest reasons he despised the new government medical mandate was because he knew, as a physician, pediatrician and businessman, that it would force a lower standard of care on some children.

No child ever went wanting for medical help when a family came through the doors of Dr. Charlie’s practice. Color, money, status, home address – none of that mattered. What mattered was a little kid was sick, and he would, by cracky, do what he could to make that child better.

He didn’t see color – he saw a sick little kid.

That’s one thing that drove him to ignore law enforcement during the racial problems in Wilmington in 1971. The streets weren’t safe for anybody. Random gunshots, fire bombings and rocks thrown at car windshields had caused the National Guard and a special riot squad of the Highway Patrol to augment New Hanover and Wilmington deputies and police. Two people died, and in adjusted dollars, property damage was in the millions.

But Dr. Charlie was on call, and there was a sick toddler at the hospital. Sitting on his porch last summer, he told me he thought about staying home and looking after his family – he had the option – but instead, he ignored the warnings because a child was sick. He laughed when I asked, out of curiosity, if the child was white or black. He couldn’t remember.

“I didn’t care when there wasn’t a riot,” he told me. “The child was sick. The color didn’t matter.”

He was utterly and completely in love with Miss Donna. When she went to town and he was there at the house alone, he’d sometimes hunt up Rhonda or myself just because he was lonely. They had a marriage that reminds me so much of my parents’ love, and one which we should all strive to emulate. Charlie had two daughters of his own, but when he and Donna married, Jennifer became his daughter, too. He was just that kind of man.

Charlie loved the sea, fishing, laughter, life, sunsets, animals, Donna and his family – but most of all, he loved and cherished children. Again, we need more men like him.

We need more men willing to be fathers and gentlemen who will do the right thing, who tell it like it is and do it like it should be done, and understand that it’s a man’s job to protect and care for his family – and if he is called upon to do so, help the families of others, without question.

We need more men like Dr. Charlie, men who a little kid can look up to, and know that somehow, everything is going to be better.