Charlie Golson of Bluffton, who has operated one of Hilton Head Island’s most popular restaurants for 34 years, is in serious condition at a Charleston hospital fighting a mysterious spinal infection.
In a long operation late Wednesday night, surgeons drained two abscesses on his spinal cord and tried to get out all the infection in nerves up and down the spinal cord that has gotten into his muscle tissue.
The operation was considered a success, Nancy Golson said Thursday. But his legs have been paralyzed for a week, and doctors told her there has so much nerve damage that his chances of walking again are 50/50. In any case, the nerve repair will be slow, and Charlie faces a long rehabilitation period, she said.
On Thursday afternoon, Nancy texted brighter news.
“The nurse lowered his pain meds and Charlie moved his arms and squeezed my hand when I told him Oh Great White (as in a shark) was there. He felt the nurse pinch him on the inside of his knees. He raised his hand.”
“Our family is overwhelmed with emotions but deeply comforted by your continued prayer and love,” it says.
Nancy said “it’s been a wild ride” since she took her husband against his will to the emergency room at Hilton Head Hospital on June 22. He was airlifted to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston on Tuesday.
“We are very puzzled by how he got the infection,” Nancy Golson said. “There were no falls, no wounds, no hospitalization.”
In retrospect, she said, there are a number of signs for some time that all was not well.
Charlie said his back hurt, and they thought it was from sitting in morning traffic going to work on Hilton Head.
And Nancy has been focusing on helping her daughter, Margaret Golson Pearman, who had her second baby, Fern, who arrived two weeks overdue on Father’s Day. She had been helping watch the baby’s sister, Elinor, 2 1/2.
But Nancy noticed Charlie was going to work a little later and coming home a little earlier. And he often said he was cold and, at one point, said his leg wasn’t working right.
Nancy Golson said the family has been overwhelmed by community support.
“I got a call this morning from France,” she said.
“Everybody loves Charlie.”
Tabor Vaux dropped other duties to take her to Charleston and get her set up in a hotel. He and other close friends of the family are with them at the neurological intensive care unit.
Father William Willoughby of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Charlie’s native Savannah neighborhood came to the hospital to administer communion.
On one day, Charlie was his usual joking self, Nancy said. But she said he’s more often been a challenging patient who wants to leave.
Meanwhile, the show goes on at the restaurant, which is today largely overseen by the adult children, Margaret and Palmer. It is a popular place for special occasions, with its eclectic interior design reflecting Nancy’s personality. And, one time, President Bill Clinton dined there.