THE ingredients, in a few candid words: a dog, a soccer ball and a fallen tree branch.
The results: a fractured fibula -- and a thoroughly disappointing story.
People are crushed to hear the truth of how I broke my leg. Saying you tripped over a branch in the back yard while romping with a big Labrador retriever puppy sounds so unexciting, so haphazardly accidental.
"Skiing or bicycling?" said one acquaintance, the first day I ventured into the office on crutches. Familiar with my seasonal passions, he glowed with anticipation, but soon dimmed upon hearing the banal dog/ball/branch verity.
"Sorry, that's how it happened," I said, quickly adding, as a sop to his vicarious vein, "You know, I did crash a few weeks ago in a cyclo-cross race, and ruined my bike wheel."
He shook his head. "You definitely need a better story."
Another friend offered one.
"Keep the dog, but why don't you say you were rushing into the street to save him from getting hit by a car, and you tripped on the curb?" she said. "You'll get a lot of sympathy for that one."
Some people have concocted more exotic scenarios.
"Sky diving. Just tell people you had a bad landing because of a sudden wind gust," said my brother. He knows the boring bone break story routine, for splintered limbs in his life resulted, respectively, from slipping on the ice while feeding a pet rabbit and stumbling on his basement stairs. Totally passe.
My wife, who spent six weeks on crutches after slipping on the front steps at a friend's home some winters back, recalled, "I finally started telling people, 'Yes, I broke it skiing.' They seemed to want it so bad."
So lately, I have begun exaggerating the real elements a little, and folks do seem more pleased:
"See, I was kicking this soccer ball around for my dog, and it got stuck 20 feet up in this tree. Well, I shinnied up there and inched out on the branch. But just as I reached for the darn ball -- crack! -- the branch broke and I plummeted to the ground, wrenching my ankle around like a pretzel."
"Wow, did it hurt much?" said a fascinated work colleague.
"Agony! I was in agony. But you know, Opie [that's the dog] ran right over and I grabbed his collar and he dragged me up to the house and scratched on the door until my wife came out to help."
Clearly, from my co-worker's avid expression, this story was very satisfying. (No matter that the broken bone is not even a weight-bearing limb, so I actually got up and limped into the house, while the dog frisked around and almost tripped me up again.)
But here is another true tale:
At the orthopedist's the other day, as I waited to be put into a new cast, the nurse walked in and slapped an X-ray on the light screen. I'd told her the truth about the Labrador dog, the ball and the branch.
"See? This is your break," she said, pointing to a clear, straight shadow across the end of the bone. "Now look at this." And she slapped another X-ray up there, pointing to a virtually identical fracture of the same bone.
"The woman in the next room. Says she broke it while playing in the yard with her golden retriever!"
Which just goes to show you: Truth is stranger than fiction -- but nowhere near as exciting.
Steve McKerrow is a staff member of The Sun.