An injury story needs impact

March 27, 1995|By KEVIN COWHERD

Due to circumstances I'd rather not discuss -- but inevitably end up discussing anyway -- I am now limping around on crutches and have one knee in a gigantic brace.

For those of you who have never been visibly injured, but may be someday, here's a little piece of advice: You better have a good story ready.

Because the first thing people say when they see you on crutches is: "What happened?"

And if you don't have a good story for them, they get very disappointed.

The first few times that people inquired about my injury, I told them the truth.

"I was walking down a flight of stairs," I explained, "and my knee gave out."

Well. You can't tell people a story like that. It's too boring. People always say they want to hear the truth, but I'm here to tell you they don't.

Because as soon as I told them what happened, even if I got a little theatrical (". . . and my knee just gave out! Boy, you should have seen it!") their eyes would glaze over.

Then they'd yawn and say: "Um, is that right? Well, I . . . I better be going."

So I knew I had to come up with a good story, because I was letting down a lot of people.

People love to hear a good injury story, but it has to have a central drama to it. Or it has to involve a lot of blood and pain.

I needed an injury story with more razzle-dazzle to it, something that would make people sit up and take notice. Something with a good hook.

So now when people see me on crutches and ask what happened, I tell them I got hit by a train.

The trick here is to keep the story tight: Hit by a train, flew 20 feet in the air, miraculously escaped with nothing more than a knee injury.

You don't want to give too many details, because if they don't coincide, people will figure out that you're making the whole thing up.

So when people say: "You got hit by a train! My God, how did that happen?!" I just say: "Oh, you know how these things go . . ."

A story about being hit by a train serves two purposes, actually.

No. 1, it keeps the listener entertained. Very few people will walk away when you throw this into the conversation: "You know the 7:30 Amtrak out of Baltimore? What is that, the Silver Meteor? I was hit by that Monday . . . "

I'm trying to be modest here, but let's face it. An opening like that is going to hook 95 percent of your injury-story enthusiasts.

No. 2, a story like that really ratchets up the sympathy level in most people.

Getting hit by a train, that's a pretty big deal to most people.

At the office, for instance, people will go out of their way to be nice to you. ("Let's take the poor guy out to lunch. He was hit by a train.")

Whereas if it gets around the office that you hurt your knee walking down a flight of stairs, people will say: "That's too bad. Now go empty those wastebaskets . . ."

Let me tell you something else about being injured: No matter what your injury is, people will tell you about something that happened to them that was 100 times worse.

"You think your knee is bad?" one guy said. "I fell out of a second-story window and broke every bone from the waist down! Every bone! I couldn't walk for two years!"

A woman I know said: "What's wrong with your knee, torn ligament? Please. I had a skiing accident five years ago where my leg actually snapped off at the knee! Snapped off! I was in the operating room for 22 hours!"

Of course, at this point in the conversation, I feel so inadequate about my injury that I feel the need to embellish it in some way. ("Well, one orthopedist said it was a torn ligament. But another one said it might have to come off . . .")

Then there are those people who tell you how lucky you are that the injury wasn't worse.

"A torn ligament -- that's nothing," one man said. "You could have snapped your quadricep tendon. Then your leg would be dangling like a bent sapling."

"Your cousin Eileen broke her leg and had a bone shoot through her shin," my mother said. "That could have happened to you. You don't know how lucky you are."

Gee, I guess I should break out the champagne and party hats, then.

Somebody put some music on.

This joint should be jumping.

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