No 'manly' excuse for injury: We feel his pain

March 15, 1997|By Rob Kasper

YESTERDAY, when I read President Clinton had hurt his knee by catching his heel on the edge of a step, I felt sorry for the big guy.

Not only did he sustain a substantial injury, serious enough to put him under the surgeon's knife, he also had a sorry story of how it happened.

In guy-culture, it is OK to get hurt as long as you are injured while you are trying something risky.

"What happened to the knee?" a guy will ask a fellow whose leg is covered with an apparatus that resembles a downspout. "Banged it on the [basketball] rim," is a worthy response. "Hurt it during the neighborhood refrigerator toss," is another manly reply.

Stories hinting at male prowess can transform a mere injury into a battle wound. The injury becomes a badge of honor, an indication that the guy underneath the gauze is one of life's gladiators -- not its road kill.

However, if the story of how you got hurt is less than compelling, you open yourself up to verbal potshots about your age, your diet and your lifestyle. Instead of adulation, a guy with a wimpish story is likely to face an inquisition. As President Clinton is finding out, tripping on the steps is not exactly a tale of derring-do.

Yesterday for instance, pesky reporters wanted to know how the president had slipped. Navy Capt. Connie Mariano, the president's personal physician, flatly denied that alcohol was a factor. The official story is that two guys, Clinton and golf pro Greg Norman, chatted late into the night at Norman's Florida home. Clinton left about 1: 20 a.m. yesterday to go to a separate cottage on the 80-acre ocean side estate where he was to sleep. Clinton stumbled on a step as he left Norman's home and tore his quadriceps tendon, which connects the upper thigh to the kneecap.

This story raises other questions, at least in my mind. Here we had two guys down in Florida during spring break, who stayed up past midnight, all they did for fun was to talk about golf? No brewskis? Makes you think these guys must be getting old.

References to Clinton's age -- 50 -- will creep into every account of the stumble he took down the stairs. As someone who !B recently became a "50s guy," I know how this works. I know, for instance, that when a guy with a little gray in his hair shows up in an emergency room with a nick or dent, the nurses and doctors immediately want to know your age. When you tell them, they pepper you with questions about your heart, and the left side of your body.

"Are you experiencing any pain in your chest?" the nurses want to know when you limp to an emergency room to get some help for your sprained right ankle.

"No," you reply, pointing to your swollen foot.

"Are you experiencing any pain in your left arm?" the questioners continue.

L "No," you say, "I am experiencing a lot of pain in my foot."

Maybe, when you are president of the United States and you tear a tendon in your knee, the doctors ask you about your knee, not your heart. But then again, given his age, he probably got the "chest pain" drill.

The injury to the presidential knee will probably inspire a series of media reports on America's aging joints. This will happen in part because there are lots of other creaky baby boomers in America these days. This group of folks, born roughly between 1946 and 1964, represent a dominant demographic blip on the American scene.

In previous years, other generations had to suffer through endless accounts of boomers "discovering" marriage, work and child-rearing. Now, as boomers age, we are "discovering" the many facets of arthritis. Younger folks may be able to snicker when they ask us how old we are. But we exact our revenge as we tell them, over and over, how it feels to be this old.

I suspect that one thing these inquiries into aging joints will report is that the knee is a marvelous mechanism whose life span and behavior is about as hard to predict as that of a special prosecutor. I've seen fellows crumple on the basketball court as their knees gave way. I have seen countless football players walk away from joint-jarring collisions, while others, including me, have been carried away from such collisions with "knee problems." When climbing stairs I have heard knee noises, the kind President Clinton said he heard before his tendon gave way.

Yesterday I looked President Clinton's injury up in the "Complete Guide to Sports Injuries" by H. Winter Griffith, a paperback published in 1986 (HPBooks Inc.). I have used this book so often that parts of it, like me, sometimes have to be held together with tape.

I saw an illustration showing the likely spot where the presidential tendon had pulled away from the bones in the presidential knee. I read that in severe cases, like his, surgery is required. Recovery, it said, takes six to 10 weeks, and I looked over the suggested rehabilitation exercises designed to strengthen weak quadricreps and loosen "tight" hamstrings.

I didn't read anything, however, about where the president could come up with a better story, one that would make his knee injury sound more macho.

Then I remembered what happened a few years ago to Vice President Al Gore. Gore showed up at the White House in a cast, with an injured Achilles' tendon. At first, reports trickling out of Washington said Gore had hurt the tendon while shooting baskets with his kids. But later, by the time the tale had reached Baltimore, the story circulating in some circles was that the vice president had hurt his foot after slamming down one very ferocious dunk.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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