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The Red Badge of Coolness

Some kids are born knowing how to be the center of attention, but the rest of us need that little something special to happen that launches us into the spotlight — like a broken bone.

A student limped past my desk with his foot taped, grinning from ear to ear.

“I broke my foot!” he said proudly. “Well, fractured it just behind my toe actually, at Ninja Camp, but they can’t cast it until tomorrow.”

Tomorrow will be even cooler for him, because he will no longer hurt, and he will have some custom-colored cast on his foot for all to ooh and aah over as he regales them with tales of Ninja Camp.

I am not talking, of course, about serious breaks — anything compound or involving tendons. Those are just scary.

But even the kids who end up on crutches for a while relish that handful of days when they get to be a minor celebrity. Everyone wants to hear their story.

It was a Red Badge of Courage that I never wore as a kid, and I must say for all my cowardice, I frequently envied my big brother.

He loved to tell the tale that he broke both arms twice. His preferred method was falling out of trees.

Over the years, whenever the story was told, he’d grin happily, so the experience can’t have been too terrible.

In those days, casts were just white and made of heavy plaster, but my brother got to wear a red bandana for a sling and he scarcely had to bathe. He was the soul of coolness.

You can still be cool today, though, and a great deal more comfy, in a lightweight, color-or-pattern-of-your-choice fiberglass cast or a funky, Velcro-laced boot. My son chose a basic black cast. His sister chose a lighter color so that friends could sign it. It’s better than a yearbook.

The halls of any given school are never without at least two kids in casts, and based on that, I would urge any premed student to consider orthopedics or, at least, X-ray technician.

This same child who limped past me had to wait a day for X-rays and another day to be scheduled for casting. The line for a good bone repair parlor, apparently, goes around the block.

Kids with any enthusiasm at all are likely to crash and burn at some point, especially if they play sports.

Nobody likes pain, but if you have just a little luck, it won’t happen during any vacation days and it will involve your writing hand, requiring a definite rethinking of schoolwork. At the very least, it should get you out of some chores and someone else to carry your backpack.

Every kid I’ve known with a broken bone found six weeks in a cast to be a small price to pay for that 15 minutes of fame and a lifetime of “I can top that” stories.

To quote one football coach, “Wounds heal, chicks dig scars and glory lasts forever.”

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer trying to figure out how to make reading an action sport. Contact her at [email protected].

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