Maybe you’ll “get a kick” out of hearing why my aging athlete husband and I were sidelined all summer. His crippled big toe—the result of mysterious multiple blunt force trauma, the surgeon said—needed to be fused surgically, and he couldn’t walk for weeks. This is the worst big toe I have ever seen, said the doc, staring at the x-ray. “What could you have done? “Well,” Hal said, “I was a punter in junior high; I was a punter in high school; I was a punter in college, and I punted with my two sons on Saturdays until I was almost 50.”
“Ah, that’s it,” said the doc. So much for all the worry about football concussions—Hal suffered three on the gridiron, but it was foot pain, not headaches, that kept him from walking the dog, bagging the leaves or getting through airports. Sorry, I digress.
Perhaps Hal did have the worst big toe ever. But is it possible he also had one of the worst knees ever, as a different orthopedic star told us several years earlier when that joint was replaced? Maybe. But then how could I have had one of the worst tibial plateau fractures ever, so proclaimed by a surgeon in Vail when I performed an unintentional cartwheel on skis and then have had the worst knee ever, when still a different surgeon eventually replaced that knee? Does some magnetic force draw orthopedically challenged people together?
Knowing our orthopedic history, perhaps you can appreciate my cynicism when a longtime friend, once a professional dancer, had her hip replaced and said, “My doctor (none of the aforementioned) said mine was the worst hip he had ever seen. “Oh, they all say that,” I told her. “I think it’s so patients have surgery, don’t faint when they see the cost, push through the pain and think their doctor is God.” “Oh, no,” she protested, “mine said, I don’t even know if I should tell you how bad your hip was, dear—you’ll be too upset. Ok, maybe her hip really was the worst.
When I told Hal my dancer friend's (now familiar) story, he called an out-of-town buddy—a former football teammate with a long career as an orthopedic surgeon. “Hey, tell me the truth,” Hal asked, thinking he was joking, “Do they teach you guys in med school to tell everyone their broken whatever is the worst ever?” There was a long pause. “No, not consciously,” he answered. “But, you know, it’s not that bad of an idea.”
And I guess our doc friend is right—anyone who has the worst ever whatever likely is grateful for the outcome and unlikely to complain. I know I was.
The worst ever strategy could work for other medical professionals: Obstetrician: This baby has the biggest head I have ever seen…Plastic surgeon: This is the longest nose on record. And it also could boost the value of other professionals and service providers. Management consultant: This is the worst customer service I’ve ever seen. Marriage counselor: You have the most dysfunctional relationship I have ever encountered. Plumber: This is the largest sewer clog I have ever cleared. Lawyer: This is the most complicated case I’ve ever tried.
Or how about an airline pilot? Thanks for flying with us, folks. We should be on the ground in about 10 minutes, and by the way (chuckle, chuckle), this is the worst landing I've ever attempted!
With my luck, the pilot will make it to the gate, and my overhead bag—the first ever to shift in flight—will fall on my head, giving me the worst concussion anyone ever got off the football field.