GenX Tribe: Breaking Bones and Other Stories of Walking it Off
I was seven years old in 1981 when I broke my arm on the school playground. I don’t remember the details of how it happened, but I do remember my parents weren’t concerned enough to take me to the doctor’s office immediately.
Sure, I was in pain. But they wanted to wait a day to see how I felt in the morning. After all, why rush to the doctor if it’s just a bad bruise or a bad ache.
It was a simpler time then.
The pain didn’t go away in the morning, and so off to the doctor we went. Sure enough, I had a slight fracture in my forearm. I needed a cast for six-to-eight weeks, we were told.
But there was a problem. My tee-ball team was playing in the championship that week. (Despite the fact that I played in a league where we didn’t keep score, the parents kept score!) I didn’t want to miss the game—and my dad didn’t want me to miss it either.
“Can we put the cast on so he can play,” my dad asked.
Yes, yes he could. So, I was fitted for a cast above my wrist and below my elbow. I was good to go. I could play. And play I did. I even fractured my middle finger when a ball struck it during the game. (I got a splint the next day.)
* * *
I told this story last night on Twitter during a completely unrelated discussion I’d started about Generation X.
The most GenX thing ever. 👇🖕 pic.twitter.com/3rxHLH8CeX
— Brad King (@thebradking) January 20, 2019
Unexpectedly, my timeline exploded. As of this writing, more than one million of my GenX family have viewed that first tweet and thousands have commented on it. I’ve spent the last day replying, reading, and laughing.
As you’d expect, the threads have revealed some shared histories and stories that I’ve never seen discussed in public. The most fascinating one: stories of delayed medical care.
Wow, thought this was just me! 😂
— Jillian (@JillyStam) January 20, 2019
It’s not you, Jillian.
Holy cow, I didn’t realize this was actually a thing…i also broke bones and didn’t get taken to the hospital for hours and created friend families.
— Ethan Spotts (@ethanspotts) January 20, 2019
Or you, Ethan.
Wow, never realized it was a generational thing, always thought it was just my family. Broke my thumb in 2 places in gym class, parents brushed it off (along w/2 previous concussions), didn’t take me to x-ray for 3 weeks.
— The MadMapper 🌎🗺 (@rhonda_c) January 20, 2019
I shared my tee-ball story and the floodgates opened. GenXers from across the globe shared their stories of breaking bones, having accidents, and dealing with mayhem—and the delayed medical responses that followed.
I injured my arm in 3rd grade. My Mom wrapped a handkerchief around it and I went to school for three days in a homemade sling. When my fingers turned blue I finally got an x-ray. Spiral fracture. And by the way this was totally normal parenting for all of us. Made us resilient.
— Sarah Armstrong (@SOA_USA) January 20, 2019
* * *
My aversion to seeking care didn’t end as I got older. The lesson I learned was that when you got hurt, you walk it off and keep on trucking.
A few years later when I was in high school, I tore up my back sliding into third base during a baseball game. The field was littered with little pebbles. My entire back turned into a bloody mess.
No big deal. I’m not even sure I told my parents. I remember showering, trying to clean out the grit and listening to little pebbles clink in the bathtub as they fell out of my back.
I couldn’t really clean the wound properly, which meant the injury couldn’t heal. For the next few days, my shirts stuck to the oozing puss that formed. Eventually the pain got so bad that I told my coach he needed to look at it.
Standing in the school parking lot, I pulled off my shirt.
“Hang on,” he said.
He went into his office, grabbed his cold spray and a straight razor, and came back out.
“This is going to hurt a little,” he said.
He sprayed my back, let it set, and proceeded to cut off the infected area which ran from my shoulder blades down to my lower back. Then, he taped some gauze to catch the run off, and I was back in business.
* * *
Broke my leg at 15. Got it xrayed three days later because my knee swelled to the size of a football. I stand with y’all (but with a knee that makes a cracking noise sometimes).
— Heidi Tandy (my tweets are not legal advice)💫 (@travelingheidi) January 20, 2019
Broke my ankles on separate occasions, both times my mother said oh it’s just a sprain, just put ice on it. My sister took me to hospital for casts both times.
— Paul Carr (@PaulCarr70) January 20, 2019
I wasn’t on that medical story thread—most of us weren’t there—to slag on our parents.
We were latchkey kids. We were the first generation primarily raised by two-income families or single-family households. The reality was our parents were navigating serious social fabric changes. They did the best they could.
Still, some of the stories are horrific. I found myself often shaking my head: “What in the hell was anybody thinking back then?
Spring 1989 I was in grade 1 and I fell off the a swing at school. I told my mom for 2 days my arm was in pain. I ended up getting a high fever, my mom took me to the hospital. Nurse says “did you not notice her arm is broken?”…
— Alia (@MizzzAlia) January 20, 2019
I was in a car accident, my mom showed up as I was getting put into the ambulance. Blood was gushing from a pretty good head wound. She took me home instead.
— KirkNoonan (@KirkNoonan) January 20, 2019
* * *
But, you know, I can’t say that I’m sorry my dad put that cast on me or that my coach cut off the infection on my back. I learned a lot about myself then—although maybe it would have been nice to deal with some of the emotional fallout from those incidents before I turned forty.
Like me, some GenXers credited their survival skills to growing up in that environment. And, they are actively passing along the good parts of that legacy.
I will say, as a X parent, you can instill the grit. My daughter broke both arms (a whole other story), got two casts, and insisted she could still play. She hit off the tee in the front yard to prove it to me. We didn’t give in until she was down to just the wrist braces. pic.twitter.com/WXnTUqn7bo
— Christopher Tackett (@cjtackett) January 20, 2019
But there’s some real trauma in those stories if my Twitter feed is to believed (and since it’s on the Internet, obviously it’s to be believed). And those traumas aren’t things we’ve discussed very often.
As I scrolled through the replies, I could sense the relief—and anger—that comes when you finally find people who hear you.
I remember the terror of going into tell my mom I was sick (but don’t worry, I already cleaned up the puke). She would dramatically throw off the covers, stomp around and act like I ruined her day.
She was a stay at home mom, it’s not like she was stressed about missing work.
— Melissa J. Bellan (@BellanMelissa) January 20, 2019
Mine went to the casino during my surgery in September.
The “explanation?” It’s an hour from the house or an hour from the casino if something goes wrong and we HAVE to come.
Being in the same city or at the hospital was never a consideration. 🤦♀️
— Melissa J. Bellan (@BellanMelissa) January 20, 2019
My mom rear ended a car. I was in the front seat and seatbelt was off to get something from my bag. I shot forward and broke the windshield with my head.
My mom, a *nurse*, took me to school. Only came back later in the day when someone else said I should be checked. I was 9.
— Maggie Stewart (@MagStewart) January 20, 2019
This post and all the responses made me feel so much better. I just figured it was my mentally ill mom & narcissistic father. I needed surgery a few years ago & dad said he’d take me if time didn’t conflict w/ college basketball game he wanted to watch. 🤨
— Sarah L. (@NellieLawDog) January 20, 2019
* * *
I’ve written about science and technology for most of my professional life—even when I was a professor and now as the editor of a university press. I believe in doctors. And I’ve spent the last few years working hard on my emotional health with an amazing EMDR therapist.
And yet—I still have that “walk it off” GenX mentality when it comes to medical care.
When I was about forty, a cut on my back got infected with MRSA, the nasty flesh-eating bacteria. A half-dollar sized lump grew on my back as my body fought the infection.
I waited for about a week, hoping my immune system would take care of it.
I went to the doctor.
“Well, we’re going to have to cut that out of you so it doesn’t spread. The operation only takes about five minutes. The problem: we can’t numb the infected area. So either you’ll pay about five thousand dollars for the surgical procedure, or we can cut it out in the office without anesthesia.”
Screw that. I wasn’t dropping five thousand dollars for a five minute operation. I told the doctor to do the deed right there.
He handed me a wooden peg to bite down on—some serious Civil War shit—and the nurse stroked my legs while the doctor excised the lump from my back.
* * *
There’s not an ending to this post. It’s not a neat story that comes with a lesson to be learned. I’m distrustful of narratives that do that. (The most GenX thing I could write.)
But, like so many of my generation, I have tried to cultivate my neighborhood—whether in physical or digital spaces. And like any generation, GenXers have a shared history. Certainly not every thread intertwines, but there are commonalities.
This—the idea of self-reliance, safety, and doctors—sure feels like one of the common bonds.
And so—I wanted to share my stories, give you a place to share yours, and turn this little corner of the Internet into one of our GenX digital friend-family spaces.
So—what’s your story?