It's Not All Fun and Games for Mascots

When I think sports injuries, I think ripped rotator cuffs and tennis elbows, pulverized kneecaps, perhaps. I also think big, hulking brutes charging down muddy fields, knocking bodies to left and right like ninepins. (What can I say? I'm British, and those soccer fans. . . .)

The last thing I think of are those folks who delight us with their bright costumes and lovable antics--the team mascots. Be they dressed up as chickens, cats, gorillas or wasps, we should spare them a thought, say doctors at Johns Hopkins University. They are putting their health on the line with every caper and prance.

"You can't believe how many ways mascots get injured," says Dr. Edward G. McFarland, director of sports medicine and shoulder surgery at Johns Hopkins and senior author of a recent survey of 48 professional mascots. (Yes, this really is a profession.)

"They've been hit by golf carts, fallen on stairs and gotten into fights, among other mishaps."

These, though, are rarer kinds of hazards. Much commoner is heat-related illness, brought on by long stints in heavy and poorly ventilated outfits. In the survey, 28 mascots said they'd suffered this way. Half of those had to be treated with intravenous fluids. One even had to be hospitalized.

Hazards to the knee accounted for 17% of the 179 injuries reported by the 48 mascots, who work for professional baseball, basketball and football teams around the country. After that: hands, wrists and fingers (14%) and ankles (13%).

So the next time you see that vulture or parrot fall flat on its face and not get up, consider the possibility that it's not part of the act.

In a recent column featuring some pet peeves of British physicians, we asked U.S. docs to weigh in with what bugs them most about their patients. Here are some responses:

"Bounced checks get it," writes a doctor in L.A. County. "Asking for free advice over the phone also does it."

The doctor, who sealed his/her anonymous note with a pretty butterfly sticker, also gets riled when patients leave garbled messages with dogs barking and babies crying in the background and totally inaudible phone numbers. Especially when the patients ring back later in a high dudgeon because the doctor didn't return the call.

And there is no soft spot in his/her heart for those who would sweetly explain "that the 15 cats at home take up all the patient's time so they cannot possibly exercise."

"Watch out, you may have opened a can of worms!" warns another doctor, who's been practicing medicine in L.A. County for 14 years. One of her top peeves is being told: "You know, the little red ones" when she asks what drugs a patient's taking.

True, "we have to remember hundreds if not thousands of medications, so I suppose memorizing colors should be no big deal. Especially," she adds bitterly, "since there can be different colors of the same pill made by different manufacturers."

If the doctor asks you what drugs you're on, she'd prefer if you didn't say, "It's all in the chart." (Often, what's in the chart is strikingly different from reality.)

And if she asks you how long you've been taking some drugs, please refrain from telling her "Oh, a long time." What does "long" mean? Two weeks? Two years? Two decades?

Our third doctor minced no words with us: "I will tell you what gets this doctor's goat," he writes. "I find that someone calling a physician 'doc' is acting in a demeaning, belittling and offensive manner. You did it four times in your short and otherwise uninteresting article."

Maybe he and I could go to charm school together.

If you have an idea for a Booster Shots topic, write or e-mail Rosie Mestel at the Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st. St., Los Angeles, CA 90012,

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