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A kind of magic

I think Janet has been watching too many horror movies. Why else would a primary school teacher be thinking about voodoo?

A nine-year-old boy in her class was riding a motorbike last weekend (people do say kids need to go outdoors and take more risks), when a tree stepped into his path.

The surgeon said his femur had split like a banana, and when Janet visited him, the lad had an external metal brace bolted to the bone. I would have found this pretty amazing, but it was the teddy bear that caught Janet’s eye.

Nurses had given him a teddy with a bandaged leg, a nice touch in these straitened times, which will no doubt help his recovery. Janet thought it looked like a voodoo doll. Those mannequins people stick pins in to hurt enemies? A form of sympathetic magic, where inanimate objects somehow become the people they represent. The worship of graven images, relics, icons and signed guitars – this sort of thing has been around forever.

But exactly how does sympathetic magic work in a children’s ward? Does concern for the teddy lessen the pain? Does it help to suffer with another, even if the other is a stuffed toy? Someone, somewhere must know.

I would imagine that, around 1989, researchers at the Badlands University Hospital of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, will have compared recovery outcomes in cases where bandaged soft toys were introduced into a post-surgery setting with those where soft toys were absent. There might even have been a control group, in which children were given un-bandaged toys.

Sadly, the design of the project will have been flawed, and much more research needs doing. In the meantime, we can only wish the boy and his teddy a speedy recovery, and hope that Janet soon gets over her recurring nightmare in which injured soft toys come to life and team up with crash test dummies to wreak revenge on their tormentors.

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