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Emails to my Therapist

Have You Fallen in the Last Three Months?

have you fallen in the last three monthsDear Nicholas, I fell. I’m refusing to think of this as an “old person thing,” though I do know that physicians like to ask their more mature patients, “Have you fallen in the last three months?” as if that were significant information.

Gardening in the Dark

I was out doing some late-night watering and inexplicably toppled sideways into the raised bed next to the door, jamming my ribs against the concrete corner of the house. I now have a new appreciation for ribs and their sensitivity.

Around midnight on the second night after this small mishap, my chest muscles cramped on my left side from sternum all the way around to spine. Muscle spasms continued full force until eight hours later when I thought to find and frantically dig through the little bag of out-of-date leftover prescriptions to be recycled. Eureka! A little old bottle of hydrocodone, prescribed for a dental experience and never touched.

How do you spell relief? Starts with an h….

Never Thought Much About Ribs Before

I now know that any deep anger men harbor against women began with Adam’s primordial rib surgery. Ribs do not like to be messed with. They scream.

I don’t know whether I cracked, bruised or merely insulted mine, but the pain was impressive. So fierce that it not only hurt, but scared me, as if it were permanent and opening a door to something worse.  Four days later and still medicated, it’s fairly mild and now intermittent, and the irrational fear is long gone.

The offending concrete corner, ivy moved aside

Age-Related? No!

In conversations I’ve had since, I’ve noticed a subtext in some of the comments of others that maybe they think a fall is an old person thing. The phrase “my first fall” did, I admit, come for a second to my mind. I banished it.

I’ve run through my memories of falling earlier in my life. I’ve wiped out on ice a couple of times. Once on a frozen dangerous-to-drive night, I decided to walk and visit my friend Ardis who was laid up with both legs in traction. By the time I got there, I could speak of nothing but how bad I was hurting from my fall. It wasn’t the sympathy call I’d had in mind.

Once as a reporter covering a tobacco growers’ meeting I had one leg go to sleep. When I jumped up mid-meeting to go file a story by phone, that sleepy leg gave way and I fell across the wide thighs of four men seated in folding chairs along the wall. A trifle embarrassing.

The one time I took a windsurfing lesson, I spent the entire hour standing up on the board and immediately falling backward. Never did get balanced on that thing. As I fell and tried again over and over, I had the thought: “I’ve done this before. This is really familiar.” I had a vague but persuasive feeling that I was almost remembering my first efforts at walking.

In contrast, my husband Bob stepped up onto the wind-surfer and took off on his first try, sailing out to sea so far and fast that he was quickly a tiny little sail out near the horizon. The instructor got a motorboat to go out and bring him back, since Bob didn’t yet know how to turn it around. My point is: he didn’t fall–and he’s seven years older than me. (I cling to any kind of spurious logic here.)

BTW, any TMI or illogic in this post are the responsibility of the medication.

I don’t want this fall of mine into the plant bed to be an old person thing because I’ve seen powerful precedent for falls causing late-life trouble.

Falls Can Be Big Trouble

My mother, whose vigorous immune system and energy I seem to have inherited, would have been in near-perfect health up until the last five days of her life were it not for falls in her eighties and nineties. I’ve seen what falling can do.

It’s probably also true that Mom and I shared an illusion of safety. Once my brother Harry drove up to her house and found her, then in her seventies, up on a chair on the narrow upstairs balcony changing a lightbulb in the ceiling. Harry was horrified. When she was safely on solid ground again, he semi-jokingly said words to the effect of, “Even if you don’t value your life, at least think of my career.” He then held the safety-focused position of NC Commissioner of Labor.

It’s More Dangerous to Be Young

Of course, I’ve googled “age falling.” Happily, I learned that half the college students in a study at Purdue fell at some point in a four month period, compared to the widely reported statistic of  “one in three older adults falls each year due to age-related changes in balance.” Young people fall more. Ha ha!

One reason suggested for the disparity is that older people are more careful.

Why Fall?

So how is it that careful old people do fall? Theories include:

*if you lose height, your center of gravity isn’t where it used to be

*joints don’t bend as quickly to allow regaining balance

*shrinking muscle mass makes a body weaker

*ear problems and other ailments can affect balance

One curious coincidence about this particular fall of mine. The novel I’m seemingly endlessly in the process of revising is about a sixteen year-old-girl who in a dramatic scene with an Otherworld spirit, stumbles, falls across the wooden arm of a chair and breaks a rib. Her fall happened long before mine. Of all the things I might reproduce in my life from that story, I wouldn’t have chosen this one.

But I’m now a much more well-balanced person, especially for someone who is still in the fog of painkiller.

Have You Fallen In the Last Three Months?

I welcome your own stories of crashing, staying balanced, or toppling with style.

Peggy

 

 

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Comments

  • Robert Braxton
    July 15, 2019 at 7:51 pm Reply

    My fall after sitting in the extreme cold about five hours on a folding chair near physical beginning of New York Macy’s thanksgiving parade – above a grate over storm sewer (think “gas”). spinning whirling sensation

    • Peggy Payne
      July 15, 2019 at 7:54 pm Reply

      I sympathize, Bob. The coldest I’ve ever been was shooting pictures for a story on the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Took hours to get warm again once I was inside.

  • July 16, 2019 at 1:35 am Reply

    I’m relieved you’re getting better, Peggy. The baby picture reminded me that the first thing I learned as a beginner in Aikido was progressively, how to fall and transform the energy into a roll/diagonal somersault, forward and backward. A lot of the practice the next couple of years in the dojo was refining and using those falling techniques in 2 person practice as safe alteratives to crashing down injured.
    I wish I could still do those things – my back was never stronger, and keeping it flexible, exercised and strong enough for comfort, mobility and the long haul seems a full time job.
    I’ve had 2 moderate falls in the past 6 months and continue to remind myself to be careful, not to hurry around corners, down crowded aisles, nor fast downhill on uneven ground, especially when tired from exercise. I intend to postpone falling permanently – as best I can.

    • Peggy Payne
      July 16, 2019 at 1:39 am Reply

      Your knowing how to fall has likely saved you from injury, Bob. I’m glad you have that. I might have come out better if my roll hadn’t been interrupted by the corner the wall. Good idea to postpone falling permanently. I’m in favor.

  • Carole Ellis
    July 16, 2019 at 10:10 am Reply

    I have not fallen but I wanted to say how instructive and in a way funny this blog post is.
    I certainly do know about falling as my mother fell countless times before I was forced to
    put her in a nursing facility. She had one of those safety buzzers but refused to use it. One night in her sleep she rolled over on it and was surprised to wake up to see several rescue people looking over her in her bed! She is now 101 and has to be closely watched where she is because she would fall if not closely watched.

    • Peggy Payne
      July 16, 2019 at 6:13 pm Reply

      Your mother waking up to find herself surrounded by rescue people is also funny in a way, Carole. And we do need a sense of humor to deal with all of this. I’m sorry your mom needs so much care now. She was always so stalwart and keeping-on, or so it seemed to me.

  • kenju
    July 16, 2019 at 2:10 pm Reply

    I have fallen three times in the past year; mostly from neglect, not paying attention to where I am walking. One fall was due to my cat knocking me off balance. One fall in early 2016 led to a broken collarbone, as well as bruised ribs – so I can commiserate with you. The last fall also resulted in bruised ribs and a headache – I tripped over my own foot, walking too fast, and hit my head on the wooden floor. I now try to walk with more precision, not to hurry too much and to watch my path, so as to foil darting cats! Blessings to us both!

    • Peggy Payne
      July 16, 2019 at 6:08 pm Reply

      I remember the broken collarbone on FB, kenju. And bruised ribs twice is about two too much. I’m glad you’re being careful. It’s so hard to remember.

  • Lee Grohse
    July 16, 2019 at 10:52 pm Reply

    When they asked me this at the doctor, I typically would laugh. I am known for my tendency to trip and fall on all surfaces, including completely flat ground. I would say on average I take a full on-the -ground fall about monthly and trip and recover several times a day. And this has happened since I was a kid. Add cobblestone and it’s been the source of many international incidents. When I fell in front of the leaning tower of Pisa while trying to look up and walk at the same time, Peter entertained other tourists by saying, “Ma’am, are you licensed to use that body?” Not sure the reason for this. It does seem that several family members are remarkably uncoordinated, with both my mother and sister having been frequent fallers. My sister broke her ankle when she fell down the steps at Ford’s Theater in Washington which, of course, is minor compared to other Ford ‘s Theater casualties. While I’ve sustained innumerable scraped knees and elbows and one badly sprained ankle that put me in a wheel chair for a family Disney World visit, I never actually worried about this falling a lot. Then I was injured similarly to you a couple of year ago. It too was a garden fall and I landed on upper chest and shoulder area on a brick walkway, cracking a rib and tearing a pectoral muscle. Painful, but it sounds like I got off easy and you had considerably more intense pain than I did. Sorry. After that I started to realize that this falling thing might not be just an inconvenience anymore and that I could actually break parts of myself and that matters when you’re older. Got back into yoga primarily in an attempt to improve my balance and was dismayed to see how much my balance had worsened since I had practiced yoga years ago. For me falling had always seemed more a personal and familial quirk than an age related thing, but being scared of falling is new and definitely about age and concerns of increased vulnerability. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do about that.

    • Peggy Payne
      July 17, 2019 at 1:59 am Reply

      Wow, Lee! I can’t believe I was in worse pain than you from your awful gardening fall. Tearing a muscle and cracking rib sound dreadful. My fear when I was having the muscle spasms was that a muscle would tear off the bone. All pretty grisly and primitive.

      I also got back into yoga in the last couple of years–and into a class with Judith Valerie, whom you recommended. It’s been very good; I’ve regained a lot of strength that I didn’t know I’d lost.

      I can see why you wouldn’t think of falling as age-related. I’ve never thought of wrinkles on my face as purely an age thing because I had lines in my forehead in third grade, still have those same ones as a matter of fact. I think I started early on that because of a lot of sunburn on fair skin and a lot of not-wearing-my-glasses and squinting. Some of us just crank up early on these matters.

    • July 17, 2019 at 2:42 am Reply

      There’s good research, Lee, that Practicing Tai Chi greatly reduces both falls and injury from falls in older people – it’s pretty trance-y.

  • Judith Cirincion
    July 17, 2019 at 3:41 am Reply

    Would love a demonstration by you and Bobby both ,doing a “fake fall” /sliding into a somersault…..,at our ages ( I’m 5 years older than you) too accomplish that would not only amazing but pretty entertaining too❤️
    HOPE THE BODY IS HEALING AND THE PAINFUL PARTS ARE CO-OPERATING BY BEING LESS PAINFUL ‼️

    • Peggy Payne
      July 17, 2019 at 2:54 pm Reply

      Definitely entertaining, Judy. Bob’s the one who knows how to do it, though, from his martial arts training. I’m pretty much recovered and hoping you’re doing well.

  • Kathy Carter
    July 17, 2019 at 8:43 pm Reply

    I had a falling with style. I woke up in the middle of the night and needed to go to the bathroom. I detach the hose from my CPAP mask and got up to walk toward the bathroom. After a couple of steps I realized that I was wobbly and was going to fall oh, so I deliberately projected myself backwards so that I would fall on the bed. Unfortunately I landed on bottom corner of my bed, bounced, flipped over and landed nose first on the carpet. I feel I definitely would have broken my nose if it were not for the CPAP mask. I felt very stupid.

    • Peggy Payne
      July 17, 2019 at 10:00 pm Reply

      Wearing a mask for these athletics was bound to add some style as well. Very impressive, Kathy. I’d like to learn how to project myself backwards.

  • July 23, 2019 at 11:10 pm Reply

    FALLS!!! I love that you’re bringing this up. I really hate the way doctors, etc, keep asking about my falling. I think it makes me fall more because people are standing around waiting for me to fall – the jitteryness of that! Or say, I’m walking across a room and have a little trip – not really a trip, just a little hiccup – over a raised carpet and everyone in the room gasps and leaps forward to save me!! Does that happen to anybody else?
    I love what Frank Bascomb has to say about falling in “Let Me Be Frank With You”:
    “What is it about falling?  ‘He died of a fall.’  ‘The poor thing never recovered after his fall.’ ‘He broke his hip in a fall and was never the same.’  … How far do these people fall?  Off of buildings?  Over spumming cataracts?  Down manholes?  Is it farther to the ground than it used to be?  In years gone by, I’d fall on the ice and hop back up, and never think a thought.  Now it’s a death sentence.  What Sally said to me was ‘Be careful when you go down those front steps, sweetheart.  The surface isn’t regular, so pick your feet up.’ Why am I now a walking accident waiting to happen?  Why am I more worried about that than whether there’s an afterlife?”

    • Peggy Payne
      July 24, 2019 at 1:05 am Reply

      So funny, Randee– I just read the Bascombe quote out loud to Bob.

      And I love what you’re doing at your Gravy Years Shop of stuff for “sidestepping the aggravations of aging.”

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