Stand Tall

‘Tis the season—again.  It’s almost autumn, which means it is time for things to start falling down.  Unfortunately, statistics show that when the weather turns colder, the risk of humans falling down increases, especially in ice and snow.  We all need to be reminded of the risks, because none of us are exempt; none of us are invincible. 

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“I thought I was invincible,” my 74-year old neighbor said after he fell, when I asked him why he thought he could climb a ladder.

He has Parkinson’s disease, which makes it very difficult for him to move.  He said he wanted to prove to himself he could still do it.  That’s when he fell.

I don’t have Parkinson’s, and I’m 20 years his junior.  I know I am not, yet I sometimes, too, think I am invincible. 

This time, thankfully, he recovered.  He has had other falls.  Coupled with a previous ankle surgery, his Parkinson’s makes it very hard for him to even walk.  He knows the risks.

My husband, who is not yet 60, missed our bottom step a few months ago, which sent him crashing into the wall at the bottom of the stairs.  He is okay, mercifully, but my antique mirror he crashed in to is not. 

I didn’t make him stay in the doghouse for long, because I was glad he wasn’t hurt.  It could have been so much worse. 

A friend who is 14 years my junior required ankle surgery after she fell down her stairs.  Her dog got underfoot.  She was laid up and off work for several weeks. 

It can, and does, happen to anyone of any age.  As a general rule, the younger the person is who falls, the less serious and long-lasting is the damage.  Children can sustain multiple falls when they are playing, and it doesn’t seem to affect them.  They get up and go, unfazed.  Adults most often don’t fare that well.

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The word “mindful” has been a buzzword for several years.  Many people have probably tuned it out, because that is what happens with humans.  When a word becomes familiar from multiple repetitions, we tend to tune it out, and not fully consider its meaning. 

We all use the word “mindless” at times to describe someone else’s—or our own—actions.  It is a fitting word, because, indeed, we are not using our minds at that moment.  We do something silly or make a mistake, and we say it was “mindless.”  Mindful, then, means that we are using our minds.  We pay conscious attention to what we are doing, thinking through each step.  We focus on the task at hand, being “mindful” of what we are doing, not “mindless.”

Nearly all falls could be prevented if we were simply more “mindful.”  Falls are accidents, and most accidents in general could be prevented if the party/parties involved payed closer attention to what they were doing. 

It sounds simple, I know, but these points are important to consider:

  • focus on what you are doing.
  • Watch each step. 
  • Look around you, scan for obstacles—like the dog that caused my friend to fall.  Animals, as much love as they bring us, and as much as they don’t mean to, can cause us to fall if they get underfoot.
  • Oxygen tubing is another fall risk.  If you use oxygen and have a long hose attached to the tank, be aware at all times where the hose is.
  • Household clutter is responsible for many falls.  Objects in your path are easy to overlook, thus causing a fall.
  • Throw rugs, as much as they add to the floor in our homes, invite disaster.  Consider removing them. 
  • Watch the stairs—my husband likely wouldn’t have missed the bottom step if he had watched.
  • Don’t believe for one second—like my neighbor did—that you are invincible.  None of us are.  Don’t climb the ladder or carry that heavy basket of laundry downstairs.  Find someone to help.    Be smart about your activities. 
  • Winter is approaching, which is when falls increase exponentially.  Don’t venture out if you don’t have to.  If you do, be sure to wear shoes with adequate traction.  You can also attach rubber crampons to the bottom of your shoes with short spikes to increase traction. 
  • Even if you don’t think it is icy, double check.  My father-in-law fell on his patio because, even though it wasn’t predicted, there was a thin coat of ice on the grounds and especially raised surfaces like a patio.  Fog can freeze and become slick.
  • Vertigo/balance issues plague many of us, and increase the fall risk.  Be aware of this, and if you are struggling with either, be very careful, slow down and visit with your medical provider about what can be done to improve these conditions.  It may require medication changes, physical therapy or other means.  When getting up in the night to use the bathroom, be extremely cautious, because this is when these problems seem at their worst, on top of the darkness, and perhaps clutter and/or pets that may be in your way. 
  • Enjoy alcohol sensibly, and realize it can impair judgment, and can compound balance issues. 
  • High heels can indeed be fashionable, but there’s nothing more in-style than smart, comfortable shoes that provide maximum stability and ease of motion.

**

Thirty-two thousand people die annually in the United States alone from falls.  Thousands more deal with the aftermath that may linger on, never fully resolving itself.  Another neighbor’s 99-year old mother fell last week, breaking her hip and her wrist—another risk as the person attempts to break the fall on the way down.  Now, she is confined to a skilled nursing facility, and her daughter cannot visit due to the COVID pandemic.  It could have been prevented so easily—she was simply trying to pivot, turning to get something in the kitchen, and her feet didn’t turn as smoothly as she thought they would. 

**

Mercifully, my neighbor didn’t break anything when he fell.  He received an exam from his doctor, as well as x-rays.  His doctor admonished him to NEVER walk anywhere without his walker, or at least a cane.  At first, he said he would follow his directions 100%.  Today, one week later, I found him tinkering in his shop, his cane across the shop on the other side.  He couldn’t find it at first.  I read him the riot act, reminding him he truly IS NOT invincible.  He smiled and didn’t say anything. 

**

Most falls occur when the person is mindless while walking or moving.  Take just one extra moment to be more mindful, be aware, and think about your movements.  You are not invincible, and neither am I.  Certainly, my neighbor is not. 

Slow down, and enjoy the ride.