Today is National Falls Awareness Day (http://www.trilcentre.org/fallsawareness2011)
According to the that website, one third of people over the age of 65 fall each year and two thirds of them will fall again within six months.
We should, it seems, respect the laws of gravity and take more care. Falls can cause serious injury with lasting consequences particularly in older people.
And apart from the physical injury, is there anything more mortifying than a public fall? Below is an account of my falling experience a couple of years ago. Only bruised pride. I was lucky. But I glimpsed the future.
Pride comes before…
If the ground could have opened and swallowed me, it would have been a welcome relief. If there had been a passing bus, I’d have gladly hurled myself under it. If there hadn’t been anyone around, it wouldn’t have mattered. But, as it happened, I couldn’t have done it in a more public place at a busier time. And that, of course, magnifies the thing by a factor of about a gazillion.
What did I do? I fell. Walking from the car-park into the supermarket the other day, I somehow lost my footing and went flying. A big, ungainly, inelegant trip. In the split second that it was happening, I thought a million thoughts. And in analysing those thoughts, I wonder about the human condition and marvel at the computer that is the human brain. Why is it that the human animal is programmed to feel embarrassment over something outside their control? All I did was accidentally succumb to the laws of gravity. I had no strong drink taken and wasn’t the worse for wear in any way. Yet I’m mortified. And isn’t it amazing how many thoughts you can think in a split second? The whole incident probably lasted a nanosecond but in that nanosecond, my brain processed the following:
I’m falling. Why am I falling? Is the ground slippy? There was frost on the car this morning but it was all gone by lunchtime. And the roads are fine. No. The ground is fine. Not really even wet. OK. What else? Is there something wrong with my shoes? Is there something wrong with the kerb? Have I stepped on the tail of my coat? Am I having a funny turn? No. None of the above. It’s just one of those random tripping episodes. Misjudged the kerb height. Simple as that.
But I’m still falling. Can I stop it? Can I adjust the body’s centre of gravity and pull this one back from the brink? Can I manage that without dropping the stuff I’m carrying? Will my much-dropped phone survive another bang? How will I manage if it breaks? How will I survive the day without it?
Hmmm. I’m still falling and the momentum is gathering. No. Nope. Corrective action is not working here. Flailing arms are not restoring the balance. In fact, maybe I should stop with the flailing arms – they’re just serving to make me look sillier. A pup on lino. A human windmill. A middle-aged Bambi. Still falling. Not going to manage to salvage this one. Accept it. You’re going down. How bad is this going to be?
It’s going to be dreadful. It’s just coming up to 3 o’clock and all the mums and children are shopping on the way home from school. The car-park is full. I’m going to fall in full view of an audience. There are going to be small children pointing and laughing. Mortification. Consider your dignity here. How will I survive the ignominy of this? What’s the best way to deal with this?
Right. It’s official. I’ve fallen. Any chance nobody saw? Not a hope. There are a few gasps and nervous giggles from some of the witnesses and then they all pretend they haven’t seen. Mothers are stuffing wide-eyed children into cars. A man asks me if I’m OK. I say I am. I haven’t a clue whether I am or not. I don’t care. I just need to disappear. Picard to transporter room… one to beam up…energise. No such luck. Even if every limb is shattered, I’m getting up from here with a smile. I have to muster some semblance of dignity. I’m grand, I tell him. “I bet you’re embarrassed”, he says with a little smile. The master of the understatement, whoever he is. In fairness, he gallantly helps me to gather up the things I’ve dropped and asks again if I’m OK.
As I walk back to my car with dirty trousers and multiple aches, I wonder again why humans get so irrationally embarrassed. I’ve done nothing wrong. I fell. Big deal. Then, in another one of those time-warping nanoseconds, I start thinking another million thoughts:
Apart from my dignity, has anything else been injured? My thumb is very sore. I have a habit of putting my thumb into the ring of my car keys and when I fell, it twisted spectacularly and one of the keys gouged a chunk out of the flesh. Never mind that. That’s a sticking-plaster job at worst. But the joint of my poor thumb. It’s mega painful.
And my knees. My knees took the brunt. Will I ever get the stains out of my nice, cream, paid-a-fortune-for-them trousers? Are they ripped? Don’t be silly. Don’t be worrying about silly trousers. What about your actual knees? Are they OK? Are they skinned? I really don’t care. Why can’t I be sensible? I really like these trousers. Why can’t I stop worrying about the stupid trousers? But worrying about the stupid trousers is taking my mind off the mortification of having just fallen in an unceremonious heap in front of almost the entire population of a small Laois town. Keep worrying about the trousers.
I sit into my car and gather myself. I take a few deep breaths and survey the damage. Very sore thumb. Very sore knees. Very dirty trousers. Some knuckles skinned. Heel of right hand skinned and stinging. Are the knees skinned? Don’t know. And can’t find out because thumb is too sore to manoeuvre the unbuttoning of buttons and the unzipping of zips. And I can’t roll up the bottoms to have a look because that means I’d have to take my boots off and anyway, I’m not going to attempt all that manoeuvring in my car. I’ll have to wait until I get home. Phone took a bit of a knock but it’s working. OK. Nothing fatal. I dig out the baby wipes from the glove box and attempt a bit of a clean-up. Another root around and I find a Band-Aid for the gouge. No Band-Aid big enough to plaster over the dinted dignity though.
What next? I need sympathy. I hit the speed dial and get through to himself. I tell him I fell in the car-park.
“Oh my God. Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself?”
I put on my most brave and wounded voice. “I’m fine. Just a few grazes but I’m OK”.
“What happened? Was it slippy?
“No, I just misjudged the kerb. Didn’t step high enough and just went arse over tit”.
“Are you sure you’re all right? Are you sure you didn’t hurt yourself?”
Loads of sympathy. Such concern. I start to get the nice warm feeling of being cared for.
“No. Honestly. I’m fine. My trousers are ruined, though. My nice cream ones. The ones I’m fond of”.
“You big eejit.”
End of sympathy.
I regroup and head for the shop again – this time high-stepping over the kerb like a Lipizzaner pony. I get my milk and bread (all that ignominy for two litres of milk and a loaf) and head for home. I make a mental note to change the ringtone on my battered phone. When Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Oscar for Best Song, I downloaded it in a fit of patriotism and made it my ringtone.
But “Falling Slowly” is no longer music to my ears. It’s too close to the bone. I don’t need reminding.