Friday, May 16, 2014

SHUFFLE AND BALANCE

I have fallen down before.  Everybody has.  Once I fell into a beanbag.  Does that count as a fall?  When I was in college in Illinois, I fell halfway down the snow-covered steps of Old Main, got up, brushed myself off, and fell down the rest of the way.  So it's not always age that makes you fall. Sometimes you're just a klutz.

The Birthday Party

My first real older-adult fall of note was in Tampa, Florida. We had gone there to celebrate my sister's 90th birthday at my nephew's house where she lives.  Six nieces and nephews were coming from all directions and my husband was driving from Athens, all of them to stay at a new Residence Inn about a mile away.  The birthday plan was to take my sister Louise to breakfast the morning of her birthday and have all of them sitting in the restaurant to surprise her when we walked in.

I came to Tampa first, and my nephew David and his wife Sue met me at the airport.  Although the real birthday celebration was to be a surprise, I had come to help her celebrate--just we, she thought.  Then my daughter came with her little white lie.  She told my sister she just happened to have a work conference in Tampa, but she would have to stay at the conference hotel and could only visit with her for a few minutes to say hi and wish her a happy birthday.  If this ever happens again, there will be a slight change in the plans. They had entirely too much fun at that motel.  

Everything was set, but the next day we had presents to buy.  I had been pumping Louise for ideas, so Sue and l  met Amy for some shopping.  We bought a floor fan, a little towel rack she wanted, and some other stuff for her to open, and hid it all in the garage.  I had made her a calendar with a collage of family pictures for each month.  Amy went back to the motel and Sue dropped me off before going 'back to work.'
More than likely she went back to the motel to have fun.

I talked to my sister for a while and then went upstairs to change my clothes.  While I was gone, Louise fell asleep in the lounge chair in her room, so I saw my chance to get the gifts upstairs where we felt it was safer for hiding the presents.  It seems that just like every other age, at 90 you get nosy about presents.

Earlier in the day, while I stood in the garage talking to Sue, I noticed a one-inch step up to the laundry area.  I said to Sue, "I'm going to trip over that step."  We laughed.

Falling

While everybody was gone and Louise was asleep, I tripped over that step and fell.  I didn't laugh . . . yet.  I was carrying the fan and another box of something breakable, so I couldn't even catch myself.  Presents still in hand, I got to my feet.  Now I'm laughing.  I had cut my nose with my glasses, banged both knees to bloody stumps (small exaggeration here) and was still holding onto the packages, tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks.  See, I said I would fall and I did.  Not a terrible story, right?  Nothing broken, not even my glasses, and the cut on my nose was slight.

Unfortunately, my fall was against the open door to the kitchen and I had just locked myself out.  Not a terrible plight -- I was inside the garage and the garage door was open.

The dumb me spent at least fifteen minutes on the front porch trying to get the dog Taffy, who was inside, to bark and awaken Louise so she could unlock the kitchen door.   No luck, but Taffy was having a terrific time running back and forth, playing with me through the windows.  The smart me sat down on the front steps to think.  I should have done that first, instead of traumatizing the dog.

I peeked into the garage because I had a feeling, just a slight suspicion. Yes, there was a door at the back of the garage that led to the fenced-in back yard, and I knew that a sliding glass door was open from the patio to the house.  I can't believe I spent all that effort being dumb, but I did.  I hope to this day that none of David's neighbors saw his aunt make a fool of herself on the front porch yelling at the dog.

It was the beginning.  There would be a few years before I fell again, but I harken back to that predicted fall and say, "Aha!"  Who ever says "aha," or for that matter 'harken.'  I'm sure I didn't.  But it was the beginning.

The Shuffle

I was 76 when I fell in David's garage.  It's about that age - maybe early seventies - that falling becomes an issue.  You might unexpectedly lurch to the side and ask yourself how that happened.  You might walk across the street sure that people think you've been drinking.  You might trip on a step and catch yourself with your hands a few steps up.  You might slip on a banana peel -- no, that one never happens -- but you will have some close calls that could have led to serious falls.

Maybe nothing will happen for a while and then you'll see an old Carol Burnett rerun and Tim Conway will be shuffling, and as you are laughing along with everybody else, you'll think to yourself.  "I shuffle.  Why is that funny?  I shuffle because it's safer than tripping.  When did I begin to worry about tripping?  Oh, yeah, there was that time down in Tampa."

No, that's not it, you now know why shuffling is funny.  Old people do it and most things old people do are funny to people who aren't old yet.  In the real world, old people shuffle for good reasons. CLICK HERE, BUT DON'T TRY THIS KIND OF SHUFFLE   Old people do it so that if they run into a step or a rough spot, they'll find it with their feet firmly planted and have time to maneuver over or around the danger.   It's a natural progression of learning to fall down gracefully when you get old.  Lesson one is learning to shuffle.

Balance

There's another element to falling called balance.  In all the articles about aging, you can read how your balance is affected by age.  It's usually about one small paragraph in the middle of three pages about dementia.  But you can read all you want to anyway, you have to experience diminishing balance before you understand and prepare for the inevitable.

My first understanding came when I leaned over in my bathroom to pick up a box of toothpaste I had dropped.  I found the top of my head connecting slowly with towels hanging on the wall.  I asked myself how that happened and decided I had lost my forward balance and luckily there was a wall.  Otherwise I would have fallen flat on my face.  I was a little puzzled, but the lurches against walls, half falls where I caught myself with a chair back or a railing entered my mind as evidence of the possibility of a real fall sometime soon.  Lesson two is learning to keep your balance.

Becoming Aware and Alert

There are other hints about the balance thing and the tripping thing.  You begin to hear stories about friends and family falling.  Anyone is glad to tell you a story about falling. Everybody thinks it's funny, especially if it involves a banana peel, which we know never happens.

My brother-in-law fell in the airport parking-garage.  He's six years younger than I am and he was embarrassed. Huh?

My friend fell down crossing the street downtown, just a very rough spell of cement.  She had stitches and some dental work.

My husband fell down on the deck bringing his dog in before it started to rain.  He called, but I didn't hear him, so he lay there trying to figure out how to get up.   His dog looked at him for a few minutes and then came over to lie down beside him.  (Nice dog.)   He did finally get up, and the next day he had two black eyes.  He wore sunglasses.

I fell into the bathtub and I was not taking a bath.  I was weighing myself on the scale beside the bathtub.  Once in the tub, after checking for broken bones, I had to figure out how to get out.  In case you ever need to know, you get on all fours and crawl over the side, one matching arm and leg at a time.  Standing first is not an option.  I tried that.  Also, it might be a good idea to move the scale to some other place.

The act of falling has now come to be a part of your everyday conversations with friends and acquaintances.  It's right up there with antacids, anti-inflammatories, and how many times you got up last night.  Walkers and raised toilet seats haven't entered the picture yet, but enough falls and they'll work their way into your conversations, too. 
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Another pitfall for the unwary is the combination of an unsuspecting grandmother with a leash, a loving dog, and a football.  See Journal for November 26, 2013. HERE 
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Tell us about your funniest fall.  There's no crying in falling.