Why don’t we talk about falling over, especially as we age? The subject is taboo, as if it’s a disgrace to trip and fall. Everyone falls, but as we get older, unless we need medical attention, we mostly keep our mishaps secret. Instead, we should share our stories, like injured sportsmen and women, who have their stories splashed across the news. Some incidents of falling over are quite spectacular. We should dine out on them. We should celebrate how active and hardy we are, in spite of our age and arthritis.
My reasons for falling over, twice
- A committed walker of many years, the time was ripe for me to begin to jog. The experiment went well, until the day of the incident.
- A dog named Mozart. I fell in love with Mozart, a big, bouncing, neurotic creature, when I saw him in the Albany Pound.
The first time I fell, Mozart and I were running early in the morning on a path in Inglewood, a couple of kilometres from home, when a rusty old corrugated-iron gate blew open across the path. Scared, Mozart ran in front of me, and I fell, hard, on top of him.
I limped home on grazed knees, holding my chest, unsure of where I hurt most. My sister, Elizabeth, lived near me and I called and asked for help. A few hours later, I left Royal Perth Hospital diagnosed with three fractured ribs. No treatment available.
Falling over can have unexpected consequences. The incident happened a week before the marriage of one of my sons. The stunning silk ‘mother of the groom’ dress I’d chosen so carefully had to be packed away because I could not get into it. My daughters took me shopping and we came home with a very different outfit, the best we could find that I could get into. On the day, they dressed me with great care, in a far less elegant outfit, with a back-to-front shirt that I could get into, with help, and with less pain.
My second falling episode was even more spectacular and it also involved Mozart. A few months after fracturing my ribs I plucked up courage to go walking. One morning, Mozart spotted a cat on the opposite side of the road. Impulse control was not Mozart’s strength. He took off after the cat, dragging me with him, his lead firmly wound around my left hand.
I fell and he dragged me along the bitumen, face-down.
That time, I staggered up, appalled at the amount blood running down my face onto my T-shirt, knowing I could not make it home without help.
A young man answered my knock on the door of the closest house. He took one look at me, then peered anxiously behind me, presumably to see if my assailant had followed me. Once reassured I was alone, he reluctantly handed me the damp, dirty tea-towel he held. Then a woman came onto the verandah, invited me to sit on the step, went into the house and returned with a clean, soft cloth to wipe my face.
Again, my sister drove me to RPH and after a long wait, a resident assessed my injuries. Staff posed concerned questions about my living arrangements. My appearance in Accident and Emergency twice in a few months had obviously triggered alerts about domestic violence. My answers didn’t completely satisfy them.
It took my daughter, on her first locum as a social worker in the hospital, to allay their fears.
‘If my mother says she fell over her dog,’ she said, ‘that is exactly what has happened.’
On cue, a registrar began to suture the deep laceration on the bridge of my nose where my sunglasses had cut. A nurse dug stones from, and cleaned the lacerations on my chin and cheeks, and someone else dressed my wounds with Fixamol. This wonder product prevented much scarring. The scar between my eyes looks like a deep frown-mark. Scars on my chin and upper lip become obvious only when I’m extremely tired or ill. Fixamol has a permanent place at the top of my first aid box.
About then, I said that my hand hurt. I’d been so concerned with the cosmetic consequences of falling over that I’d hardly noticed the pain from the fractures of three metacarpels in my left hand.
With my hand in plaster, my face covered in dressings and a blood-stained shirt I hobbled to the car to begin a long recovery while everything healed.
Some things I’ve learned about falling over
- People are genuinely concerned and kind when someone falls
- My family is amazingly solicitous, and I’m lucky to have the level of support I have from my siblings and my children
- Most injuries heal
- Only I care that my face is scarred
- Sharing stories about falls helps everyone to put them in perspective
- People should choose their dogs carefully and train them well.