Don't Slip
Photo by Tim Mossholder / Unsplash

Even with shiny new feet, in fact because of shiny new feet, I'm going to fall. So might you. Let's talk

Dear Reader: the below should not be considered medical advice. Please consult with your health professional before starting any kind of exercise program, and please make sure that you are not taking medications which might impair your balance or cognitive abilities.

Tim, the assistant manager in big ticket items, was maneuvering a big ticket item into the back of my Honda. I'd backed into the only open spot near the front door, but there were both a curb and a bike rack. We were inching the top of a very large chair towards the front so that my hatch would close.

As I stepped back towards the curb, my shiny brand new feet failed to heed the instructions my brain was giving them. I fell hard onto the concrete curb and lightly banged my head on the bike rack.

About five or six people were right there and rushed to pick me up. I was back upright and dusting off in a split second, faster than they could get their hands out to help.

Falling isn't the issue. Getting up is the issue. And it's how you get up that seals the deal.

Even when I smashed my pelvis in two places, got my sixteenth concussion, broke my left wrist and elbow in a spectacular fall in Iceland,  I still leapt right back up. Thank you, adrenaline, but you see my point. I had to get to help, and for about fifteen terribly critical minutes I felt no pain (yet is the operative word) and got to someone who called the EMTs.

I didn't expect to fall yesterday. We usually don't. In  my adventure work, I completely expect to fall if I head off a cliff or skydive or bungee jump. I also know that falls are highly likely when I ride horses, which is why helmets are a part of all my sports.

Helmets don't prevent concussions. They do prevent, or at least strictly limit,  how badly the eggshell which is your skull might crack open.

Falls are part of life, they are part of sports. Falling does not have to be a death sentence, albeit for far too many they are. Simple ground-level falls can be far more hurtful than any of us realizes.

Even my beloved mentor, who worked out every week her entire life, fell, broke a hip and was dead in just a few weeks. She was 92; falls for the elderly are indeed death sentences.

For Elderly, Even Short Falls can be Deadly
While simple falls, such as slipping while walking off a curb, may seem relatively harmless, they can actually lead to severe injury and death in elderly individuals, according to a new study published in The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care. As the population continues to age…

At 70, which seems to be the threshhold age here, I am still not fearful of falls. I respect the impacts, but I've also done a lot of work to prepare for them. There's no joke that a hard fall at 70 isn't what it would be at 20. We can still do a lot of work to make the getting up part swift and easy, with a bruise vs. a break.

Let's go back to my headline. The reason I say it's a ridiculous question is that it isn't the fall that matters. I fall regularly, because I take risks and move fast. And, because I'm clumsy as a drunken donkey. Worse, right now my feet don't understand what my body is asking of it, which is a setup for an accident.

I look a lot like one of these lovely babies:

If you ski or run or even work out at a gym, falling is likely. People leave weights out and aren't careful about returning dumbbells to the racks. It's very easy to trip over one and tumble. It happens to any of us.

The point is to be so strong and limber, have bones which aren't brittle, so that when the inevitable happens, the worse we have is our embarrassment and maybe a bruise or two. We get right back up and keep going.

That day in Iceland, July 2015, when I went butt-over-teakettle down a bunch of concrete stairs, the treating ER doctor in told me that had I not been in that kind of shape I'd have been dead or a quadriplegic.

I never forgot that. It was a warning in every sense of the word. In other words, Sparky, if you keep up this lifestyle, you'd best keep up this fitness level.

Deposit photos

If we want to stay fully in life, we'd best keep up our fitness...

...because falls in the elderly aren't just bad. They are getting worse because there are more of us. And there are more of us who have not taken care of ourselves at all, given our appalling eating habits and sedentary natures.

So if suddenly there are some forty or eighty or a hundred more pounds slamming down at awkward angles on our bones, the end results could mean crippling for life.

I have been eighty pounds overweight and more. I know how it feels and how hard it is to get back up.

The ability to leap right back up after a fall depends, of course, on a great many things: the seriousness of the fall, and whether or not we injured ourselves in the process. And of course whether or not you whacked your coconut, which I seem to have done regularly.

Not all my falls involved injuries.  Nor will yours. But if you are active, and you like sports, if you run on trails or hike the mountains, or have stairs, you are likely to fall. It's a statistical fact of life.

Falls happen because we're engaging in life, but also sometimes because we're not prepared for them. When we know where falls are most likely to happen, that's part of preparedness.

So two points: first, the single most common place you and I are likely to land in the ER, young OR old OR anything else: Stairs.

Photo by Sander Sammy / Unsplash

Stairs- where two of my worst injuries have happened- are the single most dangerous place in any home or building. I take mine seriously right now because my feet do not listen to my brain. Both of them are full of screws and plates. They're numb; they listen to a very different drummer than the one in my head.

Like the baby elephant trying to wobble along after mommy, my new bionic feet are struggling to figure out how to work. It's going to take months of retraining, like having two new computers which aren't online yet.

That is a ripe setup for danger. As summer approaches and I continue to sleep in the basement (it's very nice down there, at least fifteen degrees cooler), that means that I climb two flights to get to the main floor. Being a bit sleepy, my feet in real pain before the hot water of the bath and a solid twenty minutes of post-op massage, I have little control of what they do.

So I hang on to the bannister, take one slow step at a time, and suck my ego in. There's a time to bound up and down the stairs and this ain't it.

So, part two: be prepared.First, reflexes.

I can slip, but my reflexes have lost little. I still grab that guard rail faster than you can blink as though my main parachute just bailed.

Because if I nearly fall on the stairs my main chute has indeed failed, and fast reflexes are what save me from serious injury.

Feeling a little slow? Here you go:

Seven ways to improve your reflexes
Whether you want to be a star goalie or a tennis ace, the best advice is to practise. But eating spinach, playing videogames and catching coins you’ve thrown in the air could also help

Second: know how to fall smart.

I am a fan of anything which allows us to fall smart- and by that, I mean how we allow momentum to absorb impact. I learned how to do a Parachute Landing Fall or PLF back in 1973, and have never forgotten how. The fall absorbs the impact from one foot to the opposite shoulder.

Sometimes you can also roll with your arms folded in which allows the outside of your body to take the hit and protect your organs. Here's a perfect example of just that:

This guy is wearing all the right gear, and he rolls. What this video doesn't show  is how the same guy, seconds later, is sprinting full speed to get on his backup bike to rejoin the race. The point is not the gear; the point is to watch how he protects his body to bleed off the momentum.

While I most assuredly need to wear head and elbow pads, good ones, and a helmet just walking around my house, the point is simply: know how to fall at ground level.

Stairs are just awful and the stairs themselves utterly unforgiving. Forget the idiot movies which show the good guys falling down all those stairs and then getting up and running off to fight the Epic Fight.

Doesn't happen. Ask me, I've done it. My Epic Fight was healing everything I'd just broken on all those sharp edges.

So finally: Being limber, flexible, body confident and able to move well. You can do that with yoga, Tai Chi or any martial arts, balance work, and all kinds of sports which teach you body awareness.

Now that I am back upright it's time for me to return to martial arts and a lot more balance work. Balance work does wonders for body confidence. You can start small and simple. I want you to feel utterly comfortable and confident in your body as you age.

While I have lost a step or two since all my surgeries, even with my bumbling bionic baby elephant feet I can leap right back up. All I have to show for yesterday's fall was a bruise on my right thigh. Not a death sentence of a busted hip.

This isn't the article to address the impact of drugs on falls; I've addressed that elsewhere. This assumes a clear mind. You already know the rest.

Let's do the work, so that the next time some nurse asks us how many times we fell in the last six months we can say: I leapt up instantly three times.

It's not the fall that matters. It's how fast we leap back up.

Photo by Monica Leonardi / Unsplash

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