In January 2000, I was in a rollover car accident. A few weeks later I woke up one morning to find the room whirling around me. It was like being in the middle of a carousel, in a way. Maybe it was because of the painkillers they had me on for my broken back, but I enjoyed this feeling. Also, I was not throwing up like some people do when they have vertigo. That would have really harshed my mellow.
This vertigo was an after effect of the accident, I was told. Over the next few weeks the whirling went away, but I would have sporadic attacks later. Sometimes even now I get a little swirly feeling.
So that’s my history of fragile stability, but lately my balance has become downright precarious. I have started falling.
One night I got out of the car, my foot caught on something, and I went down. That was the night I stopped wearing Birkenstock sandals.
Usually I fall in the house, while walking from the living room to the kitchen or back. It doesn’t take much to bring me down once I’ve lost my balance.
I googled balance problems and the first thing that came up was “balance problems in the elderly.”
Hunh. Who you calling elderly?
I read a couple of articles and learned the ELDERLY fall down a lot, and get injured, and this is bad. I have been fortunate so far in that my falls have not broken any bones, only beat me up enough to make me go to bed for a day or so and take acetaminophen. The ELDERLY do not bounce as well as the YOUNG.
Elderly people falling and breaking a hip is recognized as a frequent phenomenon, but I read recently that in fact, often the hip breaks and then the person falls. Isn’t that just peachy?
Here’s how it feels inside a fall for me. First, the fall begins, and I do everything I can not to fall. I shift my weight, move my feet, reach for something to grab, and when all that fails, I try to relax and roll into it to minimize the impact.
There is the whump! of landing.
I lie there a minute taking a few breaths, and then there is the inventory: How bad is this? I check myself out – Wrists? Knees? Shoulders? Arms? Ankles? Legs? Head? Torso? Does anything feel broken?
An early sign of a broken bone is nausea, your body’s way of telling you that you really did it this time, sucker.
If all body parts are in working order, I then get back up. That’s not easy when you have two crap knees. I borrow a method from toddlers: I get on all fours, crawl to some nearby piece of sturdy furniture, and push myself up.
When reading about falls online I was astonished to learn that my recovery method after a fall is exactly what you are advised to do. Take some calming breaths, take an inventory, and then crawl to the nearest chair (in my case, nearest furniture that will bear my weight), and with one foot and your other knee pushing you up while you hold on to the furniture, rise, and sit there a while considering your next move.
After falling several times in a short period of time, my friends got fed up and did an intervention. They sat me down and talked to me sternly but lovingly: I needed to go to the doctor and get this checked out. I needed to start using a cane or even a walker, especially in the house. I needed to stop falling.
They had a point. Several points. I listened to them. I agreed with them. The frequency of my falls had me worried.
I have the appointment with the doctor. I have a new cane which I like because it is purple. I have a walker which I am using mostly in the house, which is where I have fallen most often.
Why am I so wobbly? I suspect the drugs I take that dehydrate me. One of the factoids online was that the more medications you take, the more likely you are to fall. Great.
Maybe I’m getting old.
That’s the hardest part of this: getting old. No one feels old, excuse me, ELDERLY, inside. Inside I’m the snappy wiseacre I’ve always been, and I am much happier than I was in my earlier years because I’ve lived through so much and acquired a longer perspective on life.
It’s my body that’s getting old, not my spirit. That is the little joke of living a long time, folks. There is some fine print that goes with the deal.