Each year when I finish my medical exam, my doctor tells me to “state away from sick people’’ and “avoid falls, whatever you do.’’
It’s simple advice. The older I get, the more I try to follow it. My doctor tells me I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. Either I’m in better condition that I realize or he sees some really sorry cases.
The first part of his advice becomes easier as I age. Never one to socialize when an alternative existed, I’ve grown even less inclined to seek out parties and other large gatherings. I’m not a recluse, certainly not a hermit. I’m just selective in my socializing, you might say. So when the doctor tells me to stay away from sick people, I tell him that should be easy enough.
Avoiding falls is another matter. Falls are a big deal, especially for older people, I read on the medical sites and in the pages of AARP magazine. Age saps a body’s mobility, strength and stamina. Taken together, those things are essential to avoiding falls. What age takes away in physical assets, it supposedly gives back in common sense. That should mean that as people grow older, they become increasingly aware of the wisdom of avoiding situations in which falls could be one possible outcome. Medications come with lists of possible side effects. That’s how my brain has worked in recent years regarding side effects of activities that might lead to a fall.
Somewhere I read that 30,000 or more older people die each year of complications from falls. I can’t vouch for that number, but it makes sense. When you’re young, you take a tumble and bounce back, like the time my cousin Leo and I were riding his pinto pony bareback. We fell off simultaneously in opposite directions just as we were galloping through an open gate. By rights, both of us should have hit the gate posts on each side. We didn’t, though. We got up and ran after the horse, laughing all the way. I shudder to think what would happen if I tried a stunt like that today.
My mother-in-law lived to see her 100th birthday. Most of that time, she was active and in pretty good health. When she was around 98, though, she took a bad fall when she thought she could go from her bedroom to the bathroom without her walker. She broke a shoulder. It didn’t heal quite right, and she didn’t fully recover, not really.
One of my good friends, an active guy of 80 years, fell a couple of months back when he climbed a ladder to take a bicycle down from its hooks on his garage ceiling. The ceiling is more than 10 feet from the floor (he can hang a kayak lengthwise against the wall without touching floor or ceiling). He got the first wheel unhooked, but when he unhooked the second wheel, the full weight of the bike was more than he could handle.
The ladder fell sideways, my friend fell with it, and he landed in a tangle with the bike and the ladder under him. He told me he lay there a good while, assessing whether he was alive. He began moving limbs and gradually got up and walked into the house, trailing blood from a gash in his palm. That spill wasn’t the end, but my friend knows it easily could have been. He says he’ll ask for help next time he tries something like that.
That’s one of the things about older people and falls. It isn’t easy to ask for help with a task you’ve done your whole life. I used to climb trees carrying chain saws, knee-crawl to the top of my roof to fix the television antenna and hang off high ladders to paint siding and wash windows. These days if I’m on a ladder, I can’t do any work because I’m holding on for dear life with both hands.
I still don’t like asking for help, but I can do it. I wouldn’t want my doctor to think I’m not following his advice.