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Guest Column
We all fall down | Column
A COVID vaccination doesn’t inoculate you against falling.
Scientists watch the footfalls of a research subject in Virginia Tech's Industrial and Systems Engineering Department's locomotion research laboratory study how to prevent elderly falls. Subjects are strapped into a harness and walk on a track with sensors that measure gait and muscle use that come into play if they should fall.
Scientists watch the footfalls of a research subject in Virginia Tech's Industrial and Systems Engineering Department's locomotion research laboratory study how to prevent elderly falls. Subjects are strapped into a harness and walk on a track with sensors that measure gait and muscle use that come into play if they should fall. [ MATT GENTRY | AP ]
Published Apr. 15

Being fully vaccinated against COVID will not protect you from falling down.

Reports indicate that one out of three seniors will fall every year, and half of those who do will not seek medical help, sometimes because of pure embarrassment. Pride cometh before the fall — and sometimes after.

Many Floridians, especially those of a certain age, know that even if we sidestep cancer, heart disease, and dementia, our future health may be determined by a false step in the bathroom.

I was reminded of this danger not long ago, the day after I received a stellar report from the family doctor. I got a gold star for my lab report.

Roy Peter Clark
Roy Peter Clark

That night I had a hard time falling asleep. When I did drift off, a bad dream woke me up. It was about 3 a.m. I did what geezers do at that time of night. I got up slowly and padded barefoot into the bathroom, guided by a dim night light.

On my way, like Hamlet, I faced one of those existential decisions. Should I pee standing up or sitting down? In my indecision, I stubbed my toe. I tried to regain my balance but fell sideways into the toilet seat. I hit it hard and heard it crack. I reached out with my right hand to protect my head from the wall, grabbed the towel rack, and snapped it. I caught myself halfway down the narrow space between toilet and wall, one leg stuck up in the air.

I thought I might have broken my leg, but found that it was just bruised. Over the next couple of days, I discovered four sore spots on my right side, as if I had been T-boned in a car accident: shoulder, ribs, wrist, leg. My chiropractor helped me sort things out. From there it was watching the Masters on TV, some Tylenol and ice, ice, baby.

I will stop here to mention that when news got around of my clumsiness — okay, I posted it on Facebook — I got a personal message from an old boss who said she was worried about me and that death by commode crash was a “bad look” in an obituary.

More than 100 messages offered sympathy, jocularity and a shocking number of anecdotes about serious falls — and not just by those over 65. The drummer in my old band — the hippest dude on the planet — fell and wound up needing a new hip.

I am not a klutz. But I have fallen before. I tipped over a ladder while putting up Christmas lights and crashed down onto the driveway. My doctor told me that I had arrived at an age when my balance would decline.

He asked me about my standard of living. “So you could afford maybe $100 to pay a neighborhood kid to help put up your lights?” Yes, of course I could. But the idea that you are no longer fit enough to climb a roof or prune a tree inspires denial.

And they say that it is the young who think they are invulnerable.

My mom died when she was almost 96. About three years before that, my wife found her, naked and moaning in the bathtub, having fallen in the shower, stuck there for maybe three hours, maybe more. It was the last day she would spend in the house she cherished since 1952. After that it was all rehab and assisted living. But even that did not keep her from falling out of bed, cracking her head on the heater.

I spent the morning going to several online health and medicine websites learning more about how to lessen your chances of falling. You should do the same. My plans now include adding grab bars in the bathrooms, uncluttering the floors, lighting the rooms where I now feel my way through the dark, wearing my sneakers rather than my socks, donating those long baggy pants to Goodwill, tying my shoelaces like my mommy taught me, keeping a third eye on the cat, getting up more slowly from a sitting position and boxing up my stiletto heels.

There’s a cliché in the media about cautionary tales. It goes like this: “I am telling my story as a help to others. If just one person keeps from falling down and sustaining a serious injury. ...” Yada, yada, yada.

But this time, I kind of mean it. I am reminded that after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Paradise, the theologians had a name for it. They called it The Fall.

Roy Peter Clark is a contributing writer. You can reach him at rclark@poynter.org.

On falls and falling

Every second of every day, an older adult (age 65-plus) suffers a fall in the United States, making falls the leading cause of injury and injury death in this age group. One out of four older adults will fall each year in the United States, making falls a public health concern, particularly among the aging population.