I am falling more. Wanting to go out less. Every public fall seems to isolate me just a little more. And though the actual fall is bleak and demoralizing and creates a gut-wrenching fear of the future, it is the aftermath of the fall that distresses me at least as much, and possibly more. Falling is actually do-able. As long as nothing is broken and no head injury occurs, a fall is actually manageable. It’s a physiological thing that I fully understand: my walking is compromised by the MS. I get that. I understand the ‘mechanics’ of the fall. But I’m having a harder time getting a handle on the helping part; the chaos of the after-fall and the helping hands and the worried faces. And me looking up at them. And them looking down at me. That moment is excruciating.
At our home the fall is rarely inside the house, is almost always outside. We live on eleven acres in the country and share our lives with many animals. Being outside with them, feeding, brushing, mucking, watching, visiting, is the best part of my day. And while it seems that the price tag for active living in this glorious lifestyle is the possibility of a fall, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not careless. I am acutely aware of my pathways, am in constant negotiation with my feet and the ground beneath them. My walking stick is my unwanted but respected companion.
A fall goes something like this: It happens in the space of about four heartbeats. I am up and then I am down and I experience the fall as if I and the falling are quite separate. I am keenly present with the very moment when balance is lost. Always there is surprise and then one heartbeat and a frantic mental grasping for a saving, a respite from the inevitable. A second heartbeat and a plan for landing. A third heartbeat and impact. A fourth heartbeat and then stillness. And, always, a quiet.
When I am alone there is the stillness and a peace after a fall. A kind of momentary thought that this is the safest place to be: prone on the ground where further falling is an impossibility. In a strange way it’s as if the ground is my friend, calling me to its face as if to protect me, saying ‘stay here. You’re safe here.’ I like it best when I fall alone. I no longer rush to get up. I lay still after the shock subsides and if there is any pain, I no longer panic with it. A bit of time goes by and I figure out how to get up. I crawl to a place where I can hold onto something to aid in the pulling up. It can be simple or it can be complicated, depending on the location of the fall and the nearness or faraway-ness of helpful holding places. When standing again, there is almost a feeling of accomplishment, an ‘I can do this’ kind of feeling. A sense of self.
But when my fall is not alone, when others are around, it’s quite a different experience. People rush to my aid and there is a flurry of activity and lifting. I feel profoundly awkward. I see their distress. I hear their distress. And I fully understand that gratitude is called for and I do feel grateful. I would, of course, feel very badly if people just passed on by. But the fact remains that the post-fall rescue leaves me feeling impotent and less-than-able.
My husband recounts a fall. He was walking behind me along our porch as we headed to the car. I lost balance just before the stairs and literally flew through the air sailing overtop the two stairs. I remember consciously thinking that I needed to protect my arms, to not stop the fall with my hands. One, two, three, four. I landed on my side with my arms folded at my chest. My cousin was sitting in the car, ready for our outing and I remember his wide-eyed horror as I landed at the ground by the car door. My husband tells me that I looked like a professional linebacker hugging the football, sliding under the goalpoast. Plenty of bruising but no lasting injury.
I fell on the ferry last week. Walked along perfectly flat flooring to the gift shop. Purchased a book and headed back, cane in hand, to where my husband sat. I can still see the faces of all the people in the chairs facing me as I walked down the aisle. This time there were only three beats as I lurched forward out of balance, losing my bag and my cane. I reached for the chairs to my side and managed to stay upright. No fourth beat, no fall. A man literally ejected off his chair to grab me, but there was no need as I grabbed the chair first. He handed me all of my accoutrements and I thanked him. I walked on forcing a calmness that I most certainly did not feel. I am sure that people looked away as I walked by them seated in their chairs, the way we so often do when we are uncomfortable for someone’s situation; I cannot be sure, but I imagine they did. I turned the corner to where my husband sat reading and joined him.
I go out now always with some trepidation, never really sure. Never really feeling whole in my own skin. And it’s not even the falling I fear; it’s the aftermath. The unavoidable aftermath. Because people are kind and caring. And how can that not be a good thing?