There is No Place Left to Hide
When I was much younger, I had a major “incident”. Think of a 20-something on roller skates in Golden Gate Park who manages a “faceplant” that requires them to rebuild my face. Young and dumb about covers it. But certainly not a “fall”.
Now for the last few years, I have assiduously avoided getting the dreaded “FALL RISK” warning attached to my medical file in any way. It has non-cancellable consequences. You have all seen the signs on hospital doors as you wandered among the corridors looking to visit a sick friend (remember those days?). They are emblazoned on the white board in your room should you be one of those sick friends. As you lie in your own hospital bed they taunt you, embellished with each shift nurse’s curlicues and exclamation points. They even trigger special “bed alerts” if you so much as try and stand to stretch your aching back, bringing an onrush of attendants and a scolding/mocking derision of your actions which makes you instantly feel like a bad toddler who stumbled just a hair to close to the curb for your worried mother’s comfort.
Many of us in our community, all a similar age, have resorted to describing our trips and tumbles to the doctors as “miss-steps” no matter what consequences they may have wrought. The doctors are bound to transcribe our own words, damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead. But a “miss-step” is technically not a “fall”.
Recently I have had two major falls, nothing else to call them now, although I did try, at least on the first one, to use the miss-step nomenclature. The first fall was truly a missed step, honestly. I was doing a concrete refinishing job at a friend’s newly poured patio, and I backed up, literally, into his pool. Legs and arms akimbo, I went down…hard….onto my ass and then bounced right into the water. My first thought was, “Oh shit! My phone and key fob!” I yanked my clothes off, tossed them to my friend who was admirably trying to stifle the laughter (awkward fail). As he rushed to toss them all in a bowl of rice. I only later found out from my husband that the new iPhones are designed to take a dunking and keep on talking.
As I climbed out of the pool it flashed across my brain that, ooops, I have had four hip replacements in my long and storied life and I really did land, hard, squarely on my ass. I decided that caution, while thrown to the wind in most of my life’s story, may best be observed at this moment and at least I should go get an X-ray. I tossed everything in the car, including my naked self, and drove home where I threw on dry clothes and went to Urgent Care. Nothing broken (at least on first inspection) and I was back on the job, painful but persevering, in an hour or so.
Later, I would come to find out that I had actually broken my coccyx, the word alone conjuring up childhood giggles and smirks. Nothing to see here, almost. At least nothing to treat with anything more than a whoopie cushion and a very painful, month’s-long, recovery. There was the matter of the visuals accompanying this ass-assault. To call it “black and blue” is an understatement. When I was at the doctor a week or so later, I warned them before they pulled back the “curtain” that the show was not a hit, and the reviews were less than stellar. The bruising was expanding daily like a slow-motion firework’s display lighting up my butt. My provider actually said I looked like a CSI crime scene. He also said it was going to get much worse, he had recently been there, done this.
So, Fall #1 faded, slowly, into history. I call it a fall now as I will explain.
Not too long after this, I drove 500 miles north to visit friends. My first time out of town since the pandemic. Vaccinations made a reunion at long last a welcome diversion. A whoopie cushion made the drive quite tolerable. I was staying at friend’s brand-new house, alone, waiting on the rest of the reunionites to arrive. Not more than a day or so after arriving, coming home one afternoon, I missed a 4” step-that-did-not-look-like-a-step and did a full face-plant onto a concrete patio.
Face. Fucking. Plant.
In retrospect, I actually knocked myself stupid for a few minutes but since I was alone who could tell me exactly how long? This comes into play in several consequential ways later.
The reunion proceeded apace. Wine tastings in Napa, family meals, stories of days gone by. Good times, great friends, and oh……some headaches. Now I really DID look like I had been mugged by this time; fully black eye, bruised and bloodied lip, just swollen and painful to look at no less be in. Everyone was urging me to go see someone but, as always, I demurred.
After about three days, the headaches were SO intense, particularly for me who never gets a headache, ever, that I did listen and drove myself 20 miles south to Novato, CA. My logic was thinking ahead of my body even then. I reasoned that just in case I DID have something more serious I wanted to be a stone’s throw from UCSF in San Francisco….just in case. The small regional ER was quite efficient, quick; the CT showed nothing significant. I had a concussion, but was sent on my way. I satisfied my worried throng of friends, and myself, for now. After the ER visit, I went on a solo five-mile hike through a spectacular park, headache or not, I was going to maintain my plans.
I then drove 500 miles home, in one day. The Fall was April 17th. I arrived home April 24th, one week after the Fall. Now life takes several twists and turns. After arriving home, we had houseguests; returning Sonoma friends, more dinners, pool parties; life was opening further, and I was right there on the forefront. But curious things were starting to present warning signs, not that I paid too much attention.
I began to stub my toes, hard, all the time; running into furniture that has not moved although I swear it was now in a new and ungainly position. I felt like a cool, coastal, fog was slipping over my consciousness. I was having trouble reading the dashboard in the new car (I attributed it TO the new car). Even my reading comprehension, slower to leap into recall these days anyway, was slipping further from my grasp. And then, suddenly, I was unable to do my daily crosswords; confusing clue numbers, misreading actual clues, bad territory for me.
In retrospect, after the last few weeks, I recently went back into MyChart to clean up the mess of out-of-date messages and discovered that I had, all month long, been suspicious of something happening. There were no less than half a dozen messages to various providers asking questions about cognition, potential damage from the fall, concussion after effects, etc. All of them relied on the report from the initial CT scan just after the fall.
Wednesday night, our usual Dinner and a Movie crew was over, having dinner around the kitchen table when Michael, a nurse at Eisenhower, said, “What’s with the tremor in you left hand???” and then, “You look like shit, you really need to see someone.” Kinder words were never spoken.
When I woke up the next morning, I realized I was shuffling my feet instead of walking. Ouch. Since “guests” are still not allowed in the ER waiting room I told Dave, “I’m off to the ER to get checked out, I’ll call if there’s anything.” What came next, the flurry of activity, literally swept me into an abyss of unawareness. Things happened so quickly…for an hour…..and then nothing. I mean nothing! I was hooked up to every monitor possible, clicking, being, dripping, flat on my back. For 11 hours and counting. I laid in the ER, alone, for 11 hours. Dave managed a short visit, but the ER was clogged with suffering humanity, and it was not a healthy place to be even for unhealthy people. I made it into my ICU bed shortly after midnight on Friday morning.
And then the shit hit the fan. And the vomit.
I decompensated; a polite term for “going south with a vengeance”. My brain finally, five weeks after the Fall, had enough and told the rest of my body to revolt, and I became revolting in the process. As I was rushed up and down corridors to various scans and testing rooms I managed to puke and poop my way in and out of every corridor, machine, and gurney they had for me. Apologizing right and left (garbled into the airline-style vomit bags) I kept repeating, “I’m SO sorry!” and their amazingly kind and competently trained selves simply kept repeating “We got you, buddy.” “We got you”
I’m tearing up even recounting the kindness and dignity they gave freely to me in the worst of all human circumstance. I just want to say, “I got you, back! Double.”
Surgery got pushed up thanks to heroic scheduling efforts and the ability to massage and triage a few patients in front of me in line. I was shaved, drilled, and drained in the morning. A happy ending, really, for all concerned. Yes, I’m fixed and have a slow road of healing and work to try and build back better knowing that I may never get completely there. The heroic staff, on every level, got a happy ending ala Grey’s Anatomy; a patient that was discharged with a great outcome and a positive future after the Pandemic hell hole they have all been living through.
Fall Risk? Sure. I get it. I’m there.
It’s not as awful as I had feared, yet. It’s simply another obstacle that I can overcome; I’ve had so much worse to face in my life. I’m older. I’m slower (or should be!). I am more watchful of my actions and my steps now as I wander through the world. I am more thoughtful about how I move and why. I am much more grateful to my husband, my friends, everyone who has shown such kindness and had such patience with me.
Do not misunderstand me; I will try my limits and test your patience, soon.
It is who I am.
Fall Risk is just another descriptor added to long list of words that everyone who has ever know me has compiled, many of them less than complimentary, but all of them well earned, deserved, and cherished as loving tokens of my life; a life well-lived, and my chance to once again pick up my feet and stride into my future…whatever is left of it.