“The fall” might refer to man’s fall from innocence into knowledge and the possibility of evil. Or it may refer to Niagara. It might also refer to a fall off a ladder. Or finally, it might just be something so mundane as a fall to the ground, or inside a building to the floor. When you get old this last one begins to loom almost as large as those earlier ones.
One of the biggest risks to old folks is simple falling. Yes, just a fall from being on your feet to being on your butt.
When I was young I had little sympathy for old coots that kept falling. Why can’t they look where they’re going, I wondered. At age 62 (seems rather young to me now) I got my comeuppance for that earlier cynicism.
On a snowy morning I was out side walking through crunchy snow at a stiff pace. Suddenly my left foot flew out from under me and went way up in the air. Or so it seemed. When I came down my left knee hyperextended (that means it bent back instead of forward. Ouch!) But there was more than just being on my butt about two nanoseconds after my heighten sense of power walking.
I couldn’t get up for a while. Something wrong with my left leg. I decided it was broken (it wasn’t). It was early morning and nobody was around. I sort of crawled to the edge of the road where someone had pounded a stake of some sort into the ground. I worked it out and used it to raise myself up. Once on my feet I used is as a cane to get home.
Later that day Dr. Brent Blue in Jackson had me lie on my back and raise my leg. When I did he said, “Well, you can still control your leg. You’ve got a second degree hamstring tear.” Then he explained that the torn muscle is bleeding and will continue to bleed for a while. This, he said, will cause my leg to turn black around the tear and work its way down my legs all the way to the end of my toes. Over the next month or so that is exactly what happened. I had black leg, and it was going to get blacker and the black would get bigger.
Two months in the black was gone, thanks to my heart pumping it out I’m told. I could walk just fine, I can hike in the mountains, I can ride a bicycle. I can’t run. I used to be an avid runner. I ran 7 miles a day when I was in my thirties. I ran marathon in 1978, in a little over three hours. I was still jogging at age 62.
A fully intact hamstring in necessary for running. Even for jogging. A pulled hamstring heals. A torn hamstring remains disconnected. Forever. I asked if it could be sewn back together. I was told it would be like trying to sew two pieces of custard pie together.
I started using the machine that hooks your leg over a rod that you pull back towards your hips. It works the hamstrings. I still have about half of the ones I was born with. I put 10 pounds on the weight and starting pulling. I could barely do it. MY right leg would easily pull the bar back with 60 pounds on it. Even more with a bit of grunting. My left leg was in pitiful shape. I started doing the machine with my left leg only.
After more than a couple of years I got it up to 40 pounds that my left leg would pull all the way back. So half of the muscle structure I used to have was now doing about 60% of the work my intact right leg could do. So, progress. It seems to have maxed out. I won’t get much better. I won’t run again. I would have probably stopped that by now anyway. I’ll be 74 next month.
Other oldsters have much bigger stories than this. A leading cause of death in people over seventy is falling. Yes, falling. I used to fall at least once a day when I was young. It never mattered. I mostly only got mad at myself. I could have both feet fly skyward, hit my butt bone on hard ice, and get up and walk away. Sometimes I’d actually keeping running. Young people don’t know how good they have it. Live long enough you find out.
But, like I said my story of my hamstring is chopped liver compared to the many crippling injuries that can result from a simple fall when you’re old. Here is a heartbreaking story of an 80-year old man who recently died from injuries sustained from a simple fall. He was still getting around pretty well before he fell. He had a spectacular life. It shouldn’t have ended the way it did.
I don’t normally need a cane but I carry one when I hike in the mountains.I climbed or hiked up Mt. Evans this last summer. The trail down from Echo Lake and then up Chicago Lakes Valley is littered with foot grabbers that will throw you forward face first. On Mount Warren the trail that gets you from upper Chicago Lake you to Summit Lake is not difficult. But it’s steep with lots of exposure. So long as you don’t slip you are fine. It’s physical therapy for an old guy to practice remaining upright, not bent over. You know you have to keep your center of gravity no higher than your hips. One slip could kill you. Not so much from the fall to the trail, it’s just that there is no room on the trail to land without going over the side.
I compare the trail up Mount Warren to the Great Pyramid in Egypt. You can climb to the top. If you slip and fall on one of the giant stones you will likely tumble all the way down. Ouch!
Here’s some advice: Either don’t get old or always work on your keeping your balance. Do a lot of one-leg stands while you still can and you’ll keep being able to do them a lot longer.