After the Fall

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I’ve borrowed the title of today’s entry from a play by that name about Arthur Miller’s monumentally ill-matched marriage to Marilyn Monroe. I’m assuming that Miller, in turn, had in mind the line from a 17th century New England primer which reads: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all,” referring to the troubles we’ve all inherited from Adam’s inability to resist the temptation of eating the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

But there are falls that are neither metaphoric nor literary. Sometimes a fall is just a fall. That’s the kind I’m focusing on today. For people of a certain age like me, the fear of falling becomes a giant menace that looms over us both at home and when we’re abroad in the larger world. My son-in-law, who has been trained as a hospice chaplain, has seen his share of older people who have succumbed to the effects of falls. “Everything is fine until, boom, one day it isn’t.” Broken hips and traumatic brain injuries are total game changers. I’m hardly the  first to make that comment.

There’s a reason falls are at the center of my thinking at the moment. One day last week I was exiting the hospital, feeling good about the results of the various tests I had undergone. No more than twenty steps beyond the entrance I tripped over a manhole cover that protruded from the surrounding concrete just enough to catch the tip of my sneaker and down I went. Somehow the angle of the fall landed me on my side and I almost immediately feared that I had finally achieved the feared broken hip. The poor family that witnessed the fall helped me up, seated me on a low wall nearby while they sang the required rounds of “Are you all rights?”

The truth is that immediately after an accident like this, you’re completely in the dark about whether you’re all right. The amazing rush of adrenaline that is released into your bloodstream mobilizes all your resources to help you to get through the crisis. It isn’t until hours later that you’re in a position to assess the true extent of the damage. Once when I was out running, I was hit by a bicycle – entirely my fault. I was two miles from home, but I walked back and even stopped briefly to watch a softball game. When the adrenaline subsided, I found that I had suffered a serious leg injury that took months to heal.

Returning to the present, in my anatomical ignorance, I wondered whether I would be able to walk back to my car if my hip was broken. When I stood up, I found that I could walk, albeit with some discomfort, which probably meant that the hip wasn’t broken. Nonetheless, I eagerly consulted Dr. Google when I made it home for reassurance that I had probably only bruised my hip badly. Once again, I had dodged a bullet and was grateful that my sentence was not months in a wheelchair but a couple of weeks of painful walking and sleeping. My wife found another bright side in my situation. “The fact that you didn’t break your hip in a fall like that probably means that you’ve got strong bones.”

With the help of a judicious dose of Ibuprofen and an occasional ice pack I’m past the worst of it. I miss my daily walks and my morning turns on the stationary bike and the elliptical, but it’s not the first time I’ve had to forego those routines while I healed from some internal or external infirmity. I’m just left with that amazing sense of wonder at why I’ve once again been allowed to dodge the proverbial bullet. Unfortunately, the data suggests that at my age there are likely to be many more falls in my future, one of which could easily end my lucky streak.   

The good news is that today I took my first walk outside. It was just to the store and back, but I wondered whether I would have to pay the price in renewed pain. So far, so good.

Moral: You don’t have to be a sinner to fall, but you have to have a heap of luck to keep it from dragging you down to the nether world.

A while back, I posted a piece about dates that are indelibly etched in our memories. Today is one of those dates – November 22nd. On this day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X who were both 39 when they were murdered, JFK will forever be 46 in our minds, frozen in that moment in time by an assassin’s bullet.          

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Marv Hoffman

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