Thursday, June 20, 2019

Feeling Vulnerable

I haven't felt this way in a very long time.

 Coming out of the hospital, everything was scary.  Skinny white boys in hoodies crossing in front of my car gave me shivers.  TBG dropping a pan in the kitchen made me screech.  An unexpected touch made my skin crawl.  Everything was threatening.

Over time, my fight or flight reaction calmed itself down.  Adrenaline's metallic taste didn't fill my mouth when seemingly ordinary events stopped me in my tracks.  Gradually, I reentered the world. 

Lately, though, I've been finding that scratchy feeling at the back of my neck, a hyper-vigilance response to driving past an awful car wreck, hearing an ambulance's siren, turning a corner in the grocery store and finding a stranger staring at me. 

It may have something to do with a fear of falling. 

The first question I'm asked when I go the doctor these days is When was the last time you fell? Not Have you fallen? or How many times have you fallen? but WHEN?  That is akin to how you ask about guns in the home before your kid goes to visit - Are the guns in your home secured?  You assume the fact you're concerned about and go from there.  It obviates the need to decide if you're going to admit to the fall or the gun; you just have to respond to a simple query.  The interlocutor is aware of the facts; she's just looking for the details.

I used to laugh and say, indignantly, I don't fall!  Recently, though, I've been catching myself before I land on my nose.  My toe caught on a bathroom mat.  My shoe became lodged under the endge of the oriental rug in the foyer.  I stepped on a shoelace and couldn't recover.  Only the last instance sent me to the floor (though my hands protected me from total collapse), but I've never tripped as much as I have in the last few months.

I think it is because I am getting better.  Counterintuitive, perhaps, but true.  As I learn to lift my right knee my left leg doesn't know what to do with itself.  Used to carrying most of the burden of walking, it has developed its own strategies to get me from here to there.  Now, with a strengthened partner on the other side, my ankle is learning that it has to move differently.  Bending at that joint, using my toes (which ache in new and surprising ways as they are called upon to act in new and surprising ways), putting equal weight on both sides of my body as I cruise around my house - I don't always pay attention.

That should not surprise anyone who know me,  I'm oblivious,  It's a defining characteristic.  I've always been that way.  Why are you bleeding? rarely has an answer longer than I'm bleeding?  Scratches appear on my body with alarming regularity.  I bump into things.  It's true.

But I've never fallen until now.  Hitting the floor, even if I did catch myself in time to push my body upright before more than my hands and one knee made contact, changed my sense of self.  I really am a person who falls.

Is it a consequence of getting shot?  Probably.  Bringing it up in public, though, makes me realize that there's another factor at play:  I'm getting older.  As my friend, Marilyn Heins, puts it, I am frailing.

It means I am not yet frail but I can see fragility on the horizon … with my good glasses of course.

Frail is a word I would not use to describe myself until recently. Chunky, maybe. Robust. Energetic. Hardworking. But I am slowing down.

I walk slower and very carefully.... Balance is something I have to think about — a far cry from that little girl on a bike or the woman on a tough hiking trail that I once was.

A far cry, indeed.  But I'm closing in on 70 years on this planet, and I've used this body hard and well over that time.  I can't fault it for the cracks I'm sensing.  I can honor it for trying to stay upright amidst a world trying to push me over.  I could pull up the rugs and move with deliberation and pay attention to my surroundings and I'd still be at risk of falling.  

So I signed up for a balance training program (details to follow in future posts, of course).  I'm considering my plans before choosing my footwear for the day.  I'm taking thoughtful steps.

And I still caught my middle toe on the mat in front of the toilet this morning.  



  1. I did a balancing therapy session before I retired from teaching because I didn't want to be one of those old ladies who fall down! It's good material and I practice the exercises weekly. My problem is with bruises that I don't remember how I got...I will run into something, hit my elbow or knee against something, and think, "oh, that hurt, I'll probably get a bruise," but when the bruise shows up, I've forgotten what I did!

  2. My spousal unit and I can relate. Both of us are less sure footed than we were. I'd be interested in knowing where you're taking the balance classes. We both could benefit from that, I didn't know there was such a thing. Interestingly enough, none of our doctors have asked the question. Congratulations on getting your right knee back into service.

    1. Once I finish the series and do some more investigating I'll pass on the information. For now, anecdotal evidence suggests that it works, but it's only been 9 days.


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