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Fell down the stairs today

June 19, 2012

Stairs of DOOM!
(You can see my computer screen.)

It’s been my greatest fear living in this 1917 “Dutch NeoColonial” home. Ever since my stroke, I have walked down the stairs backwards, because the railing is on the right-hand side as you go up. That’s easy and useful enough when you’re going up the stairs and need some stability. But when you’re going down the stairs, I still need the railing on my right, the stronger side. There isn’t one; just plain wall. Immediately after my stroke,  looked into what it would take to install a railing on the wall side: about $125 and some guys willing to find time for the project.But it was never a high priority item. So I’ve been walking down the stairs backwards ever since.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to grow eyes in the back of my head during the time. So today, when I stepped on a slipper one of the guys had left on the treads, my left foot slipped out, the weakened-from-multiple-sprains-and-tears right ankle twisted out, and down I went! All that flashed through my mind was the name, “Lee.” Lee was a dear friend of mine that I may have mentioned. She died about a year and a half ago from a fall down an identical set of stairs; hers were in Highland Park, on the other side of New Brunswick. She took a tumble one Sunday morning and smashed her head into the wall and baseboard of the first landing. .As my head hit the newel post,  all I could do was pray.

I was fortunate today. A large box full of my old journals and notebooks – one which I had been asking to have transferred to the attic – was still sitting on the landing. I banged into it, rather than the plaster or wood, and it was giving, not hard. (There was a reason for saving all the junk after all, it seems.) So I managed to reconnoiter after falling, assess the damage and get up. All I’d ended up with was some bad bruises, an aching head, and a twisted ankle.

But it also left me with a shaky sense of my own well-being. It’s one thing to live in a cluttered house full of possessions. It’s  a totally different thing to live in a house full of stuff that no one wants to give up, but which no one is able to, or cares to, maintain. Ad to that a physically disabled person, and you’re writing a script for all sorts of health problems, if not outright tragedy.

Now I’m not saying that we are as bad as “Hoarders,” with rooms so full of stuff from floor to ceiling that you can’t even go into them, or must leave little paths and landing zones. We aren’t even close. But all it takes is the one roller skate, as the old sight-gag sets it up, for the little scamp’s father to take a hilarious pratfall. Pratfalls are always supposed to be hilarious to the viewer, har de har har.Fall on the stairs, however,

The question of how stairs can be made safer is a perplexing one. Moving is not an option, unless the court forces us. Should I upholster the wall of the landing with down-filled pillows? We’ve been having a discussion of sorts of the CPS Alliance about the benefits – and even the possibility – of strength training for CPS and spasticity patients. One member, Nigel, described how he had his stroked side literally strapped to weight-training machinery after his stroke, so that he could work out.  Six years later, he says that he has been able to rewire his brain so that he is as strong as ever. He thinks that any members who aren’t following his example are just complaining about a situation they, too, could fix. While I may not agree with his attitude,  I am glad to find *some* feedback on the benefit of strength training for post-stroke patients. I do not have access to physiotherapists or other trainers, so have to content with what programs I can develop for myself.  There are many other people in my same situation, and that is the difficulty facing us.

Of course, having us fall down the stairs and die would be a useful way to lower the disability rolls. Perhaps that is the America we are living in now. At least Tai Chi is still free, and very effective at building strength and balance. It’s even recommended by the CDC as a preventative against slips and falls.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Alison Martin permalink
    June 21, 2012 6:10 AM

    Oh poor Louise ….. I do sympathise! I also fell downstairs last week and I am the “carer”!! We do have two rails (we are in the UK and our local council kindly fitted an extra one for Peter) but that didn’t stop me galloping downstairs to the laundry room, totally distracted, and falling on the last two steps. Collapsed in a heap on a sprained ankle and couldn’t make Peter hear me. I sat on the bottom step weeping until I was able to drag myself upstairs (our house is split level and all the living accommodation upstairs). Made me realise just how vulnerable we carers are – luckily I survived and am healing well but I wondered how on earth Peter would have coped if I had broken my leg (or worse!).

    Know just how you feel about the “stuff”! We have a back room (used to be Peter’s office when he could work) which is rapidly reaching the point where the door won’t open. Also a garage piled high with our adult children’s belongings (books, computer games, etc., etc. etc.) – they’ve all left home but don’t want us to throw any of it away ….. the excuse is “I might need it some day”!!! Sounds like you know all about that! Seriously though, I know what you are saying about the implications of “clutter” for a disabled person – Peter fell earlier in the year and hit his head on a box of picture frames (picture framing is his hobby). Love your staircase, by the way.

    The CPA is really making a huge difference to our lives and we are really grateful for all you do. Is there any news yet on how members outside the UK can make a donation?

    Love and best wishes


  2. June 21, 2012 1:01 PM


    Oh my god! I am so so upset about your fall! I did the exact same thing back in ’98 – galloping down the basement stairs to reach my husband before he drove away, I slipped on the second or third-to-last step, and hit the concrete with my left foot outstretched. POW! I looked at my foot, and it was off to the side of the bottom of my leg – totally dislocated. The same thing happened to my mother, except her resulted in a compound fracture, one where the bones protrude through your skin.

    The immediate shock is the worst, because although you don’t yet feel the pain, your mind is aware that something *very* grievously wrong has occurred to your body. You get about 10 seconds, at most, until real shock begins. Lying there on the floor, weeping, knowing that there is no one who can help you….

    I’d say YOU need a MedicAlert beeper. Sprained ankles are terrible things to heal, and are always weak afterwards. Are you in a walking cast? Crutches? I have an Unas Boot that I can send you, although the BHS could probably supply one to you.

    I am so, so sorry!

  3. Alison Martin permalink
    June 28, 2012 3:03 PM

    Thanks for your kind comments, Louise . Yes, that’s exactly what I did – missed the last step!! And, yes, the ankle is very temperamental now – I had to drive to London and back earlier in the week to take Peter to a medical appointment at the National Hospital for Neurology (260 miles). The car is automatic so I don’t even use my left foot, but it still swelled right up again. I am now wearing a neoprene support all the time, which seems to be a great help. (I told Peter he should never again suggest that soccer players who roll around in agony when they twist their legs are play-acting …. their distress is real!)

    At least what happened to your poor mother didn’t happen – nothing is broken …. just very sore. I am getting to the age when I don’t “bounce” (although a young 30-year old friend has also sprained her ankle and is suffering similarly).

    Interestingly, the pain specialist in London is increasingly convinced that Peter’s pain is caused by his Parkinsonian syndrome and its effect on the basal ganglia. As Peter’s other problems are getting worse, he wants to admit him for a few days and for him to also see a movement disorder colleague. Meanwhile, he has suggested he take amantadine in addition to his other medications, which apparently may help the pain as well as his mobility and other problems. Fingers crossed – life isn’t easy right now.

    Hope your injuries are also healing. Your household sounds rather like ours! (The other good thing about going to London was that we saw our two younger children, who both work there – our eldest daughter lives near us so we see her anyway).

    Take care of yourself.

  4. Lynn Morin permalink
    June 10, 2013 2:21 AM

    Oh no. I see your fall was last year, and I hope you have not had any since! I too have fallen many, many times, most of them pretty serious, full body, full force, splayed out on the floor falls. I’ve had 2 grade 3 concussions (a concussion with loss of consciousness) at least 6 broken bones-arm, toes fingers, four ribs, a separated pelvis, , several sprained ankles, bruised ribs, injured knees that needed surgery, etc, etc. I hate falling! I have CPS and PPS (post polio syndrome). They both make me clumsy, stiff, weak, and prone to falls. I’ll never get used to the horror of seeing the floor rushing up at my face. Its amazing to me how many thoughts I can think between standing or walking and minding my own business immediately to experiencing the uncertainty of what the outcome of this particular fall will be when I finally hit the floor. Whether a backward, a forward, or a side-ward fall the seconds seem to stretch themselves out to timelessness for a brief moment when you assess your position, how best to land and what is going to break, bleed or bruise this time.

    • June 11, 2013 12:25 PM

      Lynn, same boat here, though not quite as many falls. I had another fairly severe one 6 weeks ago, which I couldn’t even remember happening! All I know is that I got up from my desk, and the next thing, I was waking up on the floor with a torn hamstring and an achy occiput. From these injuries, I surmised that I had fallen.

      The mild concussion took about ten days to resolve: ten days of many hours of extra sleep, of confusion, forgetfulness, and mental fog The worst part of these post-fall fugue states is that you can never be sure that it will pass. “What if this time,” I wonder, “this fog never lifts? What if this is my future?” Then again, there is also the fear that the *cumulative* effect of these many falls are going to leave me with a brain full of soft mushy spaces, and soft mushy reasoning.

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