The view from shoe level

When those nice little old ladies fall on T.V., they always show the devoted daughters plugging in the handy dandy tracking device that calls the ever-vigilant bright-eyed neatly-dressed attendant at some distant calling center who promptly promises to send help “right away” when dear old mom next tumbles to the ground, sending prunes or grape nuts scattering in all directions.

What they don’t show you are the hours of physical therapy the nice little old ladies need before they are allowed back in those accident-prone, handicapped-inaccessible kitchens, the ones with overhead cupboards, ancient faucets, outdated appliances, and lack of walking space.

Let me tell you, falling and not being able to get up is the least of the problem. It’s likely to be that last bit of rest you’re going to get for a long time.

Sooner or later, a neighbor or friend or partner or wife or husband or child will wander by and you will have to admit that you are not looking at the interesting mid-20th century variegated pattern in the handsome wall-to-wall carpeting of your hallway, that in fact they might as well haul you to your feet, that—ouch—your right arm isn’t quite what it should be and perhaps we’d better call the doctor.

And so begins the usual round of Dr. This and Dr. That and x-ray this and x-ray that. It all takes a couple of weeks and a bunch of hemming and hawing and gulping down horse pills and sleeping with heat patches glued to your arm and tossing and turning all night long and nearly dropping the half-gallon of milk because you forget that you are one-armed these days.

And of course I can’t drive because I use hand controls and that takes two to tango. And oh, have I mentioned that CF broke her OTHER hand and is in a cast for three weeks? We shan’t discuss the sad circumstances under which it happened except to say that I will describe my stupidest fall and then tell you that hers was even more stupid:

I was doing yard work a few years ago, walking down our driveway, pushing our 65-gallon plastic garden waste cart ahead of me. It looks just like a garbage cart, the kind the town gives you for your garbage. Fortunately it was empty, and the top was open. I was tired, always my excuse. I lost my footing and stumbled forward, and ended up flat on my stomach, with my head and shoulders inside the garden waste cart. As far as I know, no one saw me. It happened on my birthday. At least hers wasn’t on her birthday. But it was close!

My most recent fall did not happen out of sight of friends and neighbors; it happened in plain sight of CF and just out of sight of NF, who had, let’s say, “neglected” to hold the door open for me, causing me to stumble up the short flight of stairs tween garage and laundry room, crashing to the ground and somewhat crushing the semi-antique aluminum cake carrier I was no longer holding but instead flinging to the ground, although I did try to brace myself by pushing off the wall dead ahead of me which simply caused me to double-bounce on top of said carrier and ricochet off the pile of newspapers waiting to be recycled. There was a slight cushioning effect, the one and only time, I am sure, that Mitt Romney will ever be of benefit to me.

The x-rays showed damage that will require physical therapy, which did not surprise me. I have done this before, because I fall a lot, and I always damage the right shoulder, which amuses me. I am left-handed, and for many, many years, I was a fast-pitch softball catcher. I imagined that at the least I would have new knees by now, or a ruined left shoulder. But no, those joints are fine. It is the much less used right shoulder that is turning arthritic, has bone spurs, and is continually being crushed and mangled by my falls.

The doctors can’t tell without an MRI if I’ve actually “torn something” in the rotator cuff or not, but they shot it full of cortisone and now it’s off to P.T. twice a week, where, should I fall, I will be immediately whipped back to my feet by two or more extraordinarily athletic young people. I need to warn them that I get dizzy if I stand up too fast. These are the same people who coaxed CF’s first broken paw back into shape, therapy that involved, among other magic treatments, dipping her hand in hot wax, a treatment that sounds so spa-like that I purr with envy. I suspect the closest I will come to hot wax will be bumping into the air freshener candle in the bathroom.

However many times I may stumble in P.T., I am sadly certain that I will fall again in real life, that I will again damage this shoulder. What I think I really need is to go to Falling School. I need to learn to fall properly. They must teach that somewhere. There must be professional fallers. Someone to teach you to not stick out your arms so you wreck your shoulders, but to tuck in your arms and roll with the flow. Someone to teach you to do a floor routine, like those gymnasts in the Olympics. After all, when I was in grade school, they taught us to survive a nuclear bomb. Certainly they can teach me to survive a three foot drop to the floor now.

I’m not too old. I can still learn. And I’m pretty sure there’s enough newspaper in the garage to use for cushioning.


Mixed emotions

It is difficult to believe that the small, squealing delight of dirty diapers that we call our son has grown into nearly six feet of smelly armpits, and that he’s starting high school. But he is.

And with that has come his first request for a steno notebook.

We were not prepared. Has it really come to this? We had 3-rings, pens, pencils, backpack, and so forth, but….

Actually, it hasn’t come to this. In his best ninth grade penmanship, he had actually asked for a “stental” notebook. Perhaps it was the rush of the first day.

The request was scribbled on a form that the parental units had to sign. There were two forms, and CF asked me to look them over. She had her back to me at the computer as I studied the form, looking for where it mentioned the steno notebook. I couldn’t find the place. She hadn’t mentioned that NF had written it in by hand, and we weren’t really paying too much attention to what each other was doing.

“Where?” I asked. “I can’t find it.”

“It’s there,” she answered. “Keep looking.” She was involved in whatever she was doing. I glanced over the two pages again.

“I can’t find it.” I was getting annoyed, as if this was a test of some sort. Why couldn’t she just show me? It wasn’t that big a deal. I’d found a notebook already; I just wanted to confirm that it was OK.

“It’s right there. Check it again.”

I looked over the two forms again. Nothing.

“Still can’t find it.”

She whirled around in her chair and turned over the pieces of paper and pointed out his handwriting.

“Right there,” she said. “I told you to turn them over.”

Sure enough, there it was: stental notebook. But I never heard her tell me to turn the form over.

Damage done, I hurried off to my office to lick my wounds.

And wounded wounds they were.

It was absurd, it was ridiculous, I know, I know, but there was something about the whole situation, maybe because I was staring at sheets of paper looking for something, maybe because she had her back to me as if she was timing me, maybe because she whirled around a bit too much like an impatient teacher, but I felt as if I had just flunked a test.

It felt as if I had just flunked a test in rehab and they weren’t going to let me go home yet and I was going to be stuck even longer with Fox News All. The. Time. and men with gigantic beards who haven’t quite copped to the fact that they will never ride their motorcycles again.

It was a momentary panic but it lasted long enough for CF to catch me blubbering at my desk, which made it all a bit worse, because I think she was trying to be funny, because after all, it is kind of funny to have your son ask for a “stental” notebook. It’s not often that you get to add a new word to your family dictionary when your only child is in ninth grade. That usually ends when they are, oh, three or four, and get a pretty good grasp of the English language.

The stental notebook I gave NF is one that I had used a bit, and I tore out the few pages I had scribbled on. They had had directions to various ball fields in Western Washington, ball fields we can now find even without caffeine. It also had a nifty pocket for storing loose sheets of paper and handy six-inch ruler. One lucky boy, eh?

So last night as we were driving home from another baseball game (What? You though the season was over? Hah! As their tee shirts say, there is no off-season in baseball.), I asked him how the notebook was working out.

“Good,” he mutters from the back seat, then says, louder, “You left some stuff in it.”

“Oh?” I croak, trying to sound disinterested, realizing I sound alarmed. If he found stuff in that notebook, was it just more directions to more ball fields, or was it the start of some bit of writing I’d forgotten about? Had he read it? Was this why he was telling me about it? Was he reaching out to me?

After he got home from school today, I wandered down to his room. He was smashing something to bits on his TV screen using a wireless piece of plastic he held in his hand. They call this recreating.

“Hey, did you keep those pieces of paper or did you throw them away?”

“Threw them away.”

“Did you read them?”

“No.” He hasn’t looked away from the TV yet.

“Was it paragraphs of writing or just scribbles?”

“I don’t know.”

Do I push this or do I walk away? I sniffed the air. Literally. His almost six feet of armpits didn’t smell too bad. His room was in semi-decent order. Whatever it was on the TV screen was collapsing nicely.

I walked away.