GET A GRIP
Just as the sciatica begins to let up, I take a night fall in the bathroom. I should have installed a grab bar when I first moved in 20 years ago, but — hey — I was only 62, technically not old enough to retire. I only thought about falling in the shower, but put a stool in there so I could sit down to wash my feet.
This is the third fall like this. The problem is not the impact — though I end up with odd bruises, scrapes, and so on, but rather the indignation, the humiliation, and the self-rebuke. If I were more careful about matching butt to pot, I wouldn’t fall. If I were more diligent about the cat’s belief that a bathroom is where you can do anything, the floor would not be so unspeakable to fall on.
Most depictions of aging alone in place will not tell you these things because most old ladies are middle-class and only have one cat, plus a helper lady who comes in for half-days. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” becomes more than an advertiser meme when you’d in a cold climate, you’ve fallen on your back like a beetle and are not wearing much.
But now comes my real crime. Neglect of my body means I don’t even have enough muscle to turn on my side, much less get up. I must squirm like a worm back to bedside and hope I can hang onto something to pull myself up. It takes an hour, all three times. There are no shortcuts. I pass the phone on my route but if you think I’m going to call some neighborhood do-gooder to see me on the floor half-naked, you don’t know much about old ladies. Anyway, houses here shift all the time and the lock no longer fits the receiving plate. I compensate by barring the door with an old mop handle. How could a savior get past that?
The trick is to be chilled, humiliated, and slightly hurt around the edges, but not lose one’s cool. Every muscle was a boiled noodle so I was thinking about how muscles work. They need to get rid of lactic acid, right, and then acquire sugar for power. Molecular stuff. I pulled a comforter off the bed and wadded up my discarded sweatpants for a pillow. I was thinking about conversation with an electrician earlier, about that mountain climber whose arm got wedged between boulders, trapping him hopelessly. He only had a small knife so it took him days to cut his arm off and get free. Luckily, that would not be necessary for me, but I thought a nap might be a good idea. Escapism can work.
It worked, I generated enough recovery to get into bed and immediately had to pee. In a while I avoided flooding the bed but finally left a wavering trail to where I sat — very carefully.
This morning the sciatica has eased up greatly, but the collection of small damages is almost worse. My bloody elbow. Twisted muscles I didn’t know I had.
I’m now checking the internet for grab bars to buy. It turns out to be pretty complicated. There are essays. Studs, drywall backing, etc. But I’d better do it.