Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fear of Walking

I’ve fallen four times since I’ve moved to Chicago.  It may be a factor of age, or, more likely, something to do with the fact that I didn’t walk much until I moved here.  In any event, I’ve taken four tumbles.

The first time I wasn’t watching where I was walking, stepped on a raised section of sidewalk and fell forward (I always fall forward for some reason); I caught myself with my arm which was the only damage: I couldn’t lift my arm above my head for a couple of months.  The second time I was walking to Sunday breakfast, stepped off the sidewalk onto a bricked area, which I saw, and for some unknown reason fell face forward.  My glasses were bend out of shape and there was a lot of blood—and I had a lovely shiner for some days.  The most notable thing about that fall was the man who came to my rescue; after making sure I hadn’t broken anything, other than my glasses, this total stranger went back to his apartment, got a damp towel, came back, cleaned my face, and sent me home with the towel.  I was too muddled to get his name; I thanked him, of course, but I would have loved to send him a nice gift; imagine doing all that for a total stranger?  I’m still touched by his concern and actions.  The third time I was walking with Roger on a perfectly smooth sidewalk and fell—again forward.  And again a bloody face, glasses bent totally out of shape, and my dignity damaged.  But only my dignity, and my glasses, were permanently damaged.  The fourth fall was a different story.

After a nasty bout with what was surely the flu, I developed some troubling symptoms of infection.  I called my doctor and his office advised to me to go to the emergency room immediately.  I go outside of my apartment building, use my iPhone to summon an Uber, and as I’m walking around the car to get in, I fall again.  And again I have no idea why I fell; the pavement was smooth.  This time I hit really hard, had a bloody nose, and there was massive bleeding everywhere.  The Uber driver came around to help as did a woman passing with her child; I think she’s the one who called an ambulance, although I’m not sure.  In any event I ended up in the ambulance and there I was, in the emergency room just as I had started out to get to.  A very expensive way to get there, I might add, although I’m still dealing with the insurance.

But I had a different reaction to this fall.  Whether it was the ambulance and the ER or just the accumulation of falls, I became afraid of walking.  Well, I live in Chicago without a car; I have to walk.  At first I limited my walking as much as I could.  I would catch a bus or train, even just to the next stop.  Anything to keep from having to walk too far.  And when I do walk I am constantly watching the sidewalk and pavement; I don’t want to trip over a slight incline in the pavement, or a small pothole.  As I walk I see nothing but the ground ahead of me.

Based on absolutely nothing, I have decided that I had developed an “old man’s shuffle.”  So in addition to watching carefully as I walk, I concentrate on raising my feet.  Not enough, I hope, to look like I’m wading through a Florida swamp, but enough so I don’t trip again over some minor change in the pathway.  It must be working, as I haven’t fallen again.  But walking is not fun any more.  I’m still counting on trains and buses as much as possible.  I’ve cut back on concerts and plays, at least those that involve too much walking (Chicago Shakespeare Theater is out for next season, for example).  

How will this end?  Me with a walker?!  No, not yet.  My friend Jodie suggested it’s time for a cane.  No, I’m not ready for that yet either.  So for now I'll just be careful, keep an eye on the sidewalk, and try not to look like I’m stepping over a gaggle of puppies.