Fear of Falling
The ground was littered with fallen leaves, sodden from the late rain. The bare branches of the trees touched the low clouds and the smell of damp and decay was in the air. We were on our usual Sunday walk on the rail trail near our home. The railroad bed, carved out of the steep wooded hillside, rose high on our right and fell precipitously on our left. We’d walked further than is our custom and as we were the only people on this part of the trail, I decided to answer the call of nature before trekking back to the car.
I squatted at the edge of the decline and immediately tumbled headfirst down the steep embankment. Unable to stop my fall, I rolled log-like down the hill, over and over and over, gaining momentum and screaming in terror. Would I tumble the entire way down the hill and into the river below or would I smack into a tree or large rock? Was I about to die? I continued to tumble and scream as these thought flashed through my disordered brain.
Twenty-five or thirty feet down the embankment I finally came to rest at the base of a tree. Lying on my back, I stared at a revolving patch of sky rimmed by trees and was aware of a sharp stinging on my left wrist. Robert called from above, where he worked to control our agitated dog, “Are you all right?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m awfully dizzy.” He admonished me to take my time, get up slowly, and assess the damage.
Getting to my feet, I pulled up my pants and leaned heavily against the tree. The world had ceased to rotate and I took several deep breaths. Aside from the small gash on my wrist, I seemed relatively intact. With one more deep breath, I began to make my way slowly up the hill. Angling to the right, I planted each foot carefully, testing to make certain the ground was solid before placing my full weight down. Step by step, grabbing onto the trunks of saplings and the branches of stout bushes, I worked my way up. My husband encouraged each step and took my hand for the final pull onto level ground, while my frantic dog strained at the leash.
We were a good two miles away from the car, but I managed the walk without difficulty. I was shaken, but whole and unharmed and frankly amazed to be so. At home I bandaged my cut wrist and rubbed Arnica onto a large bruise on my right thigh and another on my left side. Finally, I laid down to rest and it was then that the full horror of the fall began to register — my helplessness against the relentless pull of gravity, the fear of injury, the realization that life can change irrevocably in an instant. My heart raced. I trembled and shook. I began to cry. Robert sat with me and, speaking softly, led me through a calming meditation.
The next morning, I went to Jazzercise class. It’s thanks to regular exercise and strength training that I managed to come through that spectacular fall without
injury. As we age, many of us develop a fear of falling. Not surprisingly, as statistics show that one out of three adults who suffer a broken hip die within twelve months. The catch is that fear of falling actually increases the risk of falls. The more we curb our activities, the weaker our muscles and bones and the less stable our balance.
If you ever need a reason to put on that exercise video or get to your next aerobics class, picture me tumbling down that steep wooded hillside.
That should get you moving.