Confession time............Today the day that I knew would eventually come has finally arrived. This evening as I was coming home from my Tuesday night class, I climbed the very shallow two steps that lead to my front door (admittedly these steps don't have a railing). My right, slowly degenerating leg, simply gave out. There was no warning and I went flying. Literally, onto the steps and into the large bushes in front of the house before landing in the slow. I had fallen and could not get up. Or roll over.
Now it may be that I might have been more stable with even a railing next to those steps, who knows. I may have been able to use the railing to help myself get up as well, instead of my son. Again, who knows. All in all, in most senses this is a mainly one level one house (there is a basement but I don't need to use it) with the exception of these steps and the steps to the garage (where there is a door jamb to hold onto). There are no steps as such to the back patio, but getting from the back patio to the front of the house requires those other two methods.
When we chose this house I knew a ramp might be in our future, just as I knew my going into the basement was not. I just thought that future was further off. And it may well be in the long run. This has not happened before. While the degeneration is an active, moving thing, I spend most of my exercise time not doing aerobics but weight exercises and physical therapy to build muscle around the leg. I walk a full five thousand steps as many days as I can, on land or sea. So it's not like I am walking around with a constant limp or that I don't move. Still, this was a warning to me. And when it comes to health and safety, I believe in listening to those warnings and planning ahead when possible.
This means, I guess, that I have come to that time in my life where I need to take that extra look around, do a safety check, and make sure I feel comfortable- both in terms of issues like falling and physical safety from intrusion or other issues, frankly. This is especially true since I spend most of my time in and around this house alone. The fact that my son was home at the same time, as well as alert and responsive was pure luck, and my immediate neighbors are all very active coming and going folks-who may or may not be home.
Whether an omen or luck (I guess it depends) I had recently been doing some research for future blog ideas, and ended up with this safety checklist in my inbox. Since I had already been making some notes, I decided to go with the flow. Let me say that this was just one list, and there are many out there, some of which I have checked out from time to time.
It surprised me to find out that in one study almost 86 percent of us have done nothing to prepare our homes for the future. On the other hand, I was unsurprised to find that falls are the primary cause of injuries and that most of them happen in the the bathroom or bedroom. Every checklist I looked at suggested a room by room check, and then double checking annually thereafter. While I have not done that, I did go over the things that I thought were most import for this person in this house.
There were some precautions on this list that I didn't feel I needed, some that I will need later and some that were probably unrelated to middle age but just general safety issues. I am not, for example, ready for an alert device by any means. And I am not in need of a buddy system as such as I have family who I see or speak to at some point on a daily basis. My closest friend in Texas has an arrangement where she calls a close friend from our church in the morning, and said friend calls her at an agreed upon time in the evening. If I had no family checking in on me as it was those years I was living completely alone, I would absolutely do that kind of deal.
My home has the basic every day safety things which I double check on twice a year: Pretty much all our outlets our grounded. We have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and small extinguisher (we don't have a gas stove so truthfully this is as much for the grill as anything else). Our home is basically well lit. We don't have alot of throw rugs. I don't do ladders, or snow removal, although I've been known to rake a leaf now and then.
When it comes to physical precautions, I have been taking some, but plan to add more to the list. Because of my general leg creakiness, I have no choice but to stand slowly until I have gotten my bearings and move slowly until the kinks are out. I haven't worn high heels in years, and wear pretty yet conformable and supportive flats. If I have an area of danger, it is that I love to wear fuzzy slipper socks alone around the house, and have gone ice skating briefly a couple times. Because I cannot crouch, I'm rarely in danger of picking up something too heavy! And I am not liable to turn my water temperature down any time soon, hot showerer that I am.
Because no one is perfect and because I sometimes tend to avoid reality, there are things I need to do. I recently purchased one of those walkers on wheels with a seat. It was not as useful as I thought, except for in those places where I cannot stand. It's an issue of confusion for me that with this degeneration I can walk most days for at least thirty minutes, but standing in one place such as at a concert of church, causes unbelievable pain). However, I have decided that it's time to get one of those traditional walkers. You know, the ones with the tennis balls on front? I'll buy it kicking and screaming, no doubt. Once bought, it may stay in the bedroom and out of use for longer than I care to admit. But I'll have it for when I need it, and my safety is more important than a little embarrassment about a couple tennis balls. And, as every middle aged woman in the world knows, in a pinch I can keep it next to the bed and let it help me get to the bathroom faster-a serious conundrum for us women, let me tell you.
As to other issues, I've recently put a night light in the master bath. That's as much about not having those bright circles on your eyelids after turning the light on to look for something at night as it is about falling down, truth be told. I am in the process of getting estimates on both putting in a railing (now) and a ramp (later?) as part of my spring budget and to do list. Because I prefer to have things handy rather than pulling them out, my heavy things like mixers are already out and require no lifting.
And finally, there is one issue that my checklist did not address. Pets and retirement health. Especially as it pertains to falls, and especially small dogs. I am not liable to fall and get twisted up in my coon hound. On a bad day, send the crazy powder puff across the street in my direction and I'm liable to end up in the middle of the road. I remember well when my father-in-law tripped over his bulldog puppy and fortunately landed on that padded part of his body. This does not mean that I would ever give up my canine family, on the contrary. I also have something on safety of women living alone in the works and almost every expert recommends a dog-small enough that you can control, but large enough to be a presence. But leashes and training and size and temperament all affect our safety as well.
Only you can decide how to make your home safer (and healthier). Hopefully my little nudge towards the earth this evening is something that won't happen again. But if it does, I'll be more ready. Maybe. I hope.