It happened to me about three weeks ago. I was on the golf course. It had rained the day before, but now the sun was shining, with temperatures in the near-perfect high 70s. About an hour into the round I climbed up onto the tee box, and without even thinking about it, stepped onto a wet railroad tie. My feet shot out from under me. Boom! Next thing I knew I was on the ground, lying on my left side, my head swimming and leg screaming pain.
I lay there for a few moments, shaken.
My golfing partners came over and hovered and asked if I was okay. I nodded, and said yes, just give me a moment.
After two or three minutes I labored to my feet. I was still a little fuzzy. So I told my friends I would sit out the hole. We were riding carts. So I just cruised in my cart down the next fairway, gathering my wits.
I was okay. My leg hurt, but I could tell nothing was broken, nothing strained. No bleeding, not that I could tell.
By the next tee I felt able to resume play, and so I did. I was a little sore for the rest of the round — about two more hours — but I didn’t feel that I was being seriously hampered. After the game I got in the car and drove home. No problem . . . until I pulled into my garage and tried to get out of the car. My left thigh had swollen up, and I had trouble bending the knee. I had to swivel around and gingerly angle my leg out of the door. When I stood up, my leg was killing me.
I hobbled upstairs, took a shower and examined the damage. It didn’t look too bad. It was swelling up, but my leg seemed intact. After the shower I sat down in front of the TV, put some ice on my leg, and just relaxed the rest of the day.
In the morning it looked looked like I had a football attached to my thigh.
That’s how swollen it was. And the black-and-blue was starting to show up. Also, as I was getting dressed, I felt a twinge in my left shoulder.
I limped around for the next few days, watching my leg get uglier and uglier. The black-and-blue mark went from my hip down my thigh and extended along the back of my knee. It looked worse than ever. But actually, it was feeling a bit better. I thought about going to the doctor, just to make sure, but I decided, really, it wasn’t that bad.
Slowly, my leg began to heal. I skipped golf the following week, but then played the week after — being very careful around the railroad ties. Now, today, my leg is virtually back to normal. I still feel a twinge in my shoulder, but that’s slowly going away as well.
I’m not I telling you this story just to get your sympathy. I’m telling it as a warning.
Falls are a leading cause of injury in older adults. The older we get the more likely we are to fall, and the longer it takes to heal after an injury. Falls can also be extremely serious, even life-threatening. If you break something and are laid up for a time, it’s extremely difficult to work your way back — if you come back at all.
According to the CDC, one out of five falls causes serious injury like a broken bone or head injury. Each year over 3 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls.
So please, be careful. I’m sure you know what to do. But if you’re like me, that doesn’t mean you actually do it. So . . . make sure your stairs are well-lit. Keep a light on in the house at night. Get rid of throw rugs and other tripping hazards. Keep hallways and other walkways free of cables and wires.
Be extra careful of wet tiles in bathrooms and kitchens. Wipe up spills right away. Install grab bars and railings. Do not store things in high cabinets, and whatever you do, do not get on a ladder or step stool.
Wear shoes that give you some support, and clothes that won’t drag on the floor or catch on something. Be extra cautious if you’re taking any medications. Consider doing some strength exercises to improve your balance.
Are there other tripping or falling hazards we should know about? There probably are, but all I’ve got left to say is: Watch out for those wet, slippery railroad ties!