I slipped in the shower. Is this not one of the worst nightmares? Naked and incapacitated, waiting to be found by whoever gets home first. A coworker of mine fell off a ladder in her bathroom, broke her leg, and was trapped on the floor by the ladder itself. It took her hours to get past it and crawl to a phone. Having an accident at home is no joke. I was lucky today.
I slipped, but I didn’t fall. Our tub has a (very dated) tile surround, and it’s built up a couple of inches higher than the bathtub. It’s nearly knee-high, and you have to step over it to climb out. I had one foot out, reaching for my towel, when my other foot slipped. I started falling backward, as though someone had shouted FUS RO DAH! I was frightened.
I will take this moment to share that a relative of mine died by slipping in the shower when I was in middle school. She was kind, generous, beautiful, and unlucky.
She wasn’t much older than I am now.
I flailed. I grabbed the shower curtain with my left hand and somehow caught myself on the wall with my right.
Not only did I not fall – I didn’t even tear the shower curtain. I got my sliding foot back under me. I remained upright, startled, a bit shaken, with this odd little scrape on my calf here from the tiles.
What happened? My super powers activated, otherwise known as muscles. I have a strong core from all these years of running and backpacking. The muscles in my back and midriff held me upright and helped me catch my balance. I’m no longer obese, and my scrawny girl arms were strong enough to support my weight where I reached out. If this same accident had happened to me 15 or 20 years ago, the outcome might have been different. In fact, I slipped on the stairs and broke my tailbone when I was heavy, aged 24. Now I wonder if I could have avoided it.
One of my resolutions this year is to quit beating myself up on walls and furniture. I have some attention deficit issues, and I tend to move quickly while distracted, resulting in a continuous stream of scrapes and bruises. A few weeks ago, I tripped and fell on our fire pit, which was fortunately no longer hot. I’m trying to build my situational awareness and tune in more to my surroundings, and it’s not something that comes naturally to me. The world inside my head is much more interesting. The physical world outside is like an obstacle course, only with less mud and open flame.
The year I started running, I slipped in the mud on my favorite trail. I skated about a foot and a half, caught my balance, and went on running. I thought what a paradox it was, that I wouldn’t have caught my balance if I hadn’t built this new fitness level, yet I wouldn’t have fallen at all if I had stayed home on the couch. I can hear the clicking of Past Self rolling her eyes right now. Any form of exercise sounded so repugnant to me back then. I wouldn’t have seen any potential benefits to being fit that might be useful during my ordinary routine.
The truth is that I’m probably at about the halfway point of my life. I turned 40 last summer. It’s a watershed. Either I can continue to push myself and see how strong I can get for how many years, or I can diminish and go into my couch. Not everyone has a burning desire to complete an ultramarathon or do a Spartan Race like I do. The thing is, though, that there’s no such thing as maintenance. At this point, I’m fighting entropy. I have to keep moving just to maintain my ability to do things like carry grocery bags or change lightbulbs. Now that lightbulbs last so much longer than they did in my childhood, changing a lightbulb may turn out to be a once-a-decade fitness challenge.
I participated in Ride Your Bike to Work Day for a couple of years in my early 30s. One of those mornings, I stopped at a refreshment booth, and there was a lovely silver fox. She had to be at least 60. She had visible muscle in her thighs and calves, and her posture was much better than mine. I never spoke to her or learned her name, but her image burned into my memory. YES, I thought. THAT’S FOR ME. I had no way to know what she looked like at my age, but that didn’t matter. I figured that if I kept riding my bike (which I didn’t), then eventually I’d stand as straight as this lady. Years later, when I started participating in foot races, I saw many older men and women who were also fitter, stronger, and faster than me. It is humbling to be passed going up a hill by someone who is older than your own grandmother, and wearing a t-shirt to document it.
What falling in the shower has to teach is that we can’t insulate ourselves. Staying home and making a nest on the couch will not protect us from bumps and bruises. In the decade between 2000 and 2009, 28 people died running marathons. In comparison, 20,000 a year die in accidents in the home. Just like I’m safer in an airplane than I am in an automobile, I feel safer during a mud run than I am in my own neighborhood, or my own house. In a race, trained emergency responders and hundreds of witnesses are standing by. At home, in my own bathroom, I have to hope I’m conscious and able to reach my phone.
I was lucky this morning. The bad kind of luck. I happened to stand in just the wrong position with just the right amount of soap and water in the tub. The part about how I arrested my fall using muscle strength? That had nothing whatsoever to do with luck. That had to do with years of activity, focus, planning, determination, and strenuous activity. I’ve come away with a negligible mark on my skin and a renewed commitment to work on my balance, agility, and strength. Probably I should also work on mindfulness, such as reminding myself to buy a bath mat.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.