The family would probably tell you I’ve always been ‘a bit accident-prone’. Ski injuries mostly, on and off the snow.
Any number of bruises on account of entirely unscheduled cartwheels across the piste. The ripped tendon in a right-hand finger thanks to a collision with a speeding Frenchman. A brace of stitches on one wrist when my companion’s ski binding removed itself from his ski on a bumpy narrow track, propelling him across my own planks, and sending his newly-released-into-the-wild ski (followed by his entire body weight) powering into me. And the trio of stitches on the other hand, for an injury sustained on an Aviemore dance floor before we’d even hit the slopes (don’t ask).
Oh, and the day I misjudged a turn and skied right off a cliff, backwards, taking the bungee-roped ‘fencing’ with me, before sliding at speed, head first towards a tree, somehow, miraculously, stopping short.
But then there was the time my twenty-odd-year old self fell off her brand new bicycle, smacking her foot against the kerb, before somehow struggling back in the saddle to get herself home, only finally coming to a halt by crashing into the dustbins. The resulting clatter and ‘clumsy stupidity’ of which energised my mother so entirely, she completely dismissed my tearful claim I may have broken my foot and actually refused to take me to hospital. Turned out I had.
Or the time I nearly secateured my finger right off whilst pruning an over-leafy bush. ‘Can you take me to hospital?’ I asked my cousin. ‘I think I might have chopped my finger off’, not a bit melodramatically (there was blood everywhere). She did and watched, fascinated, as the nurse cleaned and steri-stripped the flapping tip of my finger back on. Me, I couldn’t look. She works for the ‘Blood’ now. I like to think I played a part in that journey.
She came with me again, the day I got a chicken bone stuck. Not my best move. My brother turned up later. ‘What’ve you done now?’ he asked, like it was just another in a long line of incidents. Which was rich coming from someone who spent most of his rugby ‘career’ in A&E having various bits of him stitched or plastered back in place.
And I know it’s not just me. We’ve all had them. Looking back over the near misses and what-ifs, I wonder how any of us make it to adulthood, let alone maturity (and living, working and playing in the world of the mountains, I know many don’t).
But, somewhere along the way, something shifts. There comes a time when taking a tumble – ‘having a fall’ – takes on a different tone. Whether that’s just in my head, I don’t know. But when you’re suddenly deeply rattled, in shock and shot through with pain, it’s hard not to second-guess what vision of yourself you see in the eyes of others. For this must surely be ‘an old person’, in possession of neither marbles nor balance. Or so it seemed last weekend.
We’d scattered most of Father Gremlin’s ashes at the far end of Filey Brigg, when it happened: ‘the Fall’.
It was an operation which had required us to work with the tide. Better to chase it out than risk mishap and being hurried off the Brigg by the incoming flow. We made our way as far as we could along the beach at tide turn, then patiently watched the water retreat, laying bare the now badly eroded cement ‘path’. Then, Mother Gremlin safely settled with folding chair and binoculars, the four of us slithered and wobbled across the concrete, boulders and seaweed, stepping carefully lest the algae catch us out.
And, mission accomplished, we were almost back at the beach, when my right foot slid towards my left without warning and I was down. How I managed not to break either my hip, wrist, shoulder or elbow – or a life-changing combination of all four – I have no idea. Perhaps, as I’ve often said when these things happen, I had an angel at each corner. Perhaps I am, indeed, made of rubber. Who knows? But by God it hurt. And then I passed out. Fortunately, the tide was still retreating.
Somehow, the Gremlin and his brother got me upright and back to the beach. Offers of help from others close by were politely declined but thank you to them for caring. Back at the hotel, we became ‘the family who had the fall’.
This, we later thought, was just the scenario we hadn’t wanted for Mother Gremlin, the possible need for Coastguard rescue, against time and tide, should she slip, never thinking for one moment it would be me who took the tumble.
It’s always the what-ifs which frighten most, isn’t it? Remind us how fine the line we tread through life, how delicate the thread. What if that tree had been further up the slope? What if a car had been coming up the road behind me? What if I’d secateured right through my finger? What if I’d banged my head, broken my hip? Best not to dwell. I was lucky. Can’t do anything about the age – the clock ticks ever onwards – but marbles, bones and balance remain intact. And for that I’m grateful.
But what if I’d asked Alexa, as the Government and the NHS now encourage us to do? My ‘what-if’ misery would have been complete.
‘The natural ageing process,’ she would have told me, ‘means that older people have an increased risk of having a fall’.
She’d have rattled on about balance and muscle weakness, poor vision and blood pressure and warned against wet floors and clutter, dim lights, unsecured carpets and rushing to the toilet and threatened me with incipient osteoporosis. No mention of avoiding algaed breakwaters.
Precious little comfort from a wider Google search either, with the possible conditions which might have contributed to my fall onto an aging wrist including Parkinson’s, spinal stenosis, stroke, intra-cerebral haemorrhage, multiple sclerosis, Beriberi, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, Neurofibromatosis 2, Neuroblastoma, Kuru (a neurological disease contracted through cannibalism of the dead during funeral rites. What?!) and brain cancer.
As it was, I did consult the NHS website, concerned about the pain on movement of my wrist and the nature of my fall, so I know Alexa would have advised me that ‘it can be hard to tell the difference between a minor break and a sprain. It’s best to assume it’s a fracture until it has been checked by a doctor or nurse’.
So off I went, panicked into imagining what might be the consequences if I didn’t get it attended to, a trip which left me feeling a bit of a fraud. Bruised, battered and definitely showing signs of inflammation, yes, but nothing that a short regime of ice packs, anti-inflammatories and rest won’t sort out. I should have had the confidence to know that (and trusted my in-house casualty carer).
Doctor Alexa, we’re told will reduce GP visits but all she really does is kick the can a little further up the road, either delaying our visit to the point we’re now really sick, or sending us there when we don’t need to be by feeding our ‘what-if’ fears.
Left to her, my miserable descent into ‘sick old personhood’ complete, I’d quite possibly have given in, give up, stopped living and spent the next forty years sat in a chair awaiting death by boredom.
But as we’ve just booked a three-week ski trip to Canada next year, I have no intention of giving up just yet. I’ll be taking those angels along though. And the arnica. Just in case.