After the Fall

My friend Suzanne told me she has a woman friend here in San Miguel de Allende who’s keeping a Fall Log. Funny, I thought. But then, like most jokes, it’s also close to the not-so-funny truth. People – especially older people, and older women in particular – fall a lot here. There’s even a jokey name for this exclusive club: “The Fallen Women of San Miguel.”

You see, some of the things that make this charming, old, colonial city in the central mountains of Mexico so charming are the same things that make it somewhat treacherous for getting around on foot: the hilly terrain; the narrow, cobblestone streets; and the uneven, slender (and sometimes slippery) old stone sidewalks. Most visitors and all residents are aware of these pitfalls and dress their feet accordingly. Sturdy walking shoes are de rigueur. But spills still happen.

A taxi coming down Aldama, one of the most photographed streets in San Miguel, with the iconic Parroquia church in the background and the cobblestones in the foreground

In the three years I’ve lived here, I’ve been exceptionally careful about how and where I walk, not necessarily reducing my New York City pace, but always keeping my eyes on the path ahead of me. All I need, I’ve often said to myself, if not to friends, is a broken leg! Admiring the exquisite scenery in San Miguel is only safely done at a stand-still.

Still, this week – on New Year’s Day, no less — I fell. Not outside, which would have been a first for me, but inside my little apartment. In my bathroom.

After my fall, I learned a lot of things, and now that I’m on strong and effective pain medication and swaddled in what Mexicans refer to as a medical faja (girdle) lumbosacral, I can happily share what I’ve learned and what I’ve gained from this experience.

One of the many things I learned is that the bathroom (and not the kitchen, as many would guess — I guess because more people use bathrooms than kitchens) is the most dangerous room in the home. According to an article by Nicholas Bakalar in the New York Times last year, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that about 235,000 people over the age of fifteen visit emergency rooms each year because of injuries they suffered in the bathroom.

The vast majority of injuries in the bathroom occur because of slips and falls, normally while getting into or out of the shower or bath. And most of these injured people are older women.

In my case, I wasn’t entering or exiting the shower. Oh, no. I was working on one of my ambitious little New Year’s fix-it projects, as though I were my old, nothing-stops-me self of thirty-three or forty-three, instead of my current cautious self of seventy-three. I climbed up onto a counter three feet off the bathroom floor, and, hammer in one hand and a big nail in the other, proceeded to hammer the nail into a wooden beam near the ceiling, with a view to hanging something from it.

And then I slipped – backward — falling three feet onto the bathroom’s tiled floor, flat on my back, breaking the fall somewhat with my left arm, smacking my head.

In less than a second, my brain zipped through a list of crucial questions: What just happened? How did it happen? Did I break a leg or a hip? Did I break my arm? Did I fracture my spine? Will I be able to walk again? Can I move? Can I bear this pain?

I screamed. But, this being winter, my doors and windows were closed. And, besides, my apartment is on the rooftop, away from most of the others in this apartment complex. No one could hear me.

So I yelled at myself: Get a grip! It’ll be OK! Just get yourself up! Put yourself to bed…

Longer story shortened considerably: Two days later I walked, slowly and gingerly, to the nearest consultorio medico (government-subsidized, walk-in-off-the-street-and-wait-your-turn clinic, manned by newly minted M.D.s) and asked the sweet, young, teddy-bear-like doctor (whom I would fall in love with if I were fifty years younger), Erick, (in Spanish) what I should do: Go to the hospital? Get x-rays done of my back (which was in the process of killing me)? Stay in bed until it’s “all better”? Continue to walk around as if nothing was broken?

Dr. Erick assured me that if I was able to walk to the consultorio, my back wasn’t broken. (Whew!) He prescribed pain med’s, including a patch to adhere to my lower back, and sent me for x-rays, which indeed revealed problemas – chronic issues, such as scoliosis, and degeneration of the lower vertebrae — but nothing due specifically to the fall. Just exacerbated by it. As I understood his explanation (he banged the knuckles of his two big fists together), I no longer have any cushions between those bones. My shock-absorbers are shot.

So back to my main points worth sharing and the lessons I learned after this fall:

If you’re going to fall, it seems to me, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, may be one of the best and most affordable places in the world to do so. I’ve just calculated the total costs involved in my New Year’s Day experience – including two visits to Dr. Erick at the consultorio medico, three prescriptions filled at the government-subsidized farmacia, the radiografias (x-rays), taxis to and from the x-ray clinic, plus the wonderful faja (lower-back-supporting girdle) I’m now wearing that seems to be making all the difference – and it comes to the equivalent of just $127.85 U.S. dollars. Most Americans I know will find this hard to believe.

Hard to believe, too, is the kindness of people here. When I reached out for help, my friend Helaine came right over. When I needed to take taxis to and from the x-ray clinic, and I explained to the drivers, “Me caí y me lastimé mi espalda y tengo mucho dolor” (I fell and hurt my back and have a lot of pain), they went out of their way to drive slowly over the cobblestone streets and the many topes (speed bumps), then rushed around to open my door for me and lift me gently out of the cab when we reached our destination. They must get lots of experience, I figured, aiding all The Fallen Women of San Miguel.

(I once saw an old woman stumble and fall while crossing a cobblestone street here, and instantly several young and able-bodied Mexican men came running from different directions to help her up. In this culture, it appears, men are raised to come to the aid of even old damsels in distress.)

Yesterday afternoon, when I was shopping for fresh fruit at the mercado, the tiny, white-haired Mexican woman who waited on me climbed up on a wooden crate to reach for the ripe papaya I’d requested. Worried, I held my hand by her back to prevent her from falling backward. Then I showed her my faja under my shirt, told her my story, and she told me her own, of a fall she took two years ago, in which she broke two ribs. As I was about to leave, she popped an orange into my bag as a free gift.

Strangely, this experience has brought me closer to the people on the ground here, and I deeply appreciate that. I’m finding, too, that I no longer (or, at least for the moment, can’t) walk at my old NYC pace. I’m walking like a Mexican now – more like a saunter than a foot race. Why race? I’m asking myself. I am here now.

Most of all — and this is my biggest takeaway — I’m grateful that I didn’t break my back, or my skull, or a hip or leg or arm or anything. This story could have been so much worse. Instead, it’s something of a miracle I’m really okay. (So please don’t worry about me!)

I told Dr. Erick he’s “my angel.” I think he thinks I’m kidding.

30 thoughts on “After the Fall”

  1. Bonnie,
    You were unbelievably lucky!! It could have had a very bad outcome. No more climbing! As much as I have had a hard time asking for help, I do so now when I need it. However, accidents do happen even if we are being careful. It’s hard living alone now. I often think who would find me if I were to have a bad fall inside my home?!
    Take care. A safe, healthy and happy 2019 to you!
    xo Pam

    1. You’re SO right, Pam. No more climbing for me! What was I thinking??? I must take full responsibility for this accident and accept the fact that the bod just can’t do what it used to. And, yes, you’re right about the luck. I feel extremely grateful that I didn’t break anything. Hope YOU and your family are doing well. — BB

    1. Yes, Barb dear, I really feel fortunate. I tried to tough it out — the Annie Oakley in me thought of it as getting back up on the horse — but I couldn’t have gotten through it without the angels (as Helaine lists them in her comment) that came to my aid.

  2. Yes, your angels were certainly on red alert. Also, it seems that a gift in all of this is perhaps a greater intimacy with people – doctors, taxi cab drivers, old(er) women selling fruit, and friends.

  3. Bonnie I’m glad you were not a “broken woman of SM”!
    I’m enjoying my California visit. See you in May!

  4. Lo siento, I’m glad you are on the mend. I have a masters degree in falling. It seems I take a tumble every couple of months. You might have to wait a bit before going on that Sunday hiking group.

    1. Thanks, Ed! Yes, I think I’ll have to shelve a few things for a while, such as folk dance classes and hiking group. Vamos a ver! — Hope you’re enjoying the beach and those glorious sunsets.

  5. I am certainly glad you did not hurt yourself seriously. Take it from someone a bit older than you who has lived here a very long time. Buy yourself a medium size ladder, because it is really hard to resist the temptation of climbing on something inappropriate when you just have to hang something. Good luck and heal quickly.

  6. So glad you are healing, and, most important, didn’t break anything! I pause now every time I climb a ladder, and remind myself to slow down and pay attention. Your friend Judith is right, a ladder beats the hell out of climbing on counters!

  7. Lovely story, BB. Carelessness + luck + pluck + gov’t-supported healthcare is what we could have here if we didn’t want to win the arms race and reward the 1% etc. Do you know if SMA has a really good go-to computer diagnostician, repair guy and consultant in English? My guy here in Taos, Lex Lyford, is all three and very warmly intelligent, would like to come to SMA for the months of Jan.thru March. He asked me if i’d ask around.
    Thanks! and again, sorry to have missed this opportunity to come down and see you (and the latest murals).

    1. Sorry you can’t make it to SMA, Steve. And sorry I can’t be of any help re computer diagnosticians. I’m such a non-techie! But maybe Donna can ask around while she’s here. Best wishes filling your class at UNM.

  8. Glad you are OK. My experience inducting me into the Sisterhood of Fallen Women was tripping on my own stairs. Stairs I’ve climbed a million times, before the event and after. Fractured my arm. That made osteoporosis a real thing! Now I have a metal rod in my arm which occasionally hurts, just to remind me I’m more ‘ripe’ than I used to be. Welcome to the Sisterhood.

  9. Dear Bon,

    I was so nervous reading this because I could see where it was going. As someone who has become unsteady, I identify with your walking strategies. I never take a step that isn’t navigated when I’m outside. That’s why my few falls have been at home, but they’ve been doozies. I’m relieved that yours was one you could walk away from, though painfully.

    Please promise to be just as careful at home as you are outside.


  10. I appreciate you telling of your vulnerability. Your post hit home with me but I never thought of creating a club for those of us who have taken tumbles. I’ve uped my exercising and had a few hand-rails put in place to make the house a bit safer. I don’t climb up on things anymore. I guess it’s just a learning process to do with getting a bit older. Anyways, thanks for your timely piece.

    1. Thank YOU, Carol, for sharing this. Yes, you’re so right; it IS a learning process, isn’t it, as well as a matter of accepting our new limitations with grace (and hand rails)!

  11. So sorry to hear of your fall! Good grief, thank goodness you are healing. I could write a very long comment about back pain since my two falls in 2017, but there is a gel that can be purchased over the counter, Voltaren, which is like a miracle to relieve pain. The orthopedic surgeon in Houston prescribed it because you need a prescription in the US. I did not get it in the US as it was $119USD, here it is $10USD! Don’t buy a ladder – find a handyman. Have him come once a month or however often you need someone to fix those things. It is cheaper then medical care. Good luck in your recovery. I’ve been using a cane now for over a year. It definitely slows your pace……..still falling though! Take care.

    1. Dear Babs — What a gift your suggestion of the OTC med Voltaren is! I think all of us “Fallen Women of SMA” should put it on our shopping lists! (I’ve just put it on mine.) The young couple who are caretakers of this apartment complex have been enormously helpful to me. He is a handyman and now my go-to guy for all the projects I might otherwise be tempted to do myself. — Take care! — BB

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