It was a meme before we ever knew what a meme was. Come on, if you are of a certain age, you remember the commercial from 1989 (yep I looked it up). The Lifeline ad with the sweet old lady saying, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”. We’ve all made the joke in our times. Hell, I know I did. I was still in high school back then…it never would have occurred to me that one day that saying would be relevant to me. What happens when you’ve fallen…and your legs don’t work. Take a moment with me, I want to share with you what it’s like when that saying is no longer a joke, but your reality.
Put yourself in these shoes. Or bare feet as this case would entail. You’re alone in your home, ready to take a shower. You’re a paraplegic, so there is a process to this, but its a process you’ve done hundreds of times and its never been an issue. It’s just a shower. You’ve got a shower bench, grab bars, a chair that fits in your thin…forget thin…tiny bathroom. You’re fine. You roll awkwardly into the bathroom (there is no grace in these transfers), angle the chair at just the right diagonal facing to let you inch your butt to the edge of that with the corner of the shower bench a few inches away. You do have to go up a bit, so you put one fist on the shower bench and the other hand on sink ledge. It’s close enough to give you a real boost. With a three count you pop over in a transfer that would make any OT wince, but it works. It’s worked for years. And after all that…you’re still not in the shower.
You grab under your legs, swing around, and setting against the seat back…now finally…after about 5 minutes to just get in, you can shower. You do your normal routine…nothing special, except you make one mistake. You don’t rinse the soap under your butt quite enough. As you turn grab the shower gel sitting beside you on the bench in easy reach, that momentum alone does it. The slipping sound of skin on wet plastic and boom, before you can flail for a grab bar, your butt hits the stippled floor of the shower, the showerhead that was in your hand tumbles away, spraying water everywhere and you are left stunned for a moment. Soaked. Stuck. On the floor. Naked. What do you do?
Sounds simple right? Turn off the water, reach back and leverage yourself back up onto the shower chair. It used to be that easy in the early days, when your left leg still had some strength. And before the meds. Those meds that stop the spasticity in your legs that causes them to jump around randomly? Yes, those meds that also affected your muscle strength in your whole body. So that isn’t an option. What would you do?
You start by corralling the showerhead, turning it back into the shower and hoping it hasn’t soaked the floor outside. You can’t worry about that now…you have something more important to figure out. Where are your legs? Well of course, they are on the floor, but how are they twisted. Are your joints bending the way they are supposed. Ok that ankle looks like it’s straining a bit, lets fix that, woops…still all soapy as you flop back and hit the back of your head on the bench. Ignore that for now as there is no blood, you need to get these legs dealt with and it’s easiest if you cross them, even in the tight space. That takes some work, fighting the inevitable spastic jolt that runs through both, but finally you have some semblance of normal…as normal as being soaped up naked on the floor of a shower in an empty house can be. No point panicking, might as well finish your shower while you are here.
What? Why wouldn’t you? You have to rinse off, and you still have a ton of work to get out of the bathroom and to a place that you can actually get up off the floor…all of 10 feet away. Yes. 10 feet. So now that you are all rinsed off and shower done…what’s next? Oh right, you have to get out of the shower. Easy right? Sure it is! Well except for the door to the bathroom that opens inwards and rests parallel to the shower running halfway down its length. Blocking right where you are sitting. Of course, there is the transfer chair you wheeled in on, that is blocking that door. So, you reach around with your “monkey arms” and blindly push the chair out the bathroom door, hoping it doesn’t roll too far away, chances are you might still need it. Next you can finally close that door…which means you are in a closed bathroom, but we’ll get to that. Now…finally we can get out of the shower.
You need to think ahead though. Bare butt on tile is not a big problem. Outside the bathroom are 60-year-old hardwood floors with the original square head nails still in place. Splinters and a butt you can’t feel don’t make a good combination. So one towel goes onto the floor (good to soak any of that spilled water) before you start to lurch your way out of the shower stall. New issue? Six inches. Six inches is the height of the lip to that shower. Should be easy right? It would be except you are sitting with your legs crossed on a wet shower floor with nothing for leverage to boost over that six inches. So…you do it. Try not to let your right hand slip on the stippled wet shower floor, try not to catch your tender bits on that six inches…and for pete’s sake do NOT flop backwards into the toilet or sideways into the sink!
And you are there. It’s taken about 15 minutes, but you are out of the shower. Now…to get out of the bathroom! You have to turn around on that towel, reach up to open the door and then slide back to get the door open. Make sure you don’t lose that towel! Finally, you can get out of here. 10 feet. It’s just 10 feet to the bedroom and a way to get up on the bed. You can slide out, working those triceps as you butt scooch over the tile and onto the hardwood, the towel protecting your butt. The transfer chair, it’s right there! Good you can push it in front of you into the bedroom. So far so good but wait…why is the towel bunching up. Damn it, its caught on a nail…and you desperately try not to flop back as your legs spasm, sticking right out in front of you like they had they had hockey sticks strapped to them from ankle to hip. You can do this…just 5 more feet. You scooch a bit farther, pushing the chair before you. Multitasking! Finally…you are in. Now…how to get up on the bed?
Remember, there is nothing elegant in the flopping you are about to do. You have a bench at the base of the bed, just lower than the bed itself. It’s a middle height to start with and its full of your wife’s shoes…it’s not going to move. You grab the bed sheets first and use them to turn as best you can, trying to corral your legs into a semblance of a kneeling position, making sure your ankles are where they are supposed to be. You know you are already exhausted, but with a swearing shout you yank your upper body up, flopping forward until you are up, legs bent behind, half your body on the bed. Should be easy now right? Nope.
One more betrayal of your legs…as you are stuck. You can’t flex or brace from them and they are stuck in that kneeling position. So…you roll sideways, that bench just low enough that your butt rolls onto its faux leather surface. Did you know wet skin and faux leather really don’t slip and slide all that well? With one last heave…you are up. 10 feet. All that and 25 minutes for 10 feet.
And then you realize…your clothes are in the drawer on the other side of the room.
Oh well…you’ve fallen. And you got up. Trust yourself that the sense of accomplishment. It is well-earned. Now you just have to decide…do you tell your wife this happened? (or do you write a blog about it six months later?)
Thanks for indulging if you read this far. Something different that I just had an urge to get out.