The Fall Guy

Lessons learned on the way down

With any new job, there’s a learning curve, and that’s certainly the case here. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the Syracuse New Times’ annual fall issue was coming up, so I was caught flat-footed when my editor asked me to write for it. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed obvious: Who better than me to write about the second leading cause of accidental death worldwide and the reason for 9 million domestic emergency department visits per year— many of them by me personally?

Due to space limitations, I can’t ruminate on every fall I’ve experienced, so I am sharing only the most spectacular ones, the ones bursting with drama and color (generally a deep purple, often with touches of magenta and scarlet).

Helping me analyze my pattern of personal peril will be Dr. Dale Avers, a geriatric physical therapist and expert on falling at Upstate Medical University. Between us, the hope is that you will learn from my missteps and avoid meeting me in the ER. Let’s review some of my Greatest Hits:

The Flip-Flop Flop This fall occurred just last month off a low wooden porch. I was wearing flip-flops, itself an indicator of mental impairment. As best I can tell, my right foot slid off the sole of the sandal, causing my surgically repaired ankle to buckle. I then lurched onto my left leg, the one with a recently installed artificial knee. The new knee hyperextended, and I sunk into a way-past-90-degrees insta-squat, the position assumed by Olympic deadlifters and users of pit latrines. Still not done, I pitched face-first into a bed of woodchips. There I prayed for death. The entire sequence took maybe a second. Had it been filmed, it would have become an instant YouTube sensation.

• Gerald Ford Doofus Index (on a scale of 1-10): 9.3 • Kramer Lesson for Humanity: Morality-wise, manufacturers and distributors of flip-flops rank beneath cigarette companies and the Bashar al-Assad regime.

At least everyone knows the latter two are dangerous. Communities should broaden their gun buy-back programs to include sandals. It would save more lives.

• What Dr. Avers says: Don’t blame the sandals, necessarily. Ankles are key to balance recovery, and I have a history

of weak ankles. When an ankle fails, the hips kick in to stop a fall, causing you to roll to the other side. Improve ankle strength and range of motion to get quicker, more effective balance recovery.

Father’s Day Slip ’n’ Slide This painful crash, perhaps abetted by alcohol, left me contemplating suing my own brother-in-law, Chris. I stopped short due to a legal technicality: The accident was entirely my fault.

Here’s what happened: We were at Chris’ house for Father’s Day. The guests had congregated on a screened-in porch. I excused myself to deal with a matter of great import. (If you must know, Bill Gates needed my advice on his anti-malaria campaign in Africa.) When I returned—clutching a fresh Heineken—my foot landed on the metal threshold anchoring the screen door. Physics did the rest. Suddenly it was if I’d been launched on skis. My right ankle rolled. I smashed into the table, knocking over glasses of wine and appetizers. As I writhed on the floor in agony, I was doused in so much red wine that there was initial concern—or at least interest—by some family members that I’d been taken out by a sniper. The resulting double fracture of my right ankle eventually led to surgery (see reference above). Due to my own personal courage and the compassion fatigue of my family, Father’s Day festivities continued without interruption.

• Gerald Ford Doofus Index: 9.6 • Kramer Lesson for Humanity: Be extra careful in doorways. If you must downhill ski, use proper equipment. . . such as snow.

• What Dr. Avers says: Forget the litigation. A strong core helps stop falls, especially when you start to slide. “You can’t have really good balance without a strong core.”

Sock-It-To-Me The downhill effect can also be achieved in stocking feet. In this mishap I did nothing more risky than wake up and head to the kitchen for a drink of water. My socks took over from there, launching me down a half-dozen slick wood stairs. At the time, I was the only one home. I remember lying on the floor in a daze and listening to the joyful birdsong outside. A famous paradox posed by ancient philosophers came to mind: If a man falls in his vacation house and no one’s there to hear it, will the stain left by his decomposing body require his surviving spouse to have the hardwood floors resurfaced? Happily, I wasn’t seriously hurt, but I’m now much more attentive when going down stairs. That has only put me at more risk (see next section).

• Gerald Ford Doofus Index: 8.1 • Kramer Lesson for Humanity: You’re never too young for a home elevator.

• What Dr. Avers says: Weak core + weak ankles + socks + stairs = trouble.

Triple Klutz This was really three separate falls bundled into a Catastrophic System Failure. Two Fridays ago, I was on my bike, pedaling along on a beautiful afternoon. I was thinking about a lunch meeting I’d just had with a potential sponsor for my sketch comedy show, Sketchy Mall People. I was crossing East Genesee Street at Jamesville Road. I was in the crosswalk. One small issue: The Don’t Walk indicator was flashing. I cleared the first lane no problem, and the second. But then, just as I passed in front of the left-turn lane, those cars got a green arrow. The first car hit me. I was sent flying over the handlebars. At Upstate, I checked out fine in the trauma bay, suffering only bruised ribs and a lacerated ego. But there was more carnage ahead. Around midnight, I woke up to get ice for my ribs and gingerly made my way down the stairs. Inexplicably, my left foot slid out from under me.

I went down in a heap of anguish and disbelief. I’d wrenched my replacement knee again. What caused the fall was unclear at the time. I had a thought: Is it possible I’m just accident prone?

To test the theory, I fell in the same spot two days later. That’s when I realized that a section of flooring at the foot of the stairs is incredibly slippery, like ice. It’s probably some kind of waxy buildup. Either that or someone in my home is trying to kill me, but, really, what are the chances of that?

Happy Anniversary, Honey. You’re the best!

• Gerald Ford Doofus Scale: 9.3 • Kramer Lesson For Humanity: The world is a bad and dangerous place. Stay in bed.

• What Dr. Avers says: The bike crash falls into the category of “risk of living.”

When we’re active, things happen, but ultimately it’s important to stay active because fit people regain their balance—and avoid falling—better than inactive people. As for the slippery-floor issue, cycling as my primary form of exercise has left my legs strong in some ways but weak in others. The collapsing knee suggests more comprehensive leg strengthening might be necessary.

“There are going to be some kinds of people who don’t fall on that kind of floor and some people who do. A therapist can help you find out why you fell and not your wife.”

At that, Dr. Avers practically begged to take me on as a patient and research project, so guess what? At age 51, I’m going to be under the care of a geriatric physical therapist. So much for trying to connect with the young, hip New Times readers. Basically, I’m already dead.

That concludes my contribution to the Syracuse New Times’ fall issue. Be safe everyone, and remember: Most accidents can be avoided. You just have to extra pay to attention a what to doing you are.

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