Cardella: Please Help Me I’m Falling (with apologies to Skeeter Davis)

On Saturday night, April 9, my wife and I were walking along 20th Street. We had an 8 p.m. reservation at a restaurant only three blocks from our apartment. The streets were bustling with people. It’s a Cardella tradition that I make a dinner reservation every Saturday night. We like to try different restaurants, so our restaurant destination was a new place we’d never been. Usually, we have a driver take us back and forth. But in this case, we decided to walk because of the short distance.

We were about a half-block from our destination near the corner of 20th and Chestnut when the entire tenor of the night changed. I tripped. I was not dizzy or light-headed before I fell. Just hungry. So, what happened? What made me fall? Maybe it was the shoes I had decided to wear. Not the usual sneakers and jeans, but a pair of sporty wing-tips to go with the navy slacks I was wearing. Maybe it’s just that folks in their 80s just fall more often than younger folks do. Or it could have happened because my eyeglasses no longer fit correctly after I added hearing aids a couple of months ago. Or maybe because I was wearing a mask and my eyeglasses tended to fog up when I was doing so. Whatever the reason(s), one moment I was happy and looking forward to dining with my wife. The next moment, I was lying face-down on Chestnut Street. In a nanosecond, our night was altered due to my clumsiness.

I instinctively thrust both my arms forward to break my fall. Too late. The right side of my face smashed into the pavement. My eyeglasses flew off my face. Both lenses popped free of the eyeglasses. My hearing aids popped out. My vulnerability exposed. Just an old guy lying helpless in the street.

Before I had time to comprehend what was happening to me, I was scooped up by a young guy who gave up the basketball he had been dribbling as he passed me by so he could save me. My wife Fran saved his basketball. If the young man had not acted, I might’ve wound up with tire tracks on my back.

In a flash, a group of young passersby helped Fran prop me up against the wall of a corner store. My stuff had been gathered up. Several young women were suddenly by my side with a seemingly endless supply of paper napkins to dab at my bleeding wounds. They looked at me with a combination of compassion and horror. My lovely lady Fran was splashed with my blood. But incredibly, all seemed to be under control. Except me.

Two of the young adults in the group turned out to be a pharmacist and a doctor. I finally began to grasp my situation, never having lost consciousness. “Can we go back to our apartment?”, I asked. I heard one of the young professionals whisper to my wife, “Call 911.” I passively but reluctantly agreed. Soon, an ambulance arrived. All the good Samaritans had been thanked. The kid with the basketball was gone after pulling me out of traffic. He had never uttered a word. Just disappeared into the night. I was on my way to my second home – the Jefferson emergency room.

In moments, our night and who knew what else was altered due to my clumsiness. My bloody slacks were removed in the ambulance by a first responder who examined my injuries and asked me the date, the year and who was president. He took my blood pressure and apologized for my high reading. As if he were responsible for the circumstances I found myself in.

In minutes, I was situated in a holding area of the ER where I was examined by a number of folks in scrubs and asked the same questions about what year it was, etc. I was readied for a battery of X-rays, none of which revealed any broken bones. But the brain scan revealed the smallest area of bleeding nearly overlooked by the radiologist. So as a precaution, I was given what was later described as an anti-seizure medication. I decided upon release from the hospital not to take the medication for a full seven days and so informed the nurse.

Before my release (I was asked if I wanted to go home — and I answered “yes”), an occupational therapist walked me around the hallways seemingly to determine my fitness for surviving at home. In reality, he was mostly giving my wife instructions on the care she would be required to give me. Columnist’s note — If you’re not living with a devoted and tireless partner, you’re screwed.

It turns out that as someone on immunosuppressant drugs (I received a kidney transplant from my wife about 13 years ago), my platelet levels are low. Low platelet levels cause your skin to become tissue-thin. So, it’s a challenge to bind wounds without the bandages sticking to your skin. Something I was to subsequently find out in my geriatric specialist’s office a few days later, when the wounds had to be re-dressed.

Removal of the bandages felt like I was being flayed alive. It took a trauma nurse three hours to re-dress and re-bandage my wounds. The injuries themselves were largely superficial. Two bruised and skinned knees, one of which required two stitches. A severely sprained right arm (I’m left-handed). A few cuts and bruises on my right cheekbone, none of which required stitches. Somehow the facial cuts near my eye did no damage to the eye itself, except for some broken blood vessels that cleared up in a couple of days.

I arrived back home after the lengthy and arduous session in the doctor’s office, wearing my new bandages proudly. Unfortunately the first time I went to sit down to use the toilet, all of the bandages — and I mean all of the bandages – magically unraveled before my fanny hit the seat. As for the young man with the basketball who quite likely saved me from oncoming traffic, I hope he never misses a jump shot again.