The following is an abridged version of a post that first appeared on this blog in 2009.
Some years ago, I had a fall in our back garden. Our back garden has got a lot of concrete in it, not just the patio stones but concrete path, steps, and flower bed walls. The safest place to fall in our back garden is in a flower bed. I did not do this.
At the time, the low capstones that line the concrete path were loose, particularly the one nearest the house.
I stumbled, and the toe of my foot caught against the first capstone. This was the one which had no hold whatsoever, which resulted in not just me tripping over, but being catapulted up the path. I was flung forward, and reaching out my hand to stop myself, my right arm slammed into a capstone on the other side. This capstone was not loose. It is a testament to the momentum of the fall that I knocked it out of place.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re in the midst of something – and despite the speed of which it happens, you think oh, no, because you know the outcome will not be good, that it will interrupt life, cause other people hassle and yourself pain? Well, I remember that feeling as I went down.
I felt my jeans – and my knees – rip against the coarse stone, skidding as I fell. I felt the jolt of pain in my arm. And I felt the overwhelming nausea of the shock of the fall. Winded, I could not initially move. What I felt mainly, in that moment, was fury at myself for not being more careful. It took a supreme effort of willpower to turn myself so I was facing the other way, battling against the urge to throw up. From there, I whimpered for help. I must have sounded like a miserable cat.
When Andy had found me and started clearing up the bits outside, I limped into the kitchen to deal with what seemed the most immediate problem – mopping up the blood on my knees. The fact that I was having to support my right arm against my chest was something I ignored at the time. I was in shock, shaky and frustratingly incoherent.
Somehow I must have hobbled upstairs, because I have a clear memory of sitting on the bathroom floor, dabbing ineffectually at my knees with my arm still clutched against me. When Andy discovered where I’d got to, the thing he homed in was the arm. It turned out I couldn’t clench my fist or put any pressure on it without agony – so off we went to A & E.
I was x-rayed but they could find no break, though they felt it was warranted due to the degree of pain I was experiencing (I was almost disbelieving – how could it hurt so much and have no break?!!). They surmised I had badly bruised the bone itself and sent me home with painkillers and a sling. That night, and for several afterwards, I could only lie on my back with my arm draped helplessly across my stomach – any effort to straighten it made me howl in pain.
And the knees. Ugh. What happened a few nights’ running was this. I would lie, on my back, while they throbbed, and would eventually, amazingly, drop off to sleep. When I woke up, and pushed myself up with my good arm (not easy), the knees would bend and – sorry for those who are squeamish – literally rip open again. It was horrible.
In the end, we went out to a pharmacy to ask advice – the outcome of which was that I had to keep the wounds moist at all times, otherwise scabs would form and tear open, as I had been experiencing. Yuk – too much information, right? But useful advice.
I think Andy had stayed in the supermarket (where we went to the pharmacy) to pick something up and I decided to go back to the car – and I ended up standing at the side of the ‘road’ in the car park, waiting to cross. My knees were stiff and I could only hobble, not walk. My right arm was strapped against me. And I was suddenly terrified.
Because it wasn’t just about the physical injury, it was about the wider effect. I knew, without even thinking about it directly, that I could not move fast if I was required to, and that I did not have my arm to support me. I felt out of balance and unsure, and I had to cross the road.
And then it happened. I looked to my right, and saw a frail, elderly lady attempting the same feat as I was trying to make. She was bent over a stick, and very wobbly on her feet. And a wave of empathy rolled across me.
This is what it’s like for you, all the time. It’s not just that you can’t walk fast, or that everything aches with pain. It’s the vulnerability that comes over you when you can’t trust your body to react in the way it used to react.
Right now – right then, I felt like I was wearing different shoes. Her shoes.
And so often the picture of that lady will flicker across my mind. Whenever I see someone struggling to walk or clinging onto a support, I remember. I remember wearing different shoes. And that same wave of empathy flows through me, along with the knowledge that my pair of shoes were only temporary while I healed up, but hers were there for the rest of her life.
And so I am always reminded, when behind someone walking slowly, or someone struggling to get on the bus, or wherever I see those ‘shoes’. And I have a glimmer of understanding – and the patience that comes with it.
Because for a short time, I wore different shoes.
Don’t judge a man – or woman – until you have walked a mile in his shoes…