Last Sunday I slipped and tumbled 5-6 steps. Just like Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, I was in bad shape and I was afraid that I couldn’t get back on my feet. For two or three days, I didn’t know if I had broken any bones and if so, where – in my spine, my ribs or my hip. It hurt to stand, turn, bend over, cough, talk, laugh, sit, lie, or do any movement or activity. I started to empathize with all the people who came to see me with pain during all my years of treatment. And for this reason, strange as it may seem, injuries can be humiliating.
During the fall, everything had clearly slowed down for me. It reminded me of a famous scene from the movie, X-Men Apocalypse where Quicksilver – the super-fast superhero of the Marvel Universe – rescues everyone at the X-mansion in half a second, moving at 12 times the speed of sound. Before anyone could cry out for help, he had already saved them. And here’s why I felt that way.
Three things happened in that split second. First, my whole life flashed before my eyes (And I’m a dreamer, so that means a lot of things). Second, using my medical training and experience in treating pain for over two decades, I began to map (like the deductive Sherlock Holmes) which bones – hip, spine, ankle, shin , shoulder, skull, etc. break if I slip all the way down. I also considered all sorts of possible injuries I could sustain – to the brain, kidneys, liver, lungs, etc. Third, I was fully aware of what I had to do, or at least attempt to do, to prevent this from happening.
Sure, Quicksilver and Sherlock Holmes are fictional characters, but we all experience them from time to time. And superpower is not just about moving and thinking at incredible speeds, but about learning from such occurrences.
So now let me tell you about the events leading up to my downfall, which for fun I’ll call the “great downfall”. Although this happened in the morning, the first movement in this chain of events took place the night before. Just before heading to the bedroom, I took off my shoes and went to the bedroom which had my slippers. The lights were off in that room and I didn’t turn them on while putting on my slippers. When I was wearing my slippers they looked a little odd to me, but I didn’t bother to check why as they were in their usual place.
The next morning as I walked up the stairs to the terrace, my slippers were much more slippery than before. And so I tread carefully. Our housekeeper was washing the terrace and there was soapy water everywhere. This made me even more cautious. As I descended, I clung to the railing and took my first step with extreme caution. It didn’t work, as I missed my grip on the railing and stairs and fell. Fortunately, I cushioned my fall by managing to take back the railing.
My first reaction was to look around to see if anyone had caught me in my awkward moment. Since no one had, my ego wasn’t hurt, but my back was. It was painful to get up. Each breath was like agony. Consumed by self-pity, I asked myself the question that most people ask themselves in these circumstances: Why me? And then I pushed that thought away, because my mind reminded me that it could have been so much worse: I thought of my cousin’s husband who recently had a stroke and was in intensive care.
This then led me down a rabbit hole of interesting thoughts: I thought about what Austrian neurologist and psychologist Victor Frankl took away from his time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. “Everything can be taken away from a man except one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude under any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own path.”
This change in mindset, something I reinforce with people I see with pain, has helped me calm down and analyze the situation more logically. I no longer felt sorry for myself. I clinically assessed the situation. My middle and lower back were too sensitive to the touch. There was a sharp, stabbing pain that radiated down my leg. There was a good chance that I had fractured some vertebral bones in my spine. After this assessment, I realized that I didn’t need to add the burden of stress to an already delicate situation. I regained control of my breathing and relaxed my muscles. I was following what Frankl mentioned in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning: The Classic Homage to Holocaust Hope“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
The first two days were horrible. Sleep was a nightmare. But soon things started to feel better. I moved as much as I could without increasing the pain. If I had followed the usual advice given after such a fall, i.e. to be still in bed without moving, my muscles would have contracted even more (especially since it is now winter) and it would have taken me even longer to get back to normal. life.
I didn’t know when I would be able to resume my clinical work. But I took the risk and went to the clinic four days after my fall. A day in my life as a doctor consists of listening very carefully to patients for about 20-30 minutes and examining them, which involves bending and lifting. This is then followed by a 20-30 minute consultation where I discuss their problem with them and help them heal. Before this injury, I had not realized how difficult my job was.
Luckily, one of the patients was a 13-year-old girl with lower back pain and pain radiating down both of her legs. She struggled to support her own weight and climb the four steps leading to the clinic. Like everyone else, I forgot my own pain by helping him move and examining him. It made me realize how powerful our minds can be, easily overpowering what we assume we can’t do when we’re hurt. Seeing this patient confirmed to me that my pain was much less than I claimed to be.
Now for the big reveal of the “great fall” story. It wasn’t the soapy water on the floor (which I was used to). It all came back to me not turning on the light in the room where my slippers were, and the immediate feeling that I had something was wrong. Going back to that moment and realizing that I felt uncomfortable in those slippers but carried on with my night was my own undoing. I was wearing my son’s slippers, not mine. And I’m not used to it at all. Also, as I was about to take the first step, I thought I heard someone calling me from behind. In my confidence, I turned to look back, but put my foot forward without looking.
And through this experience, I remember two fundamental mistakes I had made in my life, which led me to be overconfident. One of them I learned 17 years ago, but not well enough, and the other I was forced to learn after my fall.
The first was in 2005, when I was visiting my friend in Bangalore. He asked me to bring him something from the other room. Upon entering, I fell and fell face down. Hearing the thud, my friend rushed over. I took her outstretched hand and stood up. I said shyly, “and you’re supposed to be the one who can’t see.” Suhas lost his sight completely at the age of seven. But like Marvel’s masked vigilante Daredevil, if you don’t know he’s completely blind, you just can’t tell. I asked him why he had never tripped on that step in the room. “I never take anything for granted,” he said. He would make himself very aware of his surroundings, not once hesitating to ask for help. And of course, his hearing becomes an important sense to fall back on.
It was two days after the fall that I read this research paper in Psychological Science that talked about how sound can alter our visual perception. My friend who lost his sight as a child never took his hearing for granted. But me, with clear vision (when I wear my glasses), I might have taken too much for granted.
So, I learned my lesson. I literally and figuratively take one step at a time, keeping my eyes, ears and all other senses fully aware, grateful for the gift of life.
Keep smiling and smiling.
Dr. Rajat Chauhan is the author of MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Peak Health and La Ultra: cOuch to 5, 11 & 22 kms in 100 days
He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.
Opinions expressed are personal