falling man image 88.
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The rocky crags of the northern Negev present a daunting challenge to city dwellers accustomed to smoother passages. Scrambling and heaving, gripping protruding outcrops, balancing precariously on inadequate looking toeholds, sweating and panting, I arrived with a hard thump on a very unyielding surface. The rest of the group, agile as gazelles, waited for me politely.
Another outing found me crawling on hands and knees through a dark, narrow pebble-strewn passage somewhere in the Galilee, trying to keep up with the guide's hindquarters and keep my mind off the prospect of meeting any of the original occupiers of this area. Not, I am sure, Neanderthal man, rather more likely a snake or a vicious beetle. The end of this passage comes suddenly and as the leading figure vanishes, I find myself sliding - rather like Alice - to an unknown destination and landing on a stone slab in an undignified heap.
I did not fall in either of those, or other similar circumstances. Admittedly these adventures took place a very long time ago, but a reasonable person might assume that I do not easily fall down.
I am not a faller. Some of my friends fall about like snowflakes. It is never a surprise to see one of them limping or using a stick, or bandaged, or even being wheeled. They fall in the street, the supermarket, the schoolyard, at concerts - all places negotiated with perfect safety by thousands of other pedestrians.
The vulnerable people find the tiniest oil slick, the minutest flaw on the path, the one uneven tile in a thousand. One friend fell heavily in the bank and broke her leg. She hadn't even managed to reach the counter. It is well known that banks are reluctant to give out money, even the money that the clients own, but in this instance they were all horrified and rushed to give assistance. The bank claims "Your money is safe with us," but not, apparently, your legs.
Nothing of that sort came my way, not being a "faller."
My predilection, in a general way, was for bumping into things. Perhaps "bumper" would be a better description. I walk into doors that have mysteriously shut themselves since our last encounter, into sharp-ended tables that clutter my path, or protruding shelves that suddenly jump from the wall. I even bump into people. This is usually because walking in the streets, my limited gaze is upon the next step to be taken thus avoiding dropped branches, discarded toys and garments blown off washing lines.
And there is a curious reluctance of people in this area to lower the tone that grips them when encountering friends who have not heard the latest gossip. So intent are they, that the approach of a solitary pedestrian disturbs them no more than a passing fly. When gently buffeted by one such, they are astonished and make way easily enough, some going as far as to mutter "excuse me."
Having successfully bypassed these wonderful opportunities for falling, suddenly I fell - in my own house! From my own chair, onto my own carpet - a distance of 45 centimeters. And broke my arm.
For a while I sat on the floor in shock. Is this happening to me? I don't fall down. It's not my style. After a while, I realized that obviously I had fallen. "Sprained my wrist" I told myself. "Nothing serious," I kept repeating while all the various instructions and admonitions issued over the past 80 years or so to be followed in emergency float through my head.
My own protestation that having managed so many years without falling down, I was not likely to acquire the habit now, was met with well-worn clich s such as "there's always a first time."
Was this the occasion that would prove everybody right?
Carefully following instructions, I pressed the appropriate button and almost at once the emergency service sprang into action. I found myself still muttering about a sprained wrist, a wrist that transformed my arm into an unpleasant swollen lump in purple and yellow, throbbing with what seemed like a noisy engine.
At first, the emergency service leaves me breathless with admiration. In spite of my insistence on a simple sprain, I am swiftly examined by the doctor on call, then whisked off to the state-of-the-art medical facilities in the impressive compound that replaced the collection of Nissen huts that served the sick when we arrived in Nahariya 50 years ago.
I was whisked from one expert to another. Questioned, examined, injected, x-rayed, comforted and finally persuaded to accept that indeed my arm was broken. I was fitted with a large amount of plaster of Paris, a sling around my neck, and a promise of complete restoration in no time at all. I received countless good wishes and encouragement from everyone who had dealt with my misfortune, and a few others such as porters and nurses going off-duty.
Walking, I find, needs some adjustment. Weighted down on one side by the plaster, my head tends to work as a counterbalance so that I lurch rather than step confidently forward. Keeping the appendage "as high as the heart," as recommended by the experts, requires a degree of concentration and thought that could be employed more fruitfully elsewhere. Still, my condition brings me a lot of new friends and sympathizers. Most have had similar experiences, or their nearest and dearest have.
All of which demonstrates how trivial my particular inconvenience has been. Many comments assure me of my good luck not to have broken my pelvis - "most old people do when they fall" - or my thigh, or an elbow or any other of the 206 bones in the body in danger of breaking due to reckless movements such as mine.
"People of our age should not go climbing on chairs, you know," advises one contemporary. "Looking for dishes, were you, or changing a light bulb?" He shakes his head. "Leave it to the kids now," and leaves before I can emphasize that far from standing on chairs, I was actually sitting quietly in the chair and surely that is an innocent and non-provocative occupation.
A chair, from its beginnings in a forest or plastics factory, has no other destiny but to be sat on. A chair - whether a throne or a milking stool - cannot deny that its destiny is to be sat on. Why my own chair should have rebelled without warning and thrown me onto the floor remains a mystery.
All in all, I must confess that it has been a learning experience. For example, it is possible to enter trousers by laying them flat on the bed and wiggling into them. Some garments and sleeves may be pulled into place with the teeth. This will not endear you to dentists, but times are hard and one cannot please everybody. Large buttons with appropriate holders may be adjusted; tiny ones must be ignored.
Advice comes from friends, acquaintances and complete strangers: "You must be more careful at your age." Questions flow: "What on earth were you doing?" and "How did you manage that?"
I'm tempted to answer that it was difficult but I persevered and got it right in the end.
One such comment comes from a retired orthopedic surgeon met at the delicatessen counter (this is a small town). He closely examines the new appendance and questions me minutely about the procedure. A small group of shoppers gathers around to listen and add their own comments. Finally he beams full approval and says he couldn't have done it better himself. He leaves, then turns back and adds, "Try the stuffed vine leaves, they are very good."
The eternally long time finally draws to an end, and armed with a formidable saw and a pair of garden shears, the doctor releases me from the cement sleeve with its original drawings made by people under three bearing black marker pens.
Revealed in the light, my arm is gray and wrinkled. Compared with the uninjured one, it does not seem as if it will become part of a matching pair again. But hope springs eternal, as we all know.
Leaving the clinic, I rush home, change my shoes and tie my own laces. Of such small pleasures is composed contentment!