What I Learned From Falling Down The Stairs.

What I Learned from Falling Down the Stairs.
By Patti Wood MA, CSP
The Gold Standard of Body Language Experts

I wake up with a stomach ache the day after thanksgiving. I lie in bed thinking I shouldn’t have eaten that third turkey sandwich. My stomach burns. It’s the middle of the night and the house is dark. I definitely need an antacid and need to go downstairs to get one. I get up out of bed. I consider turning on the lights, but leave them off knowing that once I turn on lights I won’t be able to go back to sleep. The ambient light from the city shinning through the windows should be enough. I take two steps down the stairs I trip. I tumble over head first and feel a horrible pain and fall the rest of the way down the stairs and land sprawled half way into the kitchen.

The pain is excruciating I start to pass out I push to stay conscious. My dog Bo appears in front of me and for the first time without a doggie treat inducement he goes into a perfect sit. I am amused but I don’t think the dog whisper uses the falling down the stairs means “Sit!” technique. I try to get up, but a wave of pain and nausea hits me again and I fight to stay conscious. Oh my god I think, “I have fallen and I can’t get UP!” I crawl on my knees and one elbow towards the phone. Moving inch by inch I reach it. My right hand is hanging twisted and limp like a rag doll and dial 911 with my left finger. The phone rings and rings, but nobody answers. I am afraid I will pass out before anyone picks up. Then I remember that my neighbor is a doctor. My frequent casseroles delivered to his bachelor pad prompted him to say if I ever needed him to call. I needed him, but I don’t know his number. I am close to the kitchen door I manage to reach up and open it and crawl outside and across the lawn to his house.

This is the beginning of my falling down the stairs adventure. An adventure, because like an explorer climbing Mt Everest learns so much about himself, about life, about what makes living important from climbing up a mountain I learned so much about my self, about life, about what makes living important from falling down the stairs.

Oddly enough the multiple trips to the emergency room, the doctor visits the, the scare that I would loose the use of my hand, the physical pain where not the source of my learning. I had certainly been to emergency rooms before, sat in doctors offices and even suffered more intense pain and longer bouts of both physical and physiological pain in my life. And I know many people would see my tumble as a mere bump in life, really not much of anything at all compared other injuries and life threatening illness.

But learning takes place when you are ready to learn and this adventure, small as it was, took place after I had spent two years of the most intensive traveling in my 25 year career. And the accidents resultant injuries caused a forced stillness and a lack of ability to work at my frantic pace. The injuries from the accident where minor, a broken wrist, torn ligaments and tendons, in both wrists, and left ankle, a bruised hip and irritated vertebra in my neck. But they made it painfully difficult to even take care of myself in the same way. So this adventure was my learning time.

It seems odd that not being able to use one hand and having limited use of the other could make everything so hard. Put those minor injuries meant I had to learn to open my dog’s dinner cans with my left elbow and chin, not eat anything frozen or packaged in plastic that required a knife or scissors to open or that I could not open with my teeth. Until, my left hand got strong enough not eats any food that had to be cut up to eat. Every thing to time. Slow focused effort and something I didn’t know I had enormous patience. Instead of talking on the phone to family or friend while fixing dinner, unloading the dishwasher and having part of mind occupied with my massive list of to do’s I could only cook. Slowly opening a drawer jiggle by jiggle with on hand. Opening the fridge carefully and painfully. Eating with a fork or spoon with my left hand each bite was an awkward and frustrating chore.

When I finally could get on the computer it was to type very very slowly and very very badly with one finger. Just answering emails took hours and the Emails became so cryptic that I am sure clients wished for secret decoder rings to decipher them. I showered slowly with one arm held up in a plastic baggie. To dry my hair. I set the dryer on the toilet and sat on the floor aiming my head towards it. I couldn’t hold a book and turn the pages. It even e hurt to change the channels on TV channel changer so I watched a single show all the way through! By the end of the day to effort to do simple little things left me bathed in sweat. But there was a gift in this.

Everything slowed down and became a meditation. After three weeks of doing things slowly one at a time, with out being able to drive, only leaving the house for speaking engagements, I felt calmer and more centered and strangely happier than I have been in a long time. This was my first lesson.

When life is frantic and faced paced. Resist the urge to do many things quickly. Do one thing at time and do it slowly and thoughtfully.

This not only gave me yoga serenity, but I lost 12 pounds!

You noticed that I said I left the house for speaking engagements. It may seem contrary that I was in all that pain and had all those limitations and I was out speaking. If you’re a speaker, or indeed a workaholic working under such circumstances probably doesn’t surprise you. Speakers have a, “The show must go on!” mentality.” Like every speaker out there I have spoken under horrible circumstances. I knew I could deal with that part of me that wanted to cry, take a pain pill, lie down and have a pity party. In fact I knew that some of the most incredible, heart wide open, speaking experience’s of my career occurred when I was suffering internally, but the audience didn’t know it and we created an incredible connection. But in these weeks, I was wrapped in a cast and sling slightly bent over and limping. My injury was visible. Would visible problems make the audience respond in ways I didn’t want? My worries started when my friends said, “Oh, your audiences will be so forgiving of your speaking; you can get away with anything.” And “Oh, lucky you, the audience will be so good to you because they will feel sorry for you.” I knew that it was not the audience’s job to give me a break. And that is not what I wanted. I was there to serve them. To be the strong expert resource and energizing force in the room. But would they let me do that? Would they listen to me and give me respect? I went off to each speech my little blonde smiling, arm in a cast, limping self, and waited to see what happened. Not only didn’t it matter to them, but they expected me to be in charge. Heck, they still let me carry my stuff, put my materials on the walls and move tables and chairs! And by the way I could have used some help moving the tables with one hand! I learned my second lesson.

People will treat you like a victim only if you choose to act like a victim.

As I started to get out in the world more. Going to the grocery store and the bank some people would notice me and ask if I needed help or just help me, other people would act like I was invisible or worse yet, a slow moving nuisance. I thought how many times I have seen people slam the door in the face of my elderly mother or pushed past my mother in an isle or restaurant and she moved awkwardly with her walker. As I recovered some of my friends where so very kind. One took me to the store, Another gave me a ride home from a speech, one brought over Chinese, and another brought bags of comfort food, another came over to open jars and empty the trash and one, went above and beyond taking me to the emergency room at 3 in the morning. Other friends where busy with their lives and some busy with their own pain. Each time someone was kind, stranger or friend, I asked myself how many times I had been kind to others. I felt so good remembering, because I knew now how good getting kindness felt. But each time someone was rude or didn’t take the time to care, I asked myself how many times I had been rude or had been to busy with my pain to show a little care and kindness. As I remembered I was ashamed. I learned a third lesson.

Notice the opportunity for a little act of kindness. No matter how busy or troubled your life is– What you give out good or bad will be returned to you.

I had a neighbor come over to cut the sleeves out of some sweatshirts for me so I had something to wear the night after the accident. (Yes the accident also gave me the gift f a new and stylish sweat shift wardrobe.) My neighbor, started to talk to me about how she knew that small acts of kindness mattered. They had mattered to her when other people helped her through her husband’s slow and painful long term illness and death. She said, that’s a long story, and I, arm propped up on pillows dog sitting on my feet, said, “I have all the time in the world. She sat down and told me her story and we hugged and cried when she was through. It was a wonderfully close and intimate moment. And I was so happy she could share her story with me.
As time passed I had so many people share their accident stories with me so my people tell about their recovery from illness. I had learned at other times in my life that your pain can make others open up to you. It happened in college when my dad died and the year my best friend was dieing. I knew that when you are at your most vulnerable people feel safe making themselves vulnerable to you. But this time I listened differently. I was not so caught up in my pain that I couldn’t hear their need. This time I revealed in it. I saw the gift that vulnerability gives you. I reveled in the opportunity to see to through the protective bravado to someone’s very heart. This was my favorite lesson.

When you are vulnerable people have the chance to open their hearts to you. Enjoy the view. Enjoy the gift of intimacy that pain can bring into your life.

Little by little I am gaining back my abilities. The first I the day I could put on my favorite post earrings after weeks of naked ears I called my sister and said, “I am now fully accessorized! Just before I got in the car to drive for the first time I called to thank my friend who had installed the knob on the steering wheel so I could drive with one hand. And I smiled the whole traffic filled ride to the store. When the cast came off and my arms where strong enough to hold a drier and a brush I looked in the mirror glad to finally have a good hair day At physical therapy last week I actually yelled, “Hurray!” when I could bend down my forefinger down and make it touch my thumb in an “OK’ sign. Recently, when my little ten year God child Morgan saw me struggle with my diner and asked, "Do you want me to cut that up for you?" I laughed with joy, grateful I could now hold a knife. And this week I can type two handed for type for short periods of time. I am so grateful to be able to write and communicate these thoughts to you. The last lesson:

Be grateful for the smallest things you can do. Be grateful for all your capabilities.

I have a feeling that very few people will take the time to read this whole article. There is so much to do and so little time….But I am grateful to those of you who did. I had a little adventure and it was a good one and I am so very grateful for it.
Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional
The Body Language Expert
Web- http://www.PattiWood.net
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