It is normal to tell a story about falls focusing on the negative side. It is not normal to talk about the decline in old age as a positive thing that opens up the possibility for a more substantial quality of life and for the courage and zest for life. Nevertheless, it is what I want to write about here.
I have met and spoken with many people who have reported a fall episode that was so strong that life after the fall was quite different than it had been before. For some it had a negative influence on their lives: They had stopped going out on their own, put restrictions for themselves and their ordinary chores at home, limited their whereabouts and became more isolated, sad and in a poorer physical shape, so they in the end had the feeling that they could do less tasks themselves. Others told me about, how they "woke" up after the fall and actually started to live more daring and intense than before the fall and started to do things, they hadn't dared doing for a long time: Like go swimming in the sea, go for a walk in the woods, start dancing, have lunch in a restaurant with others, sign up for a lecture and resume contact with friends and family.
The people I have talked to about what I call a crucial fall, describe the fall as a meeting with death. Overall, one can say, that the stories about crucial falls are about how some deal with loss of autonomy and the young body, meeting the aging body and the fact that life is coming to an end.
I have chosen to present a positive incident with a crucial fall through a conversation I have had with Gundhild, a 86-year old woman. Gundhild’s story is about meeting death and how she feels the failure of forces from her body and how she turns herself over to God. She tells about how she consciously is letting herself go in order to wake up in paradise, but subsequently she is waking up to a life and a body, that she no longer wants. With help from a psychologist Gundhild manages, through an self-development process, to reverse the loss of the strong and 'young' body for recognition of the weakened aging body and begins to rise again and enjoy life more intensely than she had done for a long time.
The conversation has been written into a poem that I have chosen to call: "Falling into the light", because Gundhild used this sentence herself. The poem is constructed from a 70 minutes long conversation. The conversation is analyzed in topics and read and reread. In the poem, I have tried to enroll her crucial case experience in the following subjects: "the fall incident", "facing death" and "fall as development opportunity". Other topics of conversation are excluded from this representation. As far as possible I have tried to reproduce her words throughout the text however, to make the text understandable, they are not always reproduced verbatim. The poem is made a few years after the interview therefore Gundhild has not been able to read it herself. She has given me oral and written consent that I can use the interview in my research, as long as she remains anonymous. The idea is to provide an understanding of fall incidents through the poem that is different than the stories we usually read about in the literature and thus be better to help people with fall problems.
Falling into the light
So I stood there and froze: solid and stiff as a statue
With legs chiseled out of stone, they would not move
My hands clung hard to the banister and slid
'Move your feet', I screamed silently, while the body gave way
I fell backwards down the steps like a big heavy bag:
Full of flesh, blood and bones, which at any time could break.
When I woke up, I saw the light and a face with a halo behind.
I looked at Him and smiled: 'finally here', I thought.
He tugged hard at me, said my name and gently laid
One bag of frozen peas on my battered body's head.
It was not Him from heaven, and his angels around me.
But the center director and his helpers who got me back.
Why didn't He bring me? Why should I wake up?
I let myself fall into a deep hole. Would not more, just die.
It took me six months to climb up the hole again.
Using conversations, and my will (to life), I came back.
Now I know (accept) the aging body's presence.
Every day I feel the stiff parts in the body: the tired legs,
The index finger, which will not fully insert into the handle of the cup.
But I do the best I can. Now I'm ready, but in a different way.
I see Gundhild’s story as an example of how a fall in old age articulates the meeting with the body's physical decline in old age and acceptance / non-acceptance of this. My argument is that fall prevention today should not only be about crossing the body's physical limits through physical training, but also be about exceeding the psychological limits by supporting the self-development process in old age.
About the Author
Lotte Evron is a PhD.-student at the Institute for Communication, Aalborg University. She works with falls prevention from the patient perspective mainly drawing on sociological and humanistic theories.
This article was originally published on Lotte's blog and was very kindly translated by Lotte herself for profane.co, here is the link to the original post: http://sygeplejerskelotte.wordpress.com
Professor Dawn Skelton has very kindly contributed some resources for additional reading that support the ideas presented in this article: