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Once More, With Feeling
April 16th, 2010

“Once more, with feeling.”

That’s what I wanted to say to the guy. 

It was Wednesday night.  I had just thrown a chicken into the oven to roast and had to pop out to Whole Foods to pick up ingredients for my dad’s birthday dinner the following night.  I had less than an hour to drive to Whole Foods, find the things I needed, and return home in time to take the chicken out of the oven so that GAP wouldn’t have to be entrusted with determining whether or not the chicken was done.  So I was in a hurry. 

I pulled into the parking lot and briskly walked toward the door.  As I stepped up onto the curb I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention.  The toe of my shoe scuffed the corner of the curb.  I thought, “I’m going to stumble a little.  This is going to be embarrassing.”  That’s when slow motion kicked in.  The angle of my torso shifted downward and didn’t come back up.  My purse fell from my shoulder.  My hair flew into my face.  I was about halfway to the ground when I realized this wasn’t a stumble.  I was going all the way down. 

Palm.  Palm.  Knee.  Shin. Hip.  Gale on the ground. 

I sat still for a fraction of a moment.  Damage assessment: scuffs, but no bleeding.  And then, for what reason I don’t know, I looked around.  I saw a guy walking into the store who had clearly watched me bite it on the sidewalk.  With his cell phone pressed against his ear he kept walking.  He was going to try to avoid me!  I gave him a pleading look.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I was hoping he would come to my aid.  (When did I develop a Rapunzel complex?)  Instead, in a tone that can only be described as obligatory he said, “Uh.  Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” was the only response I could muster.

“Let’s try that again, shall we?  Would it kill you to feign concern for a woman who just wiped out on a public sidewalk?” was what actually first sprang to mind.  (Actually, my first thought was somewhat coarser.  This unspoken thought only formed after I collected my ladylike sensibilities.)

There I was, feeling foolish and clumsy.  Feeling flustered and a little scared.  And feeling a bit mad at myself for doing something so stupid.  I watch IEP fall down dozens of times each day.  But babies have more padding and a shorter distance to fall.  For an adult (who’s not playing beach volleyball) it’s very unnerving.  And for me, the most overwhelming part about it was loneliness of the whole affair.

Cell phone guy, with his I-can’t-be-bothered-with-your-pavement-wipe-out attitude, was isolating.  I was on my own, and his cool body language made that abundantly clear.  He had better places to be and better people to talk to.  I was a momentary inconvenience in his evening.  And in a moment of need that’s a pretty hurtful vibe to get.

I walked into the store and started meandering among the produce when the tears came.  Not many.  Just one or two.  But enough to make me feel more foolish than I already did.  Crying in a sea of vegetables over a fall that wounded little more than my pride?  Talk about ridiculous.  But it didn’t feel ridiculous.  It felt real and painful and scary and lonely. 

I pulled it together before approaching the butcher counter for my dad’s birthday steak.  The man at the counter was helpful and jovial and took my mind off of my scratched hands and dented dignity.  I made my way through the rest of the store collecting the items on my list.  I returned home in time to take the chicken out of the oven and tell my sob story to GAP, who didn’t seem to entirely understand what was so upsetting to me about the incident. 

I guess the reason I felt compelled to tell this story here and now is in the vein of a public service announcement:  If you ever watch someone fall down on a sidewalk at Whole Foods, run over to them.  Help them up.  Ask if they’re okay, and mean it.  And tell them you know a girl who did the same thing once, and in spite of the humiliation she felt in that moment, wished someone had done the same for her. 

I’m sure there is a deeper message here; something about pride, or service, or the metaphorical stumble instead of the literal one.  But sometimes what happens on the outside – helping someone up from a fall – is every bit as important as the current of meaning and subtext that runs underneath it.

13 Responses to “Once More, With Feeling”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    Thank you for this story. I was hit by a car once – very lightly, but still hit – when I was running, and while I ran on out of sheer embarassment, it made me cry. Somehow that was about being so vulnerable to the world even when out doing something I do all the time in my own neighborhood. Also, the driver didn’t even bother to stop though I suppose i made it clear I was ok by running away. I felt ashamed. And scared.
    So not the exact same thing, but I know what you mean.

  2. Anne Says:

    I think it’s upsetting because it makes our communities feel…less like communities. As I’m sure you recall, my car was broken into 2 days after I moved here, and people literally watched me discover my car with its shattered window, and said nothing. Kept walking. Stared. It felt awful in a brand new city, but I think there might be something even harder and weirder about that happening in a town that’s supposed to be “your community”. Anyway, I feel your pain.

  3. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Even in a culture in which we value strength and independence, it’s nevertheless upsetting to realize how alone we are at moments in which we are vulnerable.

    I had a similar stumble once while shopping with Big Boy when he was much younger and you’ve described perfectly the cocktail of embarrassment, helplessness, and frustration that I felt at the people around me who couldn’t be bothered to offer a gesture or word of support to the klutzy new mom tripping over her feet in Kroger.

    When I told a friend my story, she said, “Well, we all have to ask for help if we need it.” I agree with her to an extent, but what ever happened to kindness and, as Anne put, community?

  4. Elaine Says:

    Okay. Here’s the opposite situation. I was leaving Sam’s Club yesterday and wanting to beat my daughter to her house to hide a few “extras” I’d purchased. As I started my car, I saw legs and shoes laying on the ground with two cars stopped on either side. I didn’t know what had happened but obviously there was help. Nonetheless I grabbed my cell phone to call 911 if necessary and approached the scene. As I got there one of the cars drove away. A lady a bit older than myself had tripped on the speed bump and taken a hunk out of her nose. Blood was flowing as a man also about my age was helping her up. Together we walked her to her car to her continual “thank you so much.” We got tissues to help with the bleeding, and stayed with her until she’d convinced us she was okay to drive herself. I tell this story because the gentleman was the main character who got involved probably at some risk to himself because of the blood. You’d think Sam’s Club might not be the location to find the kind of people to reach out and help, but then again maybe that’s exactly the location. The care that was shown to a lady (not well dressed) by a man in business clothes was reassuring that there are still people who do care. I’m sorry that you didn’t share the same experience because just as yours was disappointing, mine was uplifting. Let’s all remember to do what we know is right no matter how busy our personal lives are.

  5. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I stumble and fall often, and it’s so humiliating and scary that I almost always cry. You DO feel alone and vulnerable.

    I think maybe that man was just acting like a man. Women, I think, would almost always stop and show concern. But that man, witnessing your embarrassment, was trying to ignore it–because that’s what a man would want others to do if it was HIM lying on the ground, scuffed and humiliated. Men wouldn’t want anyone to acknowledge their misstep.

    That’s my Doctor Freud analysis of the day.

    On another note, I’m glad you are okay. ((hugs))

  6. Gale Says:

    Elaine – Thanks for this story. It is uplifting and heartening to know that sometimes people take the time and care to do the right thing. And if there are only so many helping hands to go around in the world then I’m glad they were there for this woman instead of me. Clearly her need was greater. Thanks again for sharing this story.

  7. Says:

    So much for chilvary.. what do we teach people these days…. I think I would just go overboard and yell at him “Help, Help, can you put the darn phone down) loud enough that his caller would hear… embarrasment may have tought his something… on the other hand are you ok? lucky that you did not break a leg.

  8. Holly Says:

    I’m a faller too, so I know how you feel. It makes you kind of want to trip people when they just ignore you!!!
    And sometimes you mostly just need to know they don’t think you’re a stumbling idiot — the embarassment hurts more than the fall! I fell in court about two weeks ago. A guy jostled me when I was at the end of the jury box, and I went all the way to the ground. Even sprained my knee! I thought I was going to cry in front of the judge and a whole docket’s worth of lawyers and clients, and then everyone started telling their funniest falling stories and it didn’t seem so bad. My knee still hurt like a b&^*h, but I was laughing so hard that my pride didn’t anymore. ;)

  9. katie @ lemonade rain Says:

    i know how you feel – those brief moments where you think your situation is fine, and then all of a sudden you get thrown a curveball, which, in your case, put you on the sidewalk. it’s very disorienting, isn’t it?
    i recently moved from my small town, everyone-knows-each-other life, into a faster paced, all new society. one of the first things i noticed was that people are completely, one hundred and ten percent different. they do not hold doors for you. in the event that you hold a door for them, which i always do, they don’t say thank you. even the ones i know here on my small campus seldom wave. they prefer to keep their head down and walk on anonymously.
    i had a similar experience to you – a friend tripped and fell, and grabbed me for support. he sent me hurling to the ground where, since i was wearing shorts, i split both my knees open. he of course helped me up, and we set off with blood running down both my legs. i haven’t had cut knees in years, and i felt so embarrassed. as we walked across campus, even people i would consider “acquaintances” didn’t ask me if i was okay. i limped home, washed myself up, and decided that the world is not what it seems outside of my comfortable bubble of home.

    thank you for such an excellent post :)

  10. Corinne Says:

    I spend days thinking about it when things like that happen to me. And they do. It seems like we all are in such a hurry, that the thought of how long it might take if something is wrong with the person in question and the ordeal of TIME and how it will affect you brings people to simply turn the other way and pretend nothing happened.
    Among other reasons.
    The only time I’ve felt genuintly helped or cared for by strangers was when I was pregnant, there were instances both times. But otherwise the fend for yourself world we’re living in often leaves me frustrated. And what’s even MORE frustrating is when you do try to help someone and they assume you don’t really care when you do because that’s happened all too often.
    (rant over… ;) Glad you’re ok!)

  11. Nicki Says:

    First degree klutz here! I fell, just put my foot on uneven pavement in the wrong way, two weeks before my first half marathon. I was embarrassed beyond belief. But the question is why was I embarrassed? I do not pretend to be graceful. I was not in stilettos and a skirt, exposing my undies, or worse if I had a thong on, to the world. I was in jeans and boots with little or no heel. No one even looked at me – and I was in a busy shopping area. Everyone just kept walking right around me.

  12. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    What a wonderful post, full of simple and profound meaning. Life is riddled with literal and metaphorical stumbles, isn’t it? I am glad you are okay :)

  13. Eva Says:

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes! Where did we go astray, where embarrassment (or the avoidance of it) overrides helpfulness? We have such an odd society of isolation amidst crowds. For you, Gale, I will make more of an effort to help when someone falls, or drops something, or can’t open the door with her full hands.