Mind the gap, especially on escalators.

As I got off the Underground an elderly woman was slowly trailing behind me, pulling a suitcase. I got one of those little mental flashes that said, “Let her go. Watch her.” So I stopped and fiddled with my pack and suitcase until she was in front of me.

The woman went around a corner and I lost sight of her briefly. Then I saw this flash of movement off to my left. It was a middle-aged guy making a Superman-like leap up onto the escalator. I swear he made five steps in one bound.

It was to rescue the elderly woman, who had fallen backwards and was lying all twisted as the escalator moved her slowly, inexorably upwards. She hadn’t made a sound.

I made my own five-in-one leap and slapped the “emergency stop” button at the bottom of the escalator. By then he had helped her up and was escorting her back down.

She had a teeny little scratch on her forehead and seemed a little flustered but of course very British: “I’m all right, thank you.”

The man went up to get her suitcase for her. A couple of airport staffers came running down, probably having seen it happen on camera. (Britain, birthplace of “1984,” is the most-surveilled country in the world.)

I was telling the woman she probably ought to sit down for a moment to collect herself. “I took a little fall myself about six weeks ago, and it shook me up for a few minutes,” I said. She nodded vaguely. “Yes, I suppose I ought.”

A glimpse of my future?

The employees were asking her if she had any pain in her knees or her hips, if she had hit her head. Meanwhile I noticed a maroon stain around shin-level on her cream-colored slacks. “I think you’ve cut yourself, ma’am,” I said.

She looked down and blanched a little. The red stain spread. The female employee very carefully raised the hem of the woman’s slacks, revealing a nasty little gash above the elastic bandage wrapped around her ankle and leg. “We’ll need to have a look at that,” she said gently.

Meanwhile, I was  having palpitations. Was it because she could have been hurt worse? Because it happened so quickly? Because I thought, “In another 20 years that could be me, traveling alone and having a bad fall”?

All I know is that I was still shaking as I checked in, and had to use my asthma inhaler for the first time in months.

Everybody: Hang on to the rail on both moving and non-moving steps, and consider using the elevator if you have balance issues. Here’s to successful, injury-free travels.

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  1. I can understand how you would be shaken up by that, plus the idea of traveling on your own and the safety of it 20 years from now. I am sure that there will still be kind strangers about as we age. I fainted once on an escalator in a mall at Christmas and came to in the arms of the man who caught me. I hope the rest of your trip home is less eventful.

  2. My mom is starting to have balance issues, but she swears it’s from her Blood Pressure meds and not from aging. I keep telling her that’s what happens when you get old.

    Poor Lady. Scary indeed but at least she seems tough enough. Good for her to not be too afraid to still go places and see the world.

  3. It seems that for me one fall was the precursor to many more, mainly because of convalescence that led to loss of balance. However, I tripped on an unseen obstacle that first time. Yesterday, I did a face plant in chicken poop when I practiced a new form of the fall. I had help…lol. My friend ending up having major surgery when someone fell and knocked her 75 lb bags onto her on airport escalators. She was two years with that recovery. I will not even stand near anyone on an escalator. I let about six steps or more pass before I board. Poor lady!

  4. Your inner voice is chiming in quite a bit lately. Mine still only talks about doritos and flakes(its and English chocolate bar).
    Take care.

  5. Beware the Ides of March.

  6. Jane Basehoar

    I know what you mean about being shaken by something medical and unexpected. Last Friday I was having my blood pressure checked before I donated to the blood bank. Just as I extended my arm for the cuff, a very young man had just left the donation bed and was pouring a glass of orange juice and fell over on it instantly. I screamed “OMG” and the four attendants scrambled to him and started to work on him but he was out for quite awhile because he had not eaten breakfast before donating. It was scary to see someone so young be walking and pouring and normal and a split second later be on the floor and totally “out of it” and not come around right away. The next young lady who was supposed to donate after him decided to leave the room without giving her donation. I went ahead but they kept asking me if I was okay since I’m coming up on age 62 in September. I have balance problems too since I fractured my foot in 2 places in 2004 and have always hated escalators, but even more so now.

  7. jestjack

    Wow…Donna. I’m struck by the “kindness of strangers” who came to this gal’s aid. The world does have plenty of good folks in it….we just don’t hear about them often enough.
    Every day I count my blessings that I can still do the things I do while in my mid fifties….maybe not as quickly. Stay well Donna…

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jestjack: Hey, you’re here! Thanks for making the jump to hyperspace. 😉
      And you’re right, I think — there are lots of good people. It’s just the bad ones who get noticed.

  8. Hm. In addition to clinging to the rails, possibly look for an elevator if you’re hauling a bag? I don’t recall that there were elevators in the Underground, but surely they must have something to accommodate people in wheelchairs. ??

    There are a couple of simple exercises you can do to help enhance your balance as you age. It’s basically the same as the yoga pose where you stand on one leg with your other foot placed against your shin and your arms extended out parallel to the ground. Over time, the practice seems to improve people’s balance.

  9. That poor woman!

    Well heck, I’m only in my first third, but thanks to my physical limitations, if I’m traveling alone or without assistance, I generally head for the elevator or some such because there’s simply no way I can handle the luggage and the escalators and all the rush. I’m a little surprised most other people who could use the slower pace or the elevator itself don’t, unless it’s because the elevators are small or a bit smelly or cramped.

    Still, it’s much better than risking yourself again, I hope she doesn’t go for the escalator again!

  10. It’s been a decade since I was on the Underground, but I still remember how steep and high the escalators were. I’m not a fan of escalators but will be especially careful now.

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