The months of February and March (not over) have been torturously cold, snowy and rainy unpredictably. Capricious and unstable weather during the warm months of the year is rather enjoyable. Down pour here, sunshine there and thunder and lightning there on the horizon. They all add to dynamic and pleasurable sceneries of the summer.
Well, the winter is different. First of all, daytime is short, and sunshine is not brilliantly bright like that of the summer. The writer once spent a few weeks in Stockholm, Sweden during the depth of their winter. During my stay, in the middle of the day, say 2 p.m., the light level outside gets to be like our dusk, and the daylight lasted only a few hours. But, the shortness of the daylight wasnít an issue that bothered me. The lack of light on the sidewalk made me afraid of walking on the thin ice and slipping and falling flat on the pavement. The idea that I might possibly end up in a hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, where I knew nobody, made me a bit frightened.
Now let us come back to America, where we all live. The situation of sidewalks covered with thin ice is indeed a scary thought. Many sidewalks in the downtown portions of American cities like Portsmout are paved with red bricks neatly lined. The structure of the brick pavement is the frequent causes of people falling down. Many people know this, but they often do not know why. So, let me explain:
The individual bricks sit on the compacted and flattened sand base. The grout between the bricks is slightly indented, thus the top surface of the bricks are the highest areas of the sidewalk. Because individual bricks are in a way insulated from the ground by the layer of sand base, which contains air, the thermal volume of the individual bricks is fairly small. This means that the pavement bricks get cold fast. The snow or rain could easily turn into a thin layer of ice on the surface of the bricks, and this constitutes the most accident-prone condition for people walking on the pavement.
Now let us discuss the means to avoid skidding on the brick pavement and falling down.
1. A skid starts due to the fact your shoe sole has a tangential component when landing on the brick. Many elders tend to walk by shuffling. When one walks by shuffling, shoe sole tends to move along with a forward and backward component in addition to an up and down movement. See graphic No. 1
2. A skid tends to start because of the forward-backward motion of your sole, and thus footing (footing means your feet are planted stationary) is lost, and a fall occurs.
3. The corrective measure is to eliminate the tangential component of your foot by not shuffling and starting to stomp. Raise your foot a bit higher off the ground, and step on the brick surface decisively. See graphic No. 2.
4. This stomping style may look a bit silly to someone watching you walk, but if you end up in a hospital bed after falling down badly by shuffling, it wonít be as silly as you imagined.
5. Stomping on the icy pavement (if you must walk on it) is the safest way you could traverse on the thin ice-covered sidewalk, and also provide a good exercise for your feet.
Now, if a fall happens, is it better for you to fall forward or backward? Falling down is bad one way or the other. But, letís just spend a short amount of time thinking pro and con.
A. Falling forward in general causes injuries to your hand, wrist and arms as you thrust forward your arm(s) to protect yourself. Injury to your wrist can be very painful, and depending on the severity of the injury, you would spend a long time unable to use the injured wrist.
B. Falling down backward would possibly injure your head or your hip or both. Injuring your head is most serious, and this needs to be avoided by protecting your head with some protective headgear when you walk outside. Protecting your hip is hard to do as it is hard to cover oneís buttock with a protective cushion.
If you observe someone falling or found someone lying down on the street after a fall:
Do not attempt to judge the severity of the fall and resulting injury.
Call 911 and in a steady, slow and clear voice, explain the situation with detailed location information. The more detailed and accurate location data, the faster the EMTs could find you and the victim. Do not try to lift the victim up and try to make him or her stand up unless he or she can easily do so by themself. If the ground is wet or snow-covered, carefully move the victim to a dry space. Stay with the victim until the EMT arrives.
When EMTs do arrive, they may have some questions for you. After that, you say to them that you are now leaving. Some may ask for your name and phone. Majority does not. You are now free to leave.
The golden rule is ďDo not play a doctor." Your duty is now finished. Thank you.
This Companion to Aging column appears each week in the Seacoast Sunday features section. You can read earlier installments at www.seacoastonline.com. Please send your thoughts about aging to Sasano@umelink.com, Sam Asano, P.O. Box 26, New Castle, NH 03854 or (cell) 781-389-2356 or email Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org.