Beware of Rotting Boards Underfoot

The weather on the Oregon coast is . . . wet. The wetness eats wood. The carpenter ants probably don’t help.

On Oct. 6, when I walked out on my deck to take some pictures of the trees looking kind of romantic in the fog, a rotting board collapsed underneath my foot. My leg went through, and I fell backwards across the edge of the deck onto the wet lawn with my leg still stuck between the boards.

I live alone. There were no neighbors within shouting distance, the young ones at work and the older ones too far away to hear me. I had been holding my phone, but it flew out of my hand and onto the grass when I fell. I had no choice but to push myself up and pull my leg out. If I couldn’t push myself out, I don’t know what I would have done.

Thank God the leg was not broken, but it hurt, and I had this weird pain in my back. I told myself I’d go to Urgent Care the next day if it wasn’t better. I had work to do.

I was watching TV that night when I turned slightly and something in my side popped. Uh-oh. A minute later, I sneezed, felt agonizing pain, and couldn’t catch my breath. I have to go to the hospital, I thought. Something is really wrong. Carefully I put on my shoes.

Unlike the time when I drove to the ER at midnight with chest pains, which was stupid, I knew I should not drive myself. I was shaking all over and couldn’t stand up straight. I called a neighbor. She was out of town and so sorry she couldn’t help. Screw it, I thought, and dialed 911. After my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, X-rays showed a broken rib and contusions from hip to ankle. All they could really offer was painkillers. Everything will heal in time.

“Do you have anyone to be with you?” the nurse asked as I lay on the hospital bed in my green gown and yellow Covid mask.

“No,” I said, holding back tears.

“Do you have anyone to drive you home?”

“I thought I’d take a taxi,” I said.

She shook her head. “Since Covid, taxis are hard to get around here.” We live in a small town with no Ubers and sparse bus runs. “You’d better try to find a friend or family member to come get you.” She handed me my phone.

I wanted to cry so hard, but I held it in. I had to find a ride. It was midnight. Most people I knew were asleep. I called a church friend who stays up late. It was a bit of drive, but she said she was happy to do it. I waited by the door in a wheelchair. I was so glad to see her.

Then I was alone with my dog again. I couldn’t sleep, my brain reliving the fall, thinking about what could have happened. I couldn’t find a comfortable position in the bed. I’m not a fan of recliner chairs, but I wished I had one. I wished I had someone to bring me my pills. I wondered how I would change the Lidocaine patch over my ribs by myself (turns out it’s not that difficult).

The next couple days brought me a lot of attention as the word spread. Friends brought medicine, dog food, flowers and dinner. They prayed over me and assured me I am not alone, that they care. My family lives too far away to be of any immediate help, but I am blessed with great friends.

Now I’m taking care of myself. Some things are difficult, but I’m managing. The pain is easing. I am so grateful that this was not the event that would send me out of my independent life and into a nursing home.

My handyman has already replaced the rotting boards in my deck and assures me it should be secure for a few more years. When I do replace it, I will not use wood. There are new products that can handle the moisture much better.

I have been looking into those emergency-alert devices, even though I hate the whole idea of wearing one. Boy, do they do the hard sell. Pushy! I’m not ready to wear a device around my neck. I am considering a “smart watch” that includes an emergency call function. For now, I’ll keep my phone handy.

Meanwhile, this incident has shown me that I need a better emergency plan. I need a team of friends who are ready to go if I need help. The people are there. We just need to make it more formal, so I have names and numbers ready for me—and the hospital—if/when this happens again. In return, I will do the same for them.

Did you know that 27 percent of American households are occupied by people living alone? Some have family nearby; some don’t. We all need a plan for when things go wrong.

We also need to watch out for rotten boards. I never dreamed the deck would break under me. It must have been the weight of that extra chocolate chip cookie I ate the night before.

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What’s Wrong With Being Alone?

“People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” Are you one of those people who need people? Are you uncomfortable being alone? Or do you crave time alone? Is your happy place on the couch with a book or in the middle of a noisy crowd? These are questions I’ve been asking lately and questions that were asked yesterday in a conversation at the Newport Library sponsored by Oregon Humanities.

“Going Solo: The Value of Solitude in a Social World” was the topic led by Jennifer Allen, director of programs at Oregon Humanities. The 20 or so of us who attended had a lot to say on the subject. In general, we’re in favor of solitude. Maybe not 24/7, but we like our “me time.”

Much of our discussion focused on technology, how some people, especially the young, seem incapable of leaving their smart phones, tablets or computers for more than a few minutes at a time. (I’m guilty of that). Our connections pursue us with phone calls, emails, texts and status updates to the point we never seem to be alone even if there’s no actual human nearby. Can you claim to be alone if you’re plugged in? If you get an email or the phone rings, is it okay to ignore it?

Are people forgetting how to be quiet, how to think? To daydream? Are we hiding from our thoughts and feelings? Allen described a scientific study which asked people to spend 6-15 minutes just thinking, doing nothing else. The subjects had a hard time doing it.

I like to be alone. For me, a good time, is sitting out in the sun reading or writing. A nightmare is walking into a noisy crowd.

I love playing music alone. But I also love jamming. Our jam in Waldport last week was magical (Fridays, 3-5 p.m., community center). You have to learn your songs alone, but combining talents can create beautiful music way beyond what is possible on your own. It’s pretty hard to harmonize with one voice. But, let’s be honest, one lousy player or off-key singer can ruin the whole thing.

That sounds bitchy, something introverts like me are often accused of. People who like to be alone are called bitchy, snobbish, or antisocial. No, I like people–in small doses. I think we all need people around sometimes, but all the time? Sometimes my dog is too much company. Other times being alone makes me very sad. Then I wish I had a house full of family.

During our conversation, we agreed there’s a difference between solitude that we choose and solitude that is thrust on us. Many older people fall into this category. Their kids are grown, their spouses die, their friends have died or moved away, and they spend far too much time alone. Remember, prisoners are sent to “solitary confinement” as punishment.

Ideally, we have our time alone AND our time with others in whatever mixture feels comfortable. Meanwhile, we have dogs or cats.

It was ironic that although most of us at yesterday’s conversation prefer to be alone, we got together with other people to talk about it and never ran out of things to say.

Oregon Humanities plans several more conversations throughout the state. For information on the conversation project, visit http://oregonhumanities.org/programs/conversation-project/.

How about you? How do you feel about being alone? Do you enjoy it? Hate it? Fear it? Wish you could claim a minute to yourself? Let’s talk about it.

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