A six-month check-up after a bad fall

Photo illustration of a kind Philadelphian holding the door for hobbled columnist Stu Bykofsky.

What kind of anniversary is six months? For wedding anniversaries, the first year is paper. But six months? What’s that — dust bunnies?

I’m not “celebrating” the six months since my surgery to repair a torn quadriceps, the worst injury I've ever suffered and one that brought unexpected insights.

Late on election night six months ago, while walking the dog and listening to results come in, I tripped and took a bad fall. “Just like the rest of America,” I joked. I use humor to deal with unpleasant situations. Defense mechanism, a shrink might call it.

“Smart aleck,” my mother used to say.  

Long story short, Half-Pint got me to the Pennsylvania Hospital ER, which was as empty as Wyoming. The nurses first went for the big gash on my forehead caused by my eyeglass frames after I'd done a face-plant on the sidewalk.

A CT scan showed no damage to the brain and an X-ray showed no broken bones in my left leg, which was  a noodle. After stitching my forehead,  the physician got me into a full leg splint and urged me to see a specialist.

A few days later, Dr. James Krieg put his fingers on my left knee and said my quad was busted. “This is the injury that ended Charles Barkley's career,” he said.

But it wouldn't end mine.

Krieg did the surgery and promised me little pain but major discomfort. He was right on both counts.

The first couple of months, I was in a stainless steel leg brace to keep the knee immobile, and that meant spending 24/7 in a reclining chair. I ate in that chair, wrote columns in that chair, slept in that chair. The chair probably didn't like it either. I wasn't able to get into bed by myself, and when I finally could, I got no sleep because of the heavy, bulky brace.

When I finally was able to leave my apartment, it was on a walker. I used Uber to get to work, and still do, now that I've graduated to canes. Plural. 

Krieg told me I'd fully recover in six to eight months. We know now it will be eight.

When I was able to get outdoors, my first trip was to the CVS, a block from home. Walking there, with a protective buddy at my side, took 15 minutes.

You've seen people on walkers and don't think about it much. What you don't know is that those wheels catch in the grooves in the sidewalk and in cracks. What I know now, feel now, is that sidewalks have a lot of cracks.

Something else you probably don't feel is sidewalks not being level. Most have a slight incline, but when you are unsteady on your feet, and fearful about falling and not being able to get up, it's unnerving. 

For several months, I have come to appreciate — although that's not the right word — how miserable most city paving is. On a flat surface indoors, I now can walk even without a cane. I wouldn't try that outside.

The streets are even worse than the sidewalks.

I want to close with what I've learned about people.

As I semi-hobble down the street on two canes — I can walk five or six blocks by myself now, although not feeling comfortable — most people pay no attention. A few move out of the way, giving sympathetic looks. Some people avoid eye contact. Maybe my condition makes them uncomfortable. Is that what the handicapped live with?

When I come to a door — even the handicapped ones that self-open — people almost always ask if they can help, or just open the door without asking.

Even though I can get through the door on my own, it's good to know that fellow Philadelphians have the humanity to take the time to help out.

Same thing with the Uber drivers. When they see my canes, almost all of them offer to help.

Whether on foot or behind the wheel, there are plenty of pretty good people.

Too bad I had to learn this the hard way.