Childless, Alone? What’s Your Emergency Plan?

3d cartoon woman falling from height, illustration isolated on white background

Last Thursday, when I walked out on my deck to take some pictures of the trees 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. I’m grateful I had the strength to do that. Maybe all that yoga I have done over the years helped. 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 already wept after the fall, and I would do it again, but 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 has been severe, but it 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.

If I had children and grandchildren, like most 70-year-olds, one would expect them to rally around, sitting with me at the hospital, giving me rides, picking up my prescriptions, and dealing with my dog, who has problems of her own. But I don’t. Maybe they wouldn’t anyway. But I hope they would.

My handyman has already replaced the rotting boards in my deck and assures me it should be secure for a few more years. After days of fog, the sun is finally shining, and I will sit on my deck later.

And yes, I’m looking into those emergency-alert devices, even though I hate the whole idea of wearing one.

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.

I’m terrible about asking for help. Yesterday, I bought my own groceries, and I probably should not have done that. It was harder than I expected. If we create a plan, then we can feel comfortable calling on our friends when we need them. I’m going to work on that. Did you know that 27 percent of American households are occupied by people living alone? Some have kids; some don’t. We all need a plan.

Most of you are nowhere near my age, but it’s something to consider in this childless life. If you never have children and your partner is gone—even if they’re just gone for a week or a day—who will you call? How will you manage your own care, especially if you are severely injured or unconscious?

We can do this childless thing, even survive old age alone, but we need to be ready for the unexpected. I certainly 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.

Ilustration copyright: 3dmask

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