Columns & Blogs

Columnist learns a valuable lesson after taking a fall

Dorothy Wilhelm
Dorothy Wilhelm

I finally took the last of the Christmas decorations down a couple of weeks ago. To tell the truth, I miss them. After the Santa collection was refurbished with Valentine’s Day hearts and St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks, I faced the fact that, as Kenny Rogers sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold them, and when to fold them.” Folding time had come, both for the Santas, and unexpectedly for me. About the same time the decorations came down, so did I.

That very week, I spent a substantial amount of time neatly folded on the bottom step of a friend’s stairs, followed by three restful hours in the emergency room. Some people will do anything to get attention.

It was all because of my Buddy List — the inspiration of my daughter, the nurse, who directed its creation when I was facing surgery and family resources were exhausted. It contains the names of people I can call on when I need help. “You start by calling a friend and asking for specific help,” she said, “maybe with transportation, or a meal, maybe just providing welcome company.” People really want to help, but if you can’t tell them what you need, they’ll just say, “Well, call if you need something.” This great idea put me in touch with resources I didn’t know I had, but it takes nerve to pick up the phone and ask, “Are you my buddy?” Of course, when your buddy needs help, it’s your turn to pay back the debt.

So it happened that two weeks ago, I turned up to help one of my buddies who was recovering from surgery.

I admit I arrived with a rather heavy suitcase, but after all, I was expecting to stay for two nights, and you never know what you’ll need, do you? I had just wrestled the bag up two flights of stairs and made my way back down, panting lightly. I stood on the bottom step for a moment and suddenly collapsed without warning. It turned out that I hadn’t helped my friend much, but I certainly distracted her.

After the emergency room visit, tests were ordered and I was sent home.

It took the nurse in the family only about an hour realize that I hadn’t been wearing my fall monitor at the time of the incident.

The monitor was provided by my son-in-law after considerable research when he learned that one older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds in the U.S. When that happens, most of these people suffer breaks that can put them out of commission permanently. The result of his search is a very dependable monitor that will summon emergency help, even if I’m not able to press a button. It also notifies my family if I’m not able to respond, but it requires skills I didn’t have and I was soon on first name terms with all of the staff at the call center.

On a visit to the ladies’ room at the Seattle Art Museum, the monitor suddenly sailed off my waistband, as if propelled from a slingshot, and skated under at least six stalls all the way to the other end of the restroom, and I could hear it calling plaintively, “Dorothy, do you need help?”

There was a shocked silence and then the ladies skated the monitor back up under the stalls to me.

After shooting the monitor off my waistband three more times, I realized that the monitor works really well, but only if I can keep it attached to me. Finally, I settled on a secure, padded location where it now rests safely. I haven’t dropped it once.

However the acid test is still to come. Members of my Tai Chi class have become very close over the years, and by the end of each hour, there’s a lot of hugging going on. This is good. Family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” In Empty Step Tai Chi, We’re concentrating on a lot of personal growth.

So I’m wearing the monitor daily, and I feel much safer. But still there’s a possibility that in the midst of one of those enthusiastic hugs, I’ll hear a voice rising out of my cleavage, “Dorothy, do you need help?” I’ll just say, “No, thanks, I can handle this one myself.”

Dorothy Wilhelm is a writer, speaker, broadcaster. Hear her podcast, Swimming Upstream, at, contact her at 800-548-9264 or write PO Box 881, DuPont, WA 98321.


Dorothy Wilhelm has some book-signing events scheduled for her new book, “True Tales of Puget Sound.”

April 12-14: Washington State Spring Fair 2019, 1-5 p.m. daily, Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center. She will tell stories daily at 2 p.m.

April 24: Tim’s Kitchen, 3-4 p.m., 114 Washington Ave S., Orting.

April 27: Federal Way Soroptimists, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club, 3583 SW 320th St., Federal Way.