The Accident That Woke Me Up


It happened on a Friday morning in early November. Exactly nine weeks and five days after I moved to Germany.

I was rushing down the hall stairs in my apartment building. Half running, half walking with a brown shopping basket in my left hand, and my right hand gliding on the railing.

What I was thinking about, I couldn’t tell you. My mind was elsewhere. Not at all focused on going down those hard, ceramic tile stairs.

There are 21 steps from my third floor apartment to the doorway leading out of the building. Three flights of stairs I’ve taken dozens of times without a thought.

I was in a hurry. Or, at least, I thought I was. I had a million things to do. And I wanted to get them done quickly.

In reality, though, there was no need to rush. Nothing was going on that was so urgent that I had to hurry down those stairs.

My significant other was parked outside, waiting for me in front of the building. We’d forgotten the basket, and I went upstairs to grab it.

Taking an extra minute or two, or even longer, wouldn’t have delayed us. We had plenty of time to run errands. Yet, I felt the need to rush.

That was my undoing.

The fall that could have been much worse

I half ran down the second flight of stairs, made a right turn on the landing, and started down the last flight. There were only five steps to the ground level.

On the first step down, I lost my footing.

It happened so quickly that all I could do was react. My instincts kicked in.

I dropped the basket and grabbed the handrail, on my right side, with both my hands. I wrapped my arms around the metal railing and held on with all my strength. I managed to keep my upper body from falling forward.

That simple act kept the fall from being worse than it was. It may have even saved my life.

Meanwhile, the force of the fall pulled my lower body forward. My legs tumbled down three stairs. That was all: just three stairs. I landed on my butt on the second to last step.

It was over in seconds.

I was in shock. My mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened, while my body cried out in pain. Everything hurt: my hands, arms, legs, back. And, especially, my left ankle. It hurt like hell.

I looked at my feet. I noticed immediately: my ankle was at an awkward angle. Given the way my leg laid there, my foot pointed too far to the right.

I tried to readjust it, and a sharp pain shot through my ankle. I pulled up the hem of my jeans to see how bad it was. The cloth rubbing against my skin caused excruciating pain.

My poor ankle was as big as an orange.

I knew right away: it was broken.

A thoroughly broken ankle

Thankfully, the landlord was there that morning, sweeping the walkway in front of the building. He saw me sitting on the steps in agonizing pain. He voiced something in German I didn’t understand. Given the look of worry on his face, I assumed he asked if I was alright.

I motioned to him through the glass door to get my significant other.

Eventually, the paramedics came. They took me to a hospital in Mainz. The Emergency Department doctor reviewed the x-rays with me.

I remember he spoke pretty good English, but what he said is a blur. My mind was fuzzy from the pain medication the paramedics had given me.

I nodded, partially understanding the medical jargon. The jest of it: I fractured my ankle in three different places. I needed surgery, and ten screws and two plates, to repair the damage of falling down three stairs.

“You broke your ankle very well. It’s a serious injury,” the young doctor said.

Later, my SO, relieved that I was going to be okay, joked, “You really like to do things thoroughly, sweetie.”

Yep, I sure do.

Glad to be alive

The accident scared the hell out of me. The force of the fall was so powerful that, if I had landed differently, I truly believe it could have killed me.

The unexpectedness, the shock, the damage to my ankle, the pain, the possibility that my injury could have been worse, it all woke me up from the fog of everyday life.

The accident thrust me into the present moment. The here, the now. It was a huge reality check that reminded me what was most important: being alive.

In the hours and days after the fall, going with the flow of life was what mattered most. Not the inconsequential things I thought were so important before the accident. It was a major shift in perspective.

I was grateful to be alive. I was grateful that all I had was a broken ankle (as painful as it was) and nothing more.

And I learned an important lesson: take your time going the stairs, and pay attention to what you’re doing.

* Photo credit: Image from Flickr by Fredrik Alpstedt