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Gravity always wins

Fall is just around the corner.

Not the season, the physical act of falling.

Social media are loaded with memes depicting why women live longer than men. Some portray a precarious situation caused by two or more extension ladders, some lumber and a pick-up truck to perform a simple task. As with most comedy, a streak of truth lies therein.

After two of my friends were hospitalized because of falls from ladders, I thought an epidemic of old guys falling may be afoot. Of course, I am younger than my friends, but not by much. However, I stopped using ladders a few years ago.

Unfortunately, this near-epidemic has been going on for decades.

In 2002, 60-year-old retired four-star general Hugh Shelton, who had recently retired as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suffered catastrophic injuries from a fall. He had used a ladder to climb 10 feet to trim a tree limb. A dead branch collapsed onto his ladder, causing him to fall.

His paratrooper training and 400-parachute jump experience kicked in, and he instinctively placed his feet together to fall. The top of a chain link fence broke his fall but changed his trajectory and propelled him headfirst onto the ground. Shelton was temporarily paralyzed, and had it not been for his excellent physical condition and superb medical treatment thereafter, he may have been a paraplegic.

This incident was burned into my memory at that time because if a highly decorated Special Forces general officer with two combat tours in Vietnam and one in the Persian Gulf War could sustain such injuries from a ladder fall, so could I.

The statistics from falls, and specifically from ladder-related falls, are alarming.

Over 34,000 folks die each year from falls. That is almost 100 a day.

Falling is the third-leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for all age groups, but it is the No. 1 cause of death in folks 65 and over.

There are over 300 ladder deaths each year, half of which are at construction sites. The other 150 ladder deaths occur at or near home. The term “near home” is tongue-in-cheek because it includes the times when one falls onto someone else’s property while on a ladder.

On any given day, scores of folks will be in emergency rooms with injuries from falling. There are over a half million ladder-related injuries each year, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

I encourage my peers to cease performing their own handyman tasks, especially if they involve climbing or using a ladder. Perhaps your huge, tightly bound wallet restricts your cranium blood flow and prevents you from comparing a $150 labor charge with the co-pay for a hip replacement. Otherwise, find a good handyman and staple his card to your important papers for your future widow’s use.

If you are eligible for old-age Social Security benefits, you should not have any ladders in your home.

In the end, gravity wins. Just ask Gen. Shelton and my two friends.

Dan Jennings is a retired Army captain and a retired BCPD lieutenant. He can be reached at bcpd267@cox.net.

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