The Fallen Man

This has taken me a long time to write because I found the situation traumatic, as I describe below.  It’s a personal thing, so I doubt it would trigger anyone but me, unless you have elderly parents.

Have you ever come across a scene and just froze?  DH & I were shopping in Sam’s Club and an elderly gentleman fell out of his motorized shopping basket chair.  The man lay there, struggling to get up, and I stood staring mutely, rooted to the spot.  My husband moved forward to help him up and it was only after DH crossed my line of vision that I could breathe, think, and be useful.

I wasn’t seeing a stranger lying on the floor.  I was seeing my father in my mind’s eye.  My father is 82, in poor health, and wouldn’t ride one of those scooters if you sat him on it.  He’s diabetic, he has trouble walking, but he’s too stubborn to use a cane.  He smokes like a chimney and coughs like a choking man.

Another gentleman came over and together with DH they helped the fallen man stand up.  I picked up his ball cap and his phone and handed them back to him.  I moved on autopilot, trying to be useful where I could.  The man had tripped because he had put too many items on his cart, blocking the foot rest.  His foot caught one of them as he got out of it to reach for the Kleenex package.  DH got the package and put it into the man’s basket, and moved the offending item from the footrest to the basket.  Sometimes I swear I am married to an angel.

A little while later, after we had all parted ways, DH and I were shopping in another part of the store.  I suddenly started to shake. I was trembling and digging nails into my palms to keep from crying.  When this started happening, DH and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Me:  Why am I doing this?  (Shaking and crying)
DH:  Because you’ve had a terrible shock.
Me:  How so? I didn’t know that man.
DH: Because he reminds you of your dad.
Me:  I think I need a Klonopin.

A friend of mine called me the next day and she asked about my dad.  That’s when I broke down into tears and told her this story.  I said that I felt bad that I couldn’t help the gentleman more.  And I feel ashamed that I was just stood there and didn’t rush forward to offer my assistance.  If DH hadn’t been there, I don’t know if I would have snapped out of it.  My friend told me that it was understandable given the situation with my dad.  (My dad slipped and fell when he visited me last year.  He wasn’t hurt, but I felt horrible, and I’m not very good at forgiving myself.)  She has been through the same thing with her mom, who is in a wheelchair.  She said that it is natural to hesitate when faced with this sort of thing.  We all have aging parents, and it’s difficult to handle this type of situation.

I talked to my therapist about this situation.  She basically said the same thing in that it was natural to be shocked in this situation.  She suggested that I do something to ease my mind about my father, so I called the office of the trailer park he lives in.  I spoke to the woman at the office who said she checks on all their residents every morning and the other office person checks on them in the afternoon.  My greatest fear is that he will fall ill or pass away and no one will find him for days.  I love my Dad very much, regardless of the childhood trauma he knowingly or unknowingly imposed.

In any case, I feel better now that I have done something to ease my mind about my Dad.  I’ve enlisted the help of my ex-stepmother (they are still very close) to try to ensure that he is not alone for Thanksgiving.  I don’t know if he can make it out here again with his health, and it would be difficult to go there since I can’t procrastinate with my surgery too long.  It’s all so complicated.

Now that my depression is abating somewhat, I am going to make a conscious effort to talk to my Dad more often.  I think that will help ease my mind too.  It’s about all I can do from 1500 miles away.  So it will have to suffice.

Maybe I can be of better assistance the next time I see someone in trouble.  One can always hope.

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3 thoughts on “The Fallen Man

  1. Oh goodness, I’m sorry about your “deer-in-the-headlights” moment. Yes, I’ve been frozen to the spot plenty of times. I’ve been fighting off some serious panic lately. Last Thursday, I was teaching Kindergarten and in the middle of the class, I just froze up. It was noticeable too! I’ve never had that happen before, and I was terrified to move or say anything. I had to force it along. I laughed and said something about how my aging mind is failing me.

    Those times are just awful. Are you doing any better? I really hope you are.

  2. Trauma may very well be the most insidious of all the things that can plague us. You would think it would be more straightforward (obvious trigger = intense reaction), and sometimes it is. But a great deal of the time you have no idea what your trigger was, or you react in strange, less expected ways.

    I could write a dissertation on this one, but I won’t. The one piece of advice I will offer you is to work hard on letting go of any self-blame. Being able to do that alone, while it took some time for me, made an enormous difference in my PTSD (I’m not suggesting that’s what you have, don’t worry).

    You are doing everything you can for your father, and it sounds like he has others watching out for him as well. As you can’t really do anything more than what you already are, you have to let go of any residual guilt. It doesn’t help him any, Monday. It just hinders you.

  3. OMG, I SO relate to your situation. My father is 87, diabetic, falls a lot…..and one time he fell out of his chair at the dinner table slid under the table and got tangled up in the legs of the table and chair. I just stood there frozen, unable to do anything, until finally I could get my mind untangled from the chair and the table legs. It’s so traumatic. Try to go easy on yourself with this one. Thank God you’ve got your DH to take care of some of these situations for you, and it sounds like he takes good care of you as well. It’s great that you have some help checking on your dad and making sure he’s got somewhere to go for the holiday.

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