Last week I found myself climbing up and down a rather tall ladder while doing some work on my house. When you’re up in the air twenty feet with a prosthetic leg, everything takes on a certain immediacy that’s not normally present when you’re on the ground.
This is especially true when part of the project involves power washing the exterior of your home. Introducing liquid into the whole “I’m climbing up and down a ladder” equation makes for a wondrous interaction of prosthetic dynamics. You become acutely aware of the rapidly deepening puddle at the base of the ladder as water leaks from the attachment point between garden hose and power washer. The reason for this is that the soles of your shoes don’t grip the metal quite as firmly when saturated, giving the ascent upwards a K2 summit expedition-like feel.
And you further realize as you climb up each rung towards your potential death that not only are your rubber soles wet, but so is the entire ladder because you’ve been spraying water everywhere. The thought dawns on you that between soggy shoes and water-slicked hands on water-slicked metal you don’t have a particularly firm purchase with any of your extremities on the apparatus that’s keeping you from plunging to a spine-crushing end two stories below.
However, if you’re anything like me, you don’t realize any of this until you’re already halfway up the ladder. The thought then occurs to you, “Maybe I should go back down and grab a towel – just dry this sucker off before I kill myself.” You ponder this question for seconds that turn into minutes. You’re paralyzed because, frankly, going back down the ladder with a prosthesis and then climbing back up again seems like a lot of effort. To wit:
“If I go down, I then have to wipe the soles of my shoes off before I can go into the house to get a towel since we just mopped the kitchen floor. Strike that – I have to first roll up my pants legs because they’re soaked as well, then wipe the soles of my shoes off, and then go into my house, up the stairs to the linen closet where the towels are, then back down the stairs again so that I can step through the puddle and climb back up the ladder.”
When you think about it this way, getting the towel becomes a logistical feat comparable to surviving a week alone in the wilderness without supplies. Halfway between the first and second stories of your house, you conclude, “Oh, what the hell. If it’s my time it’s my time,” and you continue upwards, complementing yourself on your bravery.
Once perched 20 feet up, your neck and head higher than the top of the ladder itself, greenery and bluestone menacing you from a distant land far below, lots of thoughts flash through your head. Most are not pleasant.
Just how much redistribution of my weight away from the house will cause the ladder to pull off the wall and majestically return to earth with me attached underneath it? (Answer: Not much.)
Will the bushes break my fall if I find myself unexpectedly detached from this ladder? (Answer: Since they’re underneath the ladder, and the ladder is between me and them, probably not.)
If they nevertheless somehow do break my fall, will they impale my internal organs? (Answer: Yes.)
If, as is much more likely, I fall directly onto the patio and not the bushes, will the bluestone break my fall if I find myself unexpectedly detached from this ladder? (Answer: Yes, but I’ll wish I had made a Tempurpedic patio, not a stone one.)
If I fall and land only on my prosthetic foot first, will that prevent serious injury to my good leg, or will it send my socket up through my spine and out my mouth? Answer: A little of both.
If I fall and land only on my good foot first, how much metal will I have to implant in that limb to ever walk again?” Related follow-up question] How would I cope with becoming a bilateral amputee? [Answer: it would be great for this blog; not so good for me personally.]
“Why do I assume in all my fall scenarios that I hit the ground feet first?” [Answer: Because I’m an idiot.]
“If I fall and remain conscious after impact, will I have the wherewithal to pull my cellphone out of my pocket and call 911?” [Check pocket. Proceed to next mental question.]
“Should I get my cellphone from the patio wall where I left it below so that if I fall and remain conscious after impact, I have the option to pull it out of my pocket and call 911 (assuming I have the wherewithal to do so)?” [Answer: No. (See thought process re. getting towel, above. Same basic analysis here.)]
“Does putting 85% of my body weight on my sound leg increase the chances that the ladder will slide sideways off the house, bouncing me into and then rolling me off of a lower roof to the right?” [Answer: I should have studied physics more seriously in high school.]
“If I fall and suffer grievous injuries, will the cat staring at me impassively from the window 4 feet to the right of my head leap into Lassie-like action, paw 911 into the phone that it knocks to the floor from my bedside table, and meow plaintively into the receiver until EMT’s appear at my house?” [Answer: Perhaps – did I remember to change the litter box this morning?]
“If that happens, does it become a story on News 12 Long Island or does it rise to the Today Show level of prominence?” [Answer: Definitely The Today Show. Sadly, however, it’ll be a feature with Kathie Lee and Hoda, not Matt Lauer.]
“Either way, who gets more air time: me or the cat?” [Answer: The cat. It will be far more lucid than I.]
“Does homeowners insurance cover the medical costs of a one-legged homeowner who climbs a wet ladder with wet shoes and no cell phone who becomes a paraplegic because he has concluded that getting a towel from inside the house is too complicated?” [Answer: I really should read my homeowners policy.]
“Should I have waited until my wife got home to do this in the event that I fall?” (Answer 1: Yes, that way she could call 911 when she heard the thud of my body hitting the ground. Answer 2: No, because she would have talked me out of climbing up the ladder in the first place.)
I suffered no injuries in the end, descending to earth under my own power without incident. I gazed at the wall with pride, admiring my handiwork … and then realized that I now needed to clean the basement.