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Stupid Hurts

Updated: Dec 21, 2023


Professor Harnett

On November 10, 2023, I had an accident at home. Hours later I was hit with a consequence, realism.

We live in a 1959 mid-century American ranch in southwestern Ohio. I moved into the home after marrying my beautiful wife where she had resided for years. The dwelling is a single story, sporting a cross-hip design roof with a shallow pitch reflecting the long, low-pitch roofline. But on this day, the house was just an accomplice, the culprit was an 8-foot wooden ladder, and me.

We hired a tree company to remove a few large branches that were dangerously overhanging one of the bedrooms. The company had insurance, but I took the posture of documenting the process – to an extent not necessary. Despite the company having insurance, I proceeded to place my GoPro camera on a tripod adjacent to the area of chainsaw activity. I was also taking clips on my phone from the ground. This involved going up and down the ladder several times. I was overzealous, not considering the risk of my ardor. I didn’t need a roof perspective. Any recorded incident of a large branch crashing into the roof is sufficient evidence of liability. Mistake number 1.

Note, climbing on the roof was not a novel event, over the past 10 years in this single-story mid-century modern style house, I have been up and down the 8-foot wooden ladder over a hundred times attending to routine matters such as gutter cleaning, blowing leaves or simple inspection of the asphalt shingles. I was extremely comfortable with ascending and descending that ladder. Too comfortable to the point of complacency. Mistake number 2.

As the tree work began to wrap up, I ascended the ladder again to retrieve the Go-Pro. I placed the collapsed tripod near the edge of the gutter where the ladder awaited. To stabilize the ladder, I always placed the top edge of the ladder into the internal 90-degree angle formed by the gutter structure of the house and garage. This holds the ladder snugly, but at the expense of having to lean slightly to the right so my left shoulder could get past. Again, I have done this over a hundred times. As a relatively agile and fit man, a slight weight shift as I crossed the threshold of the gutters has never been an issue. Mistake number 3.

On this final descent, I stepped onto the ladder and proceeded to lower myself to the next step. As I have always done, I shifted some weight right for my shoulder to navigate past the gutter. Somehow, my left sleeve caught a tiny steel sliver or something to distract my focus for a millisecond. I lost my balance and spun counterclockwise. In a split second I hit the ground. That ground was not a cushion of grass, it was a brick patio. I froze as my mind performed an immediate damage assessment. Within seconds. I realized I was not seriously hurt, just seriously stupid.

Interestingly, I recently installed an Arlo motion detection camera system and one of them is under the eave next to that ladder. The clip below shows how fast that Arlo algorithm picks up motion and how fast a fall happens. The height was about six feet from my waist area, evidenced by my left leg breaking one of the arms of the patio table umbrella. My left tricep and left quad clipped the arm rail of one of the steel patio chairs, my right tricep hit the back leg of the ladder and my glutes took the brunt of the impact landing, almost flat on my back, what an ass.

Slowly, I stood up and noticed blood on my right hand. Apparently, I tried to grab the gutter, but we installed gutter guards a few years ago as cleaning leaves from 360 linear feet is itself a dangerous activity. Thus, there was no gutter edge to clutch. I slowly walked back to the front yard to oversee the last hour of dead wooding the oaks, cloaking my newly found pain.

In addition to not breaking any bones, I must have instinctively flexed my neck that prevented my head from brick impact. That’s probably survival instinct at play. However, the next few days illuminated the trauma. My neck was sore for a couple days but that rapidly improved. I developed ‘black & blue’ marks the size of grapefruits on both my triceps. My upper leg was never bruised nor my glutes, but they were both so sore I walked for days with a limp.

In my 40+ years of full-time work, I have never taken more than 3 sick days off in a row. I set a record this time with 4. Because I have tinnitus and pain relievers make it worse, I took no aspirin or anti-inflammatory meds. I saw a massage therapist and hours of hydrotherapy in our hot tub. Over the next couple weeks, I improved each day where the final pain point and soreness isolated in my upper butt area. A few more days and I was back to normal.

Indeed, I got lucky. Everyone has chastised me for being stupid – or more politely – not being ‘careful’. My wife was very grateful and very pissed. She said I could have gotten really hurt; my snarky reply was, “but I didn’t”. With an angry huff she said this could have been a family-changing event. She walked away leaving me with a somber epiphany. I sat down and wrote this post.

Falling six feet on your back onto a brick patio is not anything you want to do whether you are 63 or 36. Realistically, I could have broken my back, my neck, suffered head trauma or internal organ damage. This could have happened because stupid really hurts.

With a whole new respect for ladders and gravity, my advice to everyone is that quiet dangers lurk even in your domicile. You don’t want to live in a bubble, I certainly don’t. We face dangers every day such as driving our cars at 75 miles per hour. But doing things routinely at home such as getting out of a shower, cutting vegetables in the kitchen, carrying a load of laundry down to the basement, and certainly climbing ladders can create a false sense of security, which leads to complacency, which can lead to disaster. Fun fact: 40% of all holiday accidents involve some kind of fall.

All this said, it is not the ladder, stairs, a sharp knife, or slippery porcelain itself that can take you down, it is complacency.

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Bruises appeared in 24 hours

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