Tripping Hazards

Ever since I can remember I have been unsteady on my feet. I am not great at walking, much less on uneven ground. And so whenever, wherever my feet hit the floor I am on the lookout for tripping hazards.

That beautiful throw rug? Tripping hazard. Bath mat in the bathroom? Tripping hazard. Lip on the door frame? Tripping hazard. Door mat? You got it—tripping hazard.

I see the world as many, diverse obstacles for me to trip on. Think “Three Stooges” only less fun and more pain. Ouch!

Growing up I was lucky that my mom didn’t decorate with rugs or bath mats. Tripping hazards never existed in our house. But whenever we went somewhere else, we were on the hunt—rolling up rugs, moving mats, and navigating carefully around floor items that always seemed to grab just me as I was passing by.

My husband has joined in the fun. When we go visiting, he scouts in front of me and clears the way. I’m constantly grateful for his hazard-killing eye. He makes sure the kitty doesn’t inadvertently block my path and that the bathroom floor is dry after a shower. Dry floors are important so that my shoes do not lose their grip or slip unexpectedly. This can be especially important in hotels, where I often find the tiles to be extra slippery.

Years ago I did fall and break my leg. It was 100 percent my fault and didn’t even involve me walking or tripping as I accidentally flipped out of my wheelchair. However, it reinforced the importance of being watchful and preventing falls. My RA-riddled bones are not the strongest, so a fall can cause breaking or worse.

I’m not sure if others with RA are thinking about the risks of tripping hazards, so I thought it could be helpful to share my own experiences. In my case, I know that I am unsteady on my feet. I cannot walk long distances at all, and while walking I have to concentrate hard on my balance and foot. This makes me extra aware of the surface, where I am going, and how far.

As a child my physical therapist had me practice for hours on walking, getting down on the floor, and getting up. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to safely get down on the floor or get up for many years. This means if I fall, I am in real trouble because I cannot get myself up. If I am injured in a fall, this just adds to the trouble.

My physical and occupational therapy a couple years ago also helped with identifying possible trip hazards and barriers. While they didn’t visit my home, we talked about the layout and other places I frequent for identifying possible dangers to avoid. It was very helpful to have my husband there to hear and learn, which helped for preparing our home (already pretty clear before my surgery) and thinking about future visits to the homes of friends and family.

So my approach while walking is now all about planning and safety. I think carefully about where I walk—hard, flat, indoor surfaces are best. And I’m thoughtful about the distance because I know my strength and energy are limited. Then I identify and ask for temporary removal of tripping hazards, such as throw rugs. Thankfully, I always encounter understanding when I explain that I trip easily due to my RA.

People with RA have different challenges. I’ve learned through experience to be extra careful about my walking and to avoid tripping hazards. Prevention is a lot better and easier than dealing with the pain and consequences of falling.

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