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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

More Embarrassing than Falling

From the time I was three until just after my 18th birthday, I dreamed of being a doctor. There were a lot of reasons for this, most of them ridiculous. And there were a lot of reasons I should have reconsidered much earlier. Like my severe deficiency of math aptitude and the nausea I experienced during biology dissections. But I was so convinced of my path that I'd managed to convince everybody else too. It's funny now, looking back, because while most teenagers have an inflated sense of assurance about what they think they want, I took it to the extreme. Makes you wonder just who I was trying to assure.

My unsuitability for the medical field was highlighted again recently when my Aunt Nancy came to visit. She's a lovely person, my aunt. She's stylish and funny and intelligent, and moreover she's caught in a perpetual time warp. She'll always be about 34 in my mind. Like Mary Poppins, her visits cause a stir, and often happen unexpectedly since she's also the most spontaneous of my extended family. It would be a lie to say that my mother's youngest sister hasn't always been the favorite among my 17 cousins.

Her last visit coincided with my youngest cousin's graduation from grammar school. I attended with Aunt Nancy and Grandma, though we arrived late. The ceremony was to take place in the gymnasium which had doors situated at the back and chairs set up facing the front. However, when we opened the doors, everyone had turned to applaud some notable figure sitting in the back. If you've ever encountered thunderous applause immediately upon stepping into a large room, you'll understand how awkward this felt. We tried to slip inconspicuously to the seats my uncle had saved for us, but slipping was just what Aunt Nancy was doing a little too well that day.

I had turned to wave at a friend, so I didn't see it happen. That's probably why I reacted the way I did, or to be more clear, did not react at all. When I turned back around to continue following my grandmother and aunt, I found that Aunt Nancy was no longer walking. She wasn't even standing. She was on the gym floor in a crumpled heap of silver necklace, blonde highlights, and white cotton top. So much for stealth.

What happened next proves my inability to respond quickly to emergency situations.
I stared down at her without comprehension.

She's on the floor...?

This question lodged in my brain and no effort on my part could process it through. It was like trying to sip Nutella through a straw. The thought progressed like a kindergarten teacher attempting to explain that the letter "B" always comes after the letter "A."

My aunt was not on the floor, but now my aunt IS on the floor...?

My 75-year-old grandmother, who is no taller than 4'10" and cannot weigh more than 120 pounds, reached down and started pulling at Nancy's right arm. This had little effect. I continued to gaze at the scene without moving, unable to piece together a reasonable cause and effect scenario that my mind would accept.

Why is she on the floor?

From out of nowhere, a dark haired man appeared. His face was full of concern and he knelt on the floor next to my aunt and said in a strong, dramatic voice like a superhero, "I am a physical therapist!"

Maybe he thought his credentials would assure us that his strength and knowledge were equal to the task of assisting someone who has fallen and can't get up. I would have assured him that anyone taller than grandma and less confused than I was would have been an acceptable assistant with or without physical therapist licensure. But in the moment, this new bit of information didn't fit anywhere in my already skewed panorama of the situation and only delayed my acceptance of reality.

He is a physical therapist. My aunt is on the floor? 

The man placed his arm under Aunt Nancy's shoulder and helped her up. She blinked at him and leaned on his elbow as she tried to regain her balance. In another seemingly incongruous comment, my grandma recognized our rescuer and took the opportunity to introduce him to Nancy.

"Oh, it's you! This is Mike's sister Nancy..."

Nancy smiled and tried to brush back her hair. I now admire her for the effort it took to be presentable and hospitable after taking such a spill.

"Hi, nice to meet you."

The man returned the greetings and then left abruptly.
My aunt's eyes found me. I remained frozen for a few seconds before I could croak out the words that had been on loop in my head for the past several minutes.

" were on the floor."

Someone should have rebuked me. Someone should have said, "Thank you, Captain Obvious. Why don't you tell us what else just happened? Better yet, why don't you DO something next time instead of stand there and drool at it like a week-old puppy?"

Instead my aunt, my dignified, resilient, unsinkable, ladylike Aunt Nancy grinned.
Then she giggled. And then she laughed. We joined her.

"Are you okay?" I gasped through my laughter, while trying to bottle it back up since the ceremony continued at the front of the gym. "What happened!?"

"I'm fine...I just slipped."

We began tiptoeing to our seats. I offered her assistance but she waved me away.

"I really am fine. That gym floor is slippery and my shoes don't have a lot of traction."

Her smile was enough to convince me, and we worked through the rest of the program to avoid looking at each other so that we wouldn't disrupt the audience further. The tale has been added to the annuls of family history to be retold and (perhaps over time) exaggerated. For my part in it, or rather my lack of part in it, I am truly sorry. I shocked myself with my capacity for shock.  

Yes, I used to think I would make a great doctor. I would be there for the trauma and bandage people's wounds and stick IVs in their arms and save their lives.
I didn't count on my brain matter turning to Nutella in the midst of a crisis.

There are some things more embarrassing than falling. 

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