Learning by accident

Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash

Q: When is the best time for an accident? 

A: Never.

We’re not talking about a happy accident where you are in the right place at the right time. Those aren’t really accidents, those are serendipity. We’re talking about the unwelcome and unexpected things that happen and cause inconveniences large and small.

I have some recent first hand experience in the area of accidents. A week ago at the end of a long hot day of work in a series of long hot days of work, I put something somewhere stupid despite the voice in my head telling me I was making a very bad choice. That voice has had lots of “I told you so” opportunities because it was right. Within 30 minutes, I had caught a foot on the thing in the stupid place and splatted in a way so spectacular that Wile E. Coyote would be envious. The end result was a proximal humerus fracture, or, breaks in my upper arm bone at the shoulder.

I’ve had some time to reflect on “accidents” while I dutifully sit (because I can’t lie) low and keep well iced. Although we have worked with many clients who had unfortunate accidents that they’ve managed to get through, the adage about walking a mile in another man’s shoes is definitely applicable.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

Smart phones are handy.

Although I was not alone at the time of my splat, if I had been, I would have been able to summon help with my phone. And if I had needed assistance, all the contact information for family would have been right there for the EMTs as well as a list of medications for the ER docs. Technology is no longer a luxury we can avoid, it’s helpful tool that can be learned and will have benefits in the long run.

In some cases, emergency pendants are a much smarter choice. You can’t be expected to have your phone with you at all times, so a tiny pendant around your neck can literally be a lifesaver. One of our clients accidentally set his off the other day while moving some things and in the time it took him to call the company and let them know it was a false alarm, they had already messaged his family. This is a best case example of better safe than sorry.

Have a idea whom you can ask for help.

I am lucky.  My long-suffering spouse can work mostly from home. It would have been tough sledding if I had to make due by myself the first week. If you should need assistance, know who can you ask, be that family, friend or hired aide. People often raise their hand when a friend or acquaintance is in need. Don’t deny them the chance to help if you need it. There are psychological benefits to being a helper, let friends and family rally for you if they offer.

Figure out how to get places.

I won’t be behind the wheel of the car for a few weeks, but I will be able to start moving about. How will I get places? With help from family and friends for sure, but also using a ride service like Lyft or Uber.

Keep adaptive tools like grabbers handy.

I’ve been making do with a most excellent pair of restaurant quality kitchen tongs, highly effective at both retrieving things on the floor and moving jigsaw pieces to where I can reach them. There are some more effective tools out there. Always good to have one on hand.

No time like now to fix the accidents waiting to happen.

We have a couple of step ladders, one of which does not lock open and is a bit shaky. That will be going to the metal recycle pile when I am able to take it there. We’ll remove things we are storing on the cellar steps and will add a railing that extends all the way down on the open sides. And that’s just the things that spring immediately to mind. I am sure once I start looking, I will find more. Look around your own surroundings, I bet there are things that you’ve been meaning to see to for a while. No time like now.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

From a business perspective, I’m lucky that our NextStage team is exactly that, a team. They’ve taken over my role in all our client projects, so we can still do our best work. We have closed the shop until we can get caught up there; moves come first. 

Life experiences help shape your world view. Some of those experiences have made us better move managers. Most of our team has helped a parent or relative downsize or has handled an estate. We have a personal understanding of some of the logistical and emotional challenges our clients are facing. 

For me, this particular life experience reinforces listening to that inner voice, stopping to take a break when I’m tired and more over, not allowing convenience to override safety at home and at work. And although we alway consider livability, design, function and safety when working on a floor plan with a client, you can bet that safety will be on that list twice. 

Grab bars for one and all!


Sometime after we humans decided that shower grab bars were a good thing, we also decided that they were only needed by older people. This would make perfect sense if only people over the age of 65 had the ability to slip on a wet soapy bathtub. But as anyone who has ever shaved their legs in the shower or who has jumped into the tub  without making sure the suction cup tub mat was stuck to the porcelain can tell you, it is entirely possible to have a Wile E. Coyote arm waving moment of slippage at any age. So why we don’t we put grab bars in all our bathtubs and shower stalls?

The grab bar debate is reminiscent of the seat belt debate. Remember when we didn’t wear seat belts because we didn’t want to wrinkle our clothing? According to The Hotly Contested History of Seat Belts, until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was established in 1966, not only did most cars not have seat belts, they also didn’t have shatterproof windshields, headrests to prevent whiplash and energy absorbing steering wheels. Now 85% of us wear seatbelts and we can have cars with airbags, backup cameras and lane drift warning devices. Somewhere along the way we decided that not getting launched through the windshield was a better idea than worrying about whether our gabardine got rumpled. So why don’t we feel that way about shower grab bars?

It’s not like bathroom injuries are rare. The CDC gathered info from hospitals on patients that were treated for non-fatal bathroom injuries and crunched the data to find out how often, where and how people were accidentally injuring themselves.

Here’s what they found in their 2011 report:

“In 2008, an estimated 234,094 nonfatal bathroom injuries among persons aged ≥15 years were treated in U.S. EDs, for an injury rate of 96.4 per 100,000 population. The rate for women was 121.2 per 100,000 and was 72% higher than the rate for men (70.4 per 100,000). Although approximately the same number of cases occurred in each 10-year age group, injury rates increased with age. Falls were the most common primary cause of injury (81.1%), and the most frequent diagnosis was contusions or abrasions (29.3%). The head or neck was the most common primary part of the body injured (31.2%). Most patients (84.9%) were treated and released from the ED; 13.7% were treated in the ED and subsequently hospitalized.”

And their recommendation?

“Persons in all age categories sustained bathroom injuries, especially when bathing or showering or when getting out of the tub or shower. Raising awareness about potentially hazardous activities and making a number of simple environmental changes, such as installing grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to toilets, could benefit all household residents by decreasing the risk for injury.”

Installing a grab bar isn’t all that complicated, it’s a “simple environmental change.” But convincing yourself to add one even though you aren’t an older person can take a little bit of inner dialogue. But seriously; which is more embarrassing—having a grab bar in your shower or explaining the big contusion on your face to everyone because you didn’t have one?

If you decide to add a grab bar, make the full commitment and install one screwed into wall. There are bars that work with heavy duty suction cups, but we all know suction cups are finicky and unreliable. Go ahead and do the job right. For you DIYers, The Family Handyman has info to get you started.

Oh, and while you’re installing that grab bar, go ahead and install a handrail on both sides of your cellar stairs…but that’s a topic for another time.

(You can read the whole CDC report here, charts and all.)