As I get older, I’m getting keenly aware that my body isn’t going to stand (literally) for what I’m used to putting it through, whether it’s squatting to pick up a spade or kneeling on rocks instead of a mat in my garden. Falling in the garden is always a risk, but the consequences of those falls get worse as we age. I want to do the work I love and need done, but I’m finding that my body needs more support than before. Fortunately, there are many products that make gardening easier on my joints and muscles. From kneeling mats to ergonomic shovels, pruners, and secateurs, to carts and wheelbarrows—these are all products I take advantage of now. I know one day I’ll even get one of those wheelie planting benches too, and that’s fine with me!
Today’s author Marcy O’Brien recently retired and now gardens in the evenings, but her replaced knees restrict her mobility. One evening while gardening, Marcy tripped over a long hoe and fell headfirst onto both elbows and knees. After assessing the damage to herself, she slowly scooched back towards her house until she was able to use a spade as leverage to stand up again. Despite cuts, scrapes, and swelling on her lip from the fall, Marcy was otherwise unharmed due to having “steel I-beams for bones”. As a result of this experience, Marcy has made a few new rules for herself. Keep reading to find out what they are.
Enjoy More Gardening Humor
This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years, and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that use gardening humor to turn gardening stories into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope this story does for you as well. Enjoy!
That’s the easy part
By Marcy O’Brien
Most of my gardener friends work in their flowerbeds in the morning. But until I recently retired, my work schedule dictated that gardening was an evening pursuit. I would head out back after dinner to bustle among the bushes until it was too dark to spot another weed.
Since my decrepit body protests extended periods of edging, transplanting, and root digging, twilight is just about the right amount of exertion time. My replaced knees restrict kneeling, and it’s only so long that I can bend over like an open safety pin.
Time spent upside-down makes simple planting challenging as well. Sometimes I need help straightening up and resort to climbing up the handle of the pitchfork. Occasionally, I can dig and divide until the fireflies arrive; other nights, by the time I am able to completely straighten up once, I have just enough energy left to flop into my wing chair for prerecorded Jeopardy.
One night this past year, I collapsed all the way—and not into my chair.
Now, falling in the garden is never a good thing. Falling directly on your replaced knees is a very bad thing: the surgeons who sold me mine made a point of telling me that. So I work hard at de-booby-trapping my house. Anything on which I can trip or fall is banished from my indoor paths (although I have had some difficult discussions with the cat).
This particular evening, I decided it was time for dividing daylilies before their size made the task impossible. The clumps of tight blades were getting clumpier by the day.
I used my sharpest spade to stomp and slice the first clump into thirds for transplanting. I toyed with putting the biggest third into the wheelbarrow but decided I could just as easily carry it to its freshly dug new home behind the delphiniums. I wrestled the bigger-than-a-breadbox clump up into my arms, turned, took two steps—and went down like a tree. A sequoia.
Apparently, my long hoe had slipped from its stance against the wheelbarrow and decided to lie in my path. It threw me down faster than an angry Sumo wrestler. I crashed headfirst, full face, on both elbows and, God help us, both knees. The thud registered on the Richter scale here in northwest Pennsylvania.
I lay there certain that my nose was broken, as well as my four top incisors. My face was totally numb, and I couldn’t feel my elbows or knees. Motionless, I assessed the damage for a minute or two, praying this wasn’t a 911-type fall: Not the ER. Please. Not the ER.
Time to find out. First job was to roll onto my back, unburdening myself of the lilies that had been driven into my rib cage. By slowly pushing myself up to a sitting position, I determined that my elbows worked. I felt blood trickling down my neck, but my face was too numb to determine the source.
Now for the real problem: how to get up. You normal gardeners who’ve managed to keep your original factory body parts just roll over on your knees, bounce up, head for the house, and stop the gushing nosebleed. Simple as that. Not so for we of the joint-challenged crowd. One does not roll over onto one’s knees. Nope, nope, nope. Sooo…
I looked around the neighborhood and realized that no one was out walking or still working in their yards. It was 8:20ish. Darkish. I yelled for help. Nothing. Hmmm, not a good sign. After a few minutes of assessing my situation, interspersed with increasingly louder calls for help, I accepted the idea that if I was going to sleep on the bed instead of the sod, it was going to be up to me. So the sooner I stopped licking the blood off my upper lip and made it into the house, the better.
There is a spot closer to the house where the ground slopes down toward a flat area near the deck. If I could get there and set my legs well below my butt, I could probably push myself up the nearby tree trunk to a standing position. Seated with legs in front of me, I started painfully scooching forward an inch or two at a time across the yard—right buttock/heel, left buttock/heel. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Arriving at the top of the small incline, I saw that the angle wasn’t steep enough to work. Time to reassess.
Hey, I did pretty well in geometry. Maybe I can create the angle I need. I made the long return trip, scooching—buttock/heel, buttock/heel—to the lily bed to fetch the sharp spade. Then, I dragged the spade along and inched (b/h, b/h, b/h) slowly back to the slope. Marcy O’Brien—the world’s largest inchworm!
Sitting back at the top of the slope, I stabbed the spade into the ground as far below me as I could reach. I slowly transferred my weight forward onto the spade, praying its bite would hold, and gradually triangulated myself up onto my feet. Voilá—je suis verticale! Good thing, too: I didn’t think I had a scooch left in me. Back inside the house, I looked in the mirror and saw a few cuts and scrapes, teeth intact, grass ground fetchingly into my hairline. My bloody nose had reduced to a trickle, but the swollen split lip was a surprise. I was a mess, true—but whole.
I surrendered to my famed Bonehead Accident Self Healer (BASH) combination: long hot shower/double Tylenol/Irish whiskey solution. Works every time.
As I gingerly settled into my easy chair to watch Alex Trebek, I reflected on what I’d learned from the experience. First, I thought how lucky I am to have steel I-beams for bones. Second, I decided I’ll never garden again after dinner without my cell phone. Third, I’m going to keep on gardening, and gardening, and gardening.
As long as my parts let me. ❖ ❖
By Marcy O’Brien, published originally in 2021, in GreenPrints Issue #128. Illustrated by Matt Collins
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