We All Fall Down
“Next!” I cried, stepping out of the single-person vault toilet at West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. My mother brushed past me, heading in to take her turn. Hearing a thump and inarticulate cry of surprise, I wheeled around in time to see Mom gingerly raising herself from a crumpled position on the concrete floor beside the open steel bathroom door.
“Mom, are you alright?” I asked, moving forward to help her. She was sitting by now, trying to straighten her glasses, which were askew.
“I think so,” she said, rising to her feet. She seemed more concerned with the state of her mangled glasses frames than with herself. While Mom continued on her original mission, a bystander and I criticized the one-inch height difference between sidewalk and toilet platform that had caused her to trip and fall.
When Mom came out, we took stock of the damage. Her glasses were a bit twisted, but wearable. She sported a lump on her left temple. Her right knee was scraped and bruised. While there did not appear to be any serious injuries, I was a bit worried about concussion. “Be sure to tell me if you get a headache or start feeling nauseous,” I cautioned.
We began our tour of the Geyser Basin, our usually-cheerful spirits somewhat subdued. Periodically, I would see Mom gently touching the swelling on her temple or rubbing the sore knee. Meandering around the boardwalks, we checked out the steaming hot pools and bubbling mud pots. Although this was the first stop on my first ever visit to Yellowstone and we were surrounded by incredible geothermal features, I found it difficult to enjoy the sights. Irrationally, I worried that Mom might next tumble off the raised walkway and fall into a scalding hot pool.
By the end of our tour of West Thumb, I had regained my mental equilibrium. As we began driving eastward, our route skirted the sparkling immensity of Yellowstone Lake, through skeleton forests of trees burned in years past. Making only a few stops for photographs, we pushed on to our destination for the night—Cody, Wyoming.
By the time we set up camp, Mom’s eye was greatly swollen and a purple crescent was forming beneath the eye. A bruise covered her cheek from left temple to jawbone. My petite 78-year-old mother who barely tops five feet in height resembled the victim of a beating. Just looking at her made my heart ache.
“Would you mind terribly if we didn’t go to the rodeo,” she asked, referring to some plans made earlier in the day to take in the nightly western show in Cody staged as a visitor attraction. I assured her I did not mind, and in fact had been thinking it would keep us out later than we would have wanted anyway. Encouraging Mom to take some ibuprofen to help reduce the swelling, we both went to bed early.
In the morning her eye was still puffy and the bruising even darker, clearly marking where her head had hit the concrete and the glasses frame impacted beneath her eye. It took a couple of days for the swelling to go away completely. Camping the next three nights in West Yellowstone, we made daily forays into the Park in our effort to see it all. Although we had recovered from the emotional scare, Mom’s energy level flagged a bit on those days.
I could not help but reflect on what an alternative outcome would have meant. We were well over 600 miles from home and traveling in Mom’s full-size diesel pickup camper. The thought of me having to drive her huge, unfamiliar truck all the way back filled me with terror. This time we were lucky. Mom’s injuries were minor and we were able to continue and enjoy the rest of our trip which included hot springs soaking in Montana and a jet boat ride in Idaho’s Hells Canyon.
I also came to the sad realization that these joint camping trips that we enjoy so much might be nearing their end. Mom is a snowbird—wintering in the southern California desert and spending summers in central Washington. Living in Oregon, I seldom get to see her except when she is passing through. These camping road trips—and we’ve made several—are a way for us to spend time together and indulge our love of travel.
Although it is true that our balance and agility decline as we age, that was not why Mom fell. It could just have easily been I who tripped on the uneven walkway. We all fall down sometimes. Watching our parents age is difficult; just as it is hard to accept the inevitable decline of our own selves. But, with Mom’s indomitable spirit—and a few precautions—perhaps we may keep on traveling for some time to come.
Photo Credit: Tamara Muldoon