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Falls & winter

Robert Stanger

When you combine the onset of winter weather worsened by climate change with a “super senior citizen” (me) whose motto has never been “safety first,” you can arrive at risky situations.

I had taken two fairly serious falls this year prior to even the formal meteorological start of winter.

The first came on the morning of November 12 when white-outs caused by cold Arctic air rushing over the still-warm waters Of Lake Erie caused crashes on I-80 that involved a fatality and serious injuries.

The sudden freeze left our rear steps slippery with ice and I violently fell on them when I stepped out while carrying a bird feeder in one hand and a can of birdseed in the other

My subsequent efforts to work out the pain in my right shoulder were ineffective and may have worsened the injury.

The pain prompted me to seek the advice of my physician, Joseph Zeno, who said that since I could still raise my right arm (this was difficult, but I could still do it) that I hadn’t damaged that shoulder’s rotator cuff, which would have been a serious injury, possibly necessitating surgery.

My doctor advised therapy exercise which I did with limited success, and the shoulder pain persisted for weeks and still lingers.

The verdict: One rash action that led to the discomfort of long duration.

My second fall of our waning autumn occurred the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday.

I was just returning to my car after a late-afternoon walk in Youngstown’s Mill Creek Park.

As I neared a trail that circumvents the Lily Pond, which is one of the park’s most picturesque attractions, the sky to the west acquired a strange yellowish hue, and there was the sound of distant thunder.

Soon, the pond’s surface was pockmarked by heavy drops of rain, and the wind rose from the west even as the thunder drew closer.

Then the wind turned into a gale and the rain became hail. Lightning flashed continuously from the yellow clouds overhead, illuminating the area around me with a surreal glow. In my haste to get back to my car, I fell onto the yellow mud of a badly maintained trail that led from the Lily Pond to where my car was parked.

The injury was only minor this time … just a scraped knee. (But I certainly needed a change of clothing when I arrived home.)

The verdict: I should have checked the weather channel for the approach of a violent squall before leaving the house that afternoon.

Except for that yellow lightning, neither of these cold-weather experiences were life-threatening.

However, what happened to me on Presque Isle Bay some years ago certainly was.

I was visiting my elderly mother in Erie when I decided that it might be interesting to cross-country ski across the bay, as the frozen surface was covered with snow and the ice probably fairly thick.

But since I was just on a visit to Erie, I was not up on the local news and did not know that at least one ship had left Erie for the lake, plowing a channel through the early winter ice.

I was well out onto the bay, heading for the Perry Monument on Misery Bay, when for some reason the driver of a car parked at the monument kept blowing the car’s horn, seemingly at me.

I then looked down and realized that I was skiing over the very thin ice of a channel cut through the ice by a lake-bound vessel and that the horn-blowing motorist was apparently seeking to warn me.

I then quickly escaped onto sounder ice and completed my trek without further trouble.

But if I had fallen through the thin ice of that channel (something my skis helped prevent) I would have been in serious trouble given the skis themselves and the heavy winter clothing I was wearing.

The Coast Guard Station on Presque Isle was not far off, but even if personnel there had been alerted, it is questionable whether they (or anyone else in the area) could have reached me in time.

The verdict: Beware of hidden dangers in outings.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.

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