Written November 2011 Revised February 2015

Hard to believe, falling down the basement steps is one of the best things that ever happened to me:


Leonard A. McHugh

It is even harder to believe that on two separate occasions I fell down a flight of steps and came out much better than I was before the fall. The second story immediately follows the September 2011 story.

On September 14, 2011 I fell down the basement steps. The basement doorway is Immediately to the right of the doorway from the kitchen to the dining room. We were getting ready to go on a shopping excursion with some friends. I already had Toga, my Freedom Guide Dog, in the van when I decided to go back into the house for some extra strength pain relief for another of my frequent headaches.

While in the kitchen, taking the pain relief medication, I heard the lawn care guys in the yard. Karen was upstairs so I quickly ran into the dining room to let her know that the workers were out back. I did not realize that the basement door was open and I ended up going on a slight angle. Instead of entering the dining room, suddenly there was no floor.

I do have an electronic door warning device that recently stopped working. It was to be replaced in the next day or so. I went face first down the steps. As I was bouncing off the steps I tried to grab one of them to slow or stop my rapid descent. I had a mental picture of what I most likely would encounter when I stopped gliding down the steps. At the bottom I have a large metal woodworking table and visualized myself hitting that table and breaking my neck. Fortunately I only hit my face on the floor.

Now laying there with blood gushing, I yelled for help. Karen actually heard me falling down the steps and was on her way. I must have been a horrific sight for her. She went running to a phone to call 911. Then she yelled what is the number. Seeing me in that state covered in blood lying on the floor she momentarily could not think.

Now waiting for the ambulance I started checking myself out. I was able to move fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet and legs. I immediately thanked God that there was nothing more serious, I did feel the bones in my nose break. I did not know that I also fractured some bones around my eye and in my cheek. I really kept my sense of humor and upbeat attitude. Why get upset, I could not undo the fall. I had to put it past me and focus on my complete recovery.

I never could stand pity and always hated self-pity in anyone. I do not like sympathy because of my blindness however I do expect empathy.

When an ambulance is dispatched a policeman also is automatically dispatched. When they arrived I told them what happened. When it went over the police scanner, the Chief of Police, a longtime friend, quickly called his son, another police officer, to go and check on me. He then quickly called my sister who is on city council to let her know what happened? He did not want her to hear it from a stranger.

I can only imagine what my friends thought when they arrived for the shopping trip. It had to look like a major crime scene. In front of my home there was an ambulance and two police cars. And the ambulance crew carrying me, drenched in blood, out of the basement. The only thing missing was the crime scene tape around my home and the news vans.

As I mentioned, I never lost my sense of humor and upbeat attitude. When I arrived at the hospital they asked if I was allergic to anything. I responded “basement steps”. Everyone around me stopped for a moment to laugh. I, after explaining the fall, I started joking that first she pushed me then changed my story to saying isn’t dinner ready yet? And she hit me with a frying pan. One emergency room worker had already stated that it looks like I was hit with a frying pan.

I ended up with 26 stitches in my face and had to see an ear, nose and throat specialist as well as an ophthalmologist because of the fractured bones around my eye. He had to make sure that some eye muscles were not trapped in the breaks. If so another surgery would be required.

The next day I had the doctor appointments. The ENT surgeon told me that next week he will be able to reconstruct my nose. He had to wait until most of the swelling went down. At the same time he would correct the sinus problem that bothered me for as long as I can remember.

Years ago I had some serious neck surgery and was afraid that I did some major damage in that area. Actually I did a little. I had pain in my right arm and could not lift it with any signs of black and blue marks there. Two days later I turned my head and the pain in my neck was at a very high level. Here the vertebras were popping back into place by themselves relieving the pressure on the nerves immediately allowing me to lift my right arm.

I did seek medical attention for my neck but so far everything is healing on its own. After about eight weeks the pain in my right arm totally faded. This was after the pressure on the nerves in my neck was relieved. There were also black and blue marks with the pattern of the steps imbedded in my left arm and leg.

Damage to my neck, from the fall, turned out to be another wonderful blessing. After my neck surgery in 1995, I could not turn my head all the way to the right because scar tissue prohibited full range of motion. The fall broke the scar tissue allowing me to turn my head normally. It was explained to me that in cases like this I would be taken into the operating room, put under, and they would break the scar tissue to have this corrected, . Fortunately, the fall did that for me.

On Sunday, four days after my fall, I went to church. I must have looked like something directly from a Frankenstein horror movie. Everyone was concerned and I was immediately placed on the prayer list. Actually I was blessed with having people praying for me in at least seven states and two additional countries. I strongly believe in the power of prayer.

Anyway back to the church service. Our pastor, whom I consider a good friend, knows my sense of humor. After I explained what happened, he jokingly said, this is possibly an improvement to my looks. Each week he could not believe how fast I was healing. He said that it was as if he could watch the healing process take place in front of him.

Here is some advice for anyone who may have to go to the emergency room for some stitches in your face. Please ask for an experienced doctor, surgeon or plastic surgeon to come in to do the sutures. In my case a physician assistant did the repair. Around my eye and above my nose he had the skin piled and folded over. I did require another surgery to have that repaired. If done properly the first time I would not have required that second surgery.

As I started out saying this is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Immediately after the nose reconstruction surgery I was able to breath better than I ever did. I also had constant sinus headaches. Over my working career I lost many days due to severe headache pain. I also was diagnosed with chronic sinusitis since I normally suffer with five or six major infections every year. I am optimistic that these will also be eliminated or significantly reduced. I took hundreds of prescription medications for the sinus pain. The fall was about ten weeks ago and I have not had one headache in that time period. I suspect that will continue. I do not think I ever went more than a week without a headache.

When I was in the recovery room after the second surgery, I told the nurses that that fall was the best thing that ever happened to me. They were all laughing and the one made a great observation. She loved my upbeat attitude and my sense of humor. I told her about being allergic to basement steps. She believes that a good sense of humor is not learned but a gift from God. I cannot agree more. I often stated that maybe I wasn’t given sight however I was blessed with a wonderful sense of humor.

Another good thing that came out of the fall is that I finally learned to slow down. My late father always yelled at me to slow down. I always walked very fast through the house, kind of like the preverbal bull in the china closet.

I installed an automatic door closer on the basement door, no more depending on battery operated warning devices at the top of the basement steps.

This home is about 120 years old, long before any building codes. The front porch is a high porch with two foot railings. On more than one occasion, I almost fell over the side railing. I designed and built a railing extension bringing it up to a 39 inch height. I had a helper help install and paint it for me. Last year Karen fell on the porch and almost went over the front railing. Over the winter I plan to bring it up to code height with flower boxes. They will add safety to the front railing height and give Karen a place to showcase her flowers.

the orthopedic surgeon that I went to see to check out my neck is very conservative. That is why I went to him. He did not want to even do an MRI since things appeared to be healing on their own. He did check out my neck with an examination and chose to just monitor the situation. I do not think that I even have to go back but I will for a final visit. Everything seems to be back to normal. I told to him that I often go into the basement because of a woodworking hobby. He did not want me to be using power saws. When I asked why, he said that he just does not think it is a good idea and does not want me doing that. The following visit I took pictures of some of my projects. He studied them and asked if I made them before I lost my vision. I told him that that was not the case and some were made last year. He pondered while studying the photographs and then stated that God really gave me a gift. He told me about a blind artist and that like him I could visualize a piece of furniture in my mind and transfer that picture to my hands and the tools. When I go back to the ophthalmologist I will again have to take the pictures. He have similar feelings about me using power tools.

The surgeon, who reconstructed my nose, gave me permission to resume woodworking. That is when I made the extension for the porch railing. When he did the corrective surgery for the bad stitch job, he was telling the staff in the operating room about my web page and that I made some beautiful furniture and cabinet work. He also was telling them about my beautiful guide dog. He also loves Toga. When I go to his office I remove her harness so she can socialize.

Karen had her waiting for me. Karen removed her harness so everyone in the operating room and recovery room could have a short visit with Toga. After the doctor told them about her they all had to come out to see her. When I came out of the recovery room Toga was waiting. She kept trying to touch my hand. Toga is trained not to get on furniture. I think that if she could have she would have been up in the bed with me. Obviously she knew that something was not right.

So as I stated it is one of the best things that ever happened to me. My sinus problems and headaches are cured. I was able to educate some nurses and doctors on the capability of blind individuals. I learned to slow down a little and made the home more blind friendly and safer for all.

The actual fall took about four or five seconds, seemed like a very long time of terror. When I was able to move everything I was so thankful and immediately put the fall behind me. I did not complain about the situation. A few of the nurses told me that most people would be complaining and feeling sorry for them, I believe that I gave them a little more motivation.

Prior to the reconstruction surgery, a request was made to allow two student nurses to observe the procedure. I told them absolutely and started talking about the rules of guide dogs. I never pass an opportunity to educate the public about guide dogs. I explained how important it is not to try and pet a working guide. I also told them that occasionally the medical profession is the worst to deal with blind individuals. On many occasions I arrived at the reception’s desk and was handed a stack of papers and told to fill them out. Sometimes a nurse will come out call your name and say follow me, hmmm! Where did you go? Eye doctors during an examine often will say look over there or look that way, ok where is over there or that way? After talking to them they requested that I would come to speak at the school. They said that the talk would help them all become better equipped to work with blind patients.

One after thought, I guess that I do have one small complaint. When the doctor corrected the bad stitch job, he could have tried to make me look about 16 years old, about the age that I often act. I often joke that when people ask how many children do we have, I say two and Karen says three. I do not understand why she cannot count!!! This Christmas Eve I will turn 65 years old and I still do not know what I want to do when I grow up...

Now, for the second time by falling down a flight of steps has resulted in me being significantly better than I was prior to the fall. January, 2015 we were taking some Christmas decorations into the attic for storage. I was carrying a deep tote up the steps. At the top I did not have it high enough. It hit the top step and bounced back. That forced me to fall straight backwards down the steep steps, about 15 in all.

The fall resulted in three broken ribs, bruised lungs, a break in my hand and crystals knocked loose in both ears. I also had a large bruise on top of my head where I hit some things at the bottom of the steps that were waiting to be taken up.

Again waiting for the ambulance and EMTs I was in really good spirits. I kind of checked myself out. I could move my toes, feet and legs. I also could move my fingers, hands, arms and head. So first I was not dead and secondly not paralyzed so I knew that everything else could and would be fixed. I again told them that I was allergic to steps when the question “are you allergic to anything” was asked.

I was unaware about the crystals until at the hospital. I had severe vertigo as I did many years ago. Two weeks later I went to have the vertigo checked out and again was sent to see a balance therapist. They slightly changed the procedure from 18 years ago. This time all of the crystals were put back into place. For 18 years I suffered with vertigo. When they did the procedure they never rechecked and the crystal was not put back into the correct ear chamber. So this time it totally corrected the vertigo that I had for almost 20 years. This made me better than I was prior to the fall.

There is a machine called the balance master used to check your balance. Years ago when they put me on it I was very sick. The moving platform seamed to tilt in every possible direction. That is not the case. Because the crystal was not back in place the slight movement caused severe dizziness making it feel like the platform moved in all directions. I always stated that I would never again get on that machine.

After the crystals were back in place, I did request that I would be put back on the balance master. To my surprise it only slightly tilted front and back. It tests your total equilibrium system. As expected it only flagged eyesight as not working for your balance. So to have 18 years of vertigo corrected was really worth the broken ribs and hand.

Honestly, I never want to try the steps again to have something else corrected. I really believe that God had a hand in keeping my injuries to a minimum and have the outcome making me better than I was before the fall.

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