A Cautionary Tale

Well, that’s it then. Just a few days ago, on Dec. 27th, I rolled quietly and gently through my 98th birthday and started work on my 99th year. In past years, I have penned my birthday musings a few days before the event. This year, too nervous to tempt fate, I thought it wiser to wait until the 98th was actually posted and the first careful steps of the 99th taken.

They have been truly momentous years, and I have written many times that my glass of life was always more half full than half empty. However, it is a metaphor for a good life that I have tripped and fallen three times in 2021; the first hilarious, the second and third warnings that legs that had always obeyed automatic commands were no longer prepared to respond as they had since my first steps in the 1920s.

Still standing, I have a duty to offer a little advice to others now old enough to fear falling.

My first fall came as I was walking past the open office counter where fellow guests of Berwick Royal Oak Retirement Centre register for various in-house activities. Two elderly ladies had just completed a successful attempt to get seats together for a theatre or bus tour event. Laughing and smiling, arm-in-arm, they turned from the counter and, in lockstep, neatly detached me from my walker with a robust tackle.

The apologies were voluminous. My embarrassment was acute as I sat in a circle of solicitous faces, unable to move my legs into a lever-able position. Staff quickly assumed command. A check for bone or muscle damage and then, to modest applause from onlookers, I was lifted to my feet and on my way.

My second and third calls were scarier. I was alone and had ignored the advice of Nic, my paramedic son, to always wear a wrist-strapped button that, when pressed in an emergency, alerted staff to my precise location in the Berwick facility. I had been on a long walk that late summer day. I got back to my apartment feeling a little tired and, with shaky legs, collapsed as I took two or three steps into my room. 

My wrist band emergency button was in my bedroom, unreachable from where I sat on my living room floor. On a small table behind me, my landline phone sat also beyond reach. My mobile phone was on a small table beside my TV-watching chair. Unreachable.

I was learning the hard way that my paramedic son was preaching serious survival gospel when he said: “Strap your button on and leave it on except when you wash or shower. And even then, make sure it will be within reach if you fall.”

So, as trained in old air raid drill lessons, I stayed calm and managed to struggle myself a little closer to my mobile, kick it with a favourable bounce toward me, grab it like a drowning man’s life ring, and call for paramedic aid. Before they left, one of the paras suggested I keep the mobile a little closer. “It could have bounced away from you and…..” I just grunted my thanks.

My third fall was a gentle collapse as I prepared for bed one evening. As I disrobed, one pant leg at a time, my left leg just folded. No pain, no warning, just total collapse. I bounced face-first off the bedroom wall. I twisted as I fell and finished up sitting with my back against the wall, a trickle of blood ambling down my face, knuckles scraped. This time, I proudly pressed the magic button – since fall two, I had never taken it off except in the shower.

My pride was fleeting. My mobile phone placed earlier on a bedside table and well beyond my reach, beeped. The front desk had obviously received my emergency alert and was calling to know if the button had been pressed by accident or did I actually need help.

Once again, I reached into my old air raid drill box and tapped out the Morse code SOS – three dots, three dashes and three dots. I have no idea if the sequence was being received as Morse, but within seconds, I heard a key unlock my room door, and a bright voice asked: “Where are you?”

The cavalry had arrived, and in double-quick time, I was checked for broken bones. Scratches and scrapes were cleaned up, and with what seemed like no effort at all, a young lady had me standing up. I never did figure out how she did it. It was quite remarkable, and “thank you” seemed inadequate.

It’s quite possible readers will think this 98th birthday offering is inadequate for a day that should be celebrated. But I felt, maybe I’m not alone – moving so close to what was once that distant 100th star – in processing the signals my ageing body and mind are sending me. It took me a long time to accept and get used to; first, a walking stick, then ski poles and then the embarrassment of a walker that is a damned nuisance but an essential, dependable aid.

I thought maybe there are readers out there who, as they move into their late 80s and later 90s, are equally reluctant to admit they need a little help. And so, my 98th birthday message: You are not alone; you are not the first to feel this way.

And “thank you” to readers kind enough to wish me well. May the year now beginning bring us all that we need for happiness.

My birthday wish for those who have read his far: Take care; don’t be shy. Use every available aid. Keep that safety call button on your wrist. Remember, your portable phone, your cell or the latest magic electronic marvel are only helpful if within reach when your need is greatest.


  1. Sage advice Jim, complete with a touch of humour reminding us to carry on. Nic must be a comfort as I’m sure your a comfort to him showing joy in the day regardless what old dears decide to give you a crosscheck
    All the best in the New Year Auld land syne

  2. As another person with a December 27 birthday exactly 10 years your junior, I take your words to heart. Looking forward to next year’s birthday message. You have been a role model for me in the realm of how to negotiate AOA (Advanced Old Age) – a state nobody can begin to understand until they get there.

  3. Lang May Your Lum Reek, Jim. Don’t think you need to take medical alert off when you shower—could be wrong. To a better year

  4. Hi Jim,
    As one who is 16 years younger your wise advice much appreciated. I am glad you cannot fall when writing your Blog and please do not fail to continue to write your Blog!
    Best wishes and continued health in 2022.
    Shaun Peck

  5. Thank you for sharing this. Wishing you all the best in the New Year, and congratulations on reaching the venerable milestone of Birthday #98 !

  6. Hi Jim: geez man you are too young to be falling for those girls at the Bewick. I’m a friend of your son, worked with him for a bit on the ambulance but pulled the plug after 30+ years. Please stop testing gravity, it can have grave consequences. Say hi to my friends Kate and Colin Mailer, they moved in a few months back and can probably be found in the pub. You and Nick have a great new year and please stay safe sir. Regards Glenn Wainman


  7. Dear Mr. Hume, All the best to you for your birthday and for the new year.. I love your words, and it is interesting to see that all the reply’s above me are Jan 1, 2022,,I am in Delta and it is still Dec 2021.
    Many thank you’s.

  8. I’m 18 years younger and where I live sidewalks are usually icy in winter. Last March I slipped on that ice and broke my ankle. After it mended my boy bought me a pair of hiking poles which I’ve used everyday.

    With the return of winter and ice I equipped myself with crampons. I feel invulnerable.

    Happy New Year, Jim.

  9. Hang in there Jim you are an inspiration for all of us getting up there. Another year and you get that letter from one that is almost there as well

  10. Solid advice as always Jim and so well written, again, as always! While reading your column I caught Ramona on top of a stool attempting to take the star off the top of the Christmas tree. I requested that while I removed the star that she read your column! Safety first, right! May ‘22 bring you good health and much happiness. We think of you often and remember so fondly our last get together lunch in your pub. Soon to be repeated we hope! Happy Birthday and Happy New Year Jim.

  11. Happy Birthday Jim. Another excellent article and cautionary tale to us all. Your positive determination and alert mind keep you going. We all benefit from you exemplary commentaries proving your “grey matter” is in its prime. Nic’s advice is sound and given with compassion and love. Don’t let your quick mind get ahead of your legs. The Happiest of New Years to you. May many blessings come your way in 2022

  12. Thank you for the reminder that we always need to take precautions. I’m still 30 years behind you but old enough to trip and fall which I’ve done several times although not recently. I’m being more careful. I’m always delighted when I look for your words and still find them. Your body may be wearing out but your mind seems to still be in good shape.

  13. Fortunate Blessings will always attend you, as you have shared so much for so long. Happy Str skipping in the Cosmos ….. now THERE will be some stories to check out!!! IF your friends and mine will ever let you leave the ongoing party………….A toast to you, and all of them, in style!!!! Lots of love always, Pip XOXX

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