Falling over - Susan's Ribcap story

12 | 06 | 24

Falling over - Susan's Ribcap story

Growing up in Brooklyn, I frequently fell on my way to school. Despite mastering subway balance in high school, my falls returned in my 30s. Diagnosed with MS in 2005, my falls increased, leading to a traumatic brain injury in 2019. Ribcap protective hats have since become essential for my safety.

By Susan Crane, London

There were five streets between our house and my primary school in Brooklyn, New York. In such a short walk, it’s remarkable how many times I fell over either on the way to or from school. There were either very bad pavements or I was exceptionally clumsy – maybe it was a combination of factors. My father would patch up my wounds at night – sometimes making a smiley face with the bright orange antiseptic he used. I had a lot of cuts and scars on my knees.

I attended high school in Manhattan so I took the subway to school every day. I rarely got a seat during rush hour so I got really good at balancing without holding onto the grab bars. I was proud of this achievement, so I was surprised when I discovered in later years that I couldn’t balance so well. One Christmas years ago, I remember taking the NY subway with my siblings and our young children. I was trying to re-create my clever subway balancing act when it failed miserably and I crashed to the ground. My habit of falling over on the pavement returned in my mid-30s. It always took me by surprise. I remember trying to cross the road once with my then three-year-old daughter and her scooter. I was crossing the road - scooter and daughter in hand, when we both fell over in the middle of the road. That was quite terrifying. It certainly was a wake-up call. I remembered then that I’d fallen flat on a London bus when I was first pregnant with my daughter. I now ask the driver to wait until I’m sitting down before setting off.

My adult experience of falling meant I was mostly unfazed when I started to trip on the pavement regularly in London. This happened long before my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 2005. After I was diagnosed, I took more notice of my falls. In the year I was diagnosed, before I first noticed any MS symptoms, I’d had a bad fall on the pavement when I slipped on ice. Shortly after that, I had what I now know was my first relapse.

Once I was diagnosed, my walking didn’t change at first, but after a bad relapse in 2008 my right leg mostly stopped functioning. It got better after acupuncture (I was outside the UK at the time). About two years after that, I tripped upstairs at work and damaged my knee badly (torn meniscus). Sometime after that, my walking slowed down and I developed what I now know is called ‘fatiguing foot drop’. I would fall relatively regularly – at one time I estimated that I fell 12 times a year. It might have been more than that. I got slightly smug, saying I was good at falling because I realized what was happening and relaxed my limbs. I didn’t break anything until May 2018; I broke my finger quite badly then. I wasn’t too scared about falling because I always fell on my front. Then, in December 2019, I was walking our dog in the morning as usual. Unfortunately, he was excited by a pigeon, a squirrel, the local cat - something. I don't know what it was because I fell backwards onto my head, slamming it onto the tarmac.

Fortunately, my neighbour was looking out of her window just after I fell and she called an ambulance. I live 5 minutes from an excellent tertiary hospital that has a major trauma unit so, although I sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), I was well looked after (for three weeks) and I was fortunate to make a good recovery. While I was in Intensive Care, my partner wondered aloud to our daughter whether or not there were people who made headgear which looked like everyday hats, but which incorporated helmet-level protection for people with balance or other issues that makes them vulnerable to falling. My daughter found Ribcap online at that time but unfortunately didn’t tell me.

Fifteen months after breaking my finger and 8 months after my first TBI, I was on a country lane in the dark and I tripped and fell backwards, smacking my head on the tarmac again. This time the ambulance took longer and the local district hospital was much farther away. Luckily, I was transferred to a tertiary hospital in Bristol and made a very good recovery from a second TBI. After my second fall, I ordered my first Ribcap online - the one that looks like a baseball hat or a riding helmet. I later ordered the winter version and then the summer version. I wear one of my Ribcap hats every time I leave the house. I've fallen a couple of times since my TBIs but always facing forward. However, I fell on the back of my head outside my house two weeks ago; thank goodness I was wearing my Ribcap. I know from that experience how essential it is for me to never stop wearing my Ribcap hats when I go outdoors. After that fall, the back of my head did feel slightly sore briefly, but I was back up on my feet very quickly. I went on my way with such relief and gratitude that I was wearing my Ribcap hat. I didn't need proof that it works but it was immensely reassuring to have it.

Written by Nico De Wilde