Not a good start to the day

Walking into work today on the hellish triple-damned sloping path from my house to the university, which is always coated with a layer of ice, I slipped cartoonishly. Both feet shot out from under me and I fell straight backwards, thumping hard onto the ground, uniformly distributing the pain to my elbows, back, and head. I was wearing my backpack with my laptop and iPad inside, and honestly, my first concern was that I’d just destroyed all of my primary computing power. Fortunately, I was using my Brenthaven™ laptop bag, which was robust and well padded, and everything inside survived just fine. (Contact me, Brenthaven, if you want a testimonial).

The important stuff survived, but my brain is a bit rattled, my left forearm is numb, and my neck and shoulders are badly wrecked to the point where it hurts to turn my head. That’s a bad sign. I’m going to have to make a doctor’s appointment somewhere in this really busy teaching Tuesday.

Man, that stretch of sidewalk is my bane every winter. It’s a slight slope that gets meltwater running over it at the slightest thaw, but not steep enough that the water runs off — it just sits there and freezes treacherously. There’s no way to avoid it, either, because the university is in a shallow depression lower than my house. It would probably be safer to drive the 200 feet than to walk it.

I can tell this is just the beginning, it’s going to hurt much worse later.


  1. HidariMak says

    I can relate. There’s a few sidewalks downtown where I used to work, where the sidewalks are slanted more than usual towards the street. the curb being higher means that the water is kept on the sidewalk unless it passes a certain height, and sliding into downtown traffic becomes far too easy. There were a few times after freezing rain when I had to come to a dead stop on the sidewalk just to slow down the slide, keeping balance, just so I could run along the street during breaks in traffic.

  2. Morgan!? ♥ ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ says

    I used to be the volunteer coordinator for our local chapter of Meals on Wheels. Our mountain town gets very icy in winter and there are not very many flat surfaces. It is all uphill and downhill in both directions. I supplied each of my delivery drivers with NanoSpikes. They were much more effective than the popular YakTraks which are the equivalent of cables for your shoes. Any brand with small spikes works very well.

  3. Big Boppa says

    I feel your pain. Last week I tripped while walking up my basement steps. I’ve got bruises on both elbows and my left knee. My right shin took the brunt of it though so besides being bruised I’ve got a big cut that will take a couple of weeks to start looking normal again. The worst thing was that my 4yo grandson was waiting for me at the top of the stairs and he wasvpretty freaked out.

  4. stroppy says

    So sorry you have to deal with that.

    Facilities Management or somebody needs to get out there with sand or kitty litter.

  5. wzrd1 says

    @1, I’ve a couple of sets like those. I bet that they work great, alas, I’ve always forgotten them at home when I’d go out.
    But, I do have an ice tip for my cane, which does help.

    @PZ, alternate cold and warm, the usual. I usually feel it the worst around day 3 after a significant injury.

  6. says

    I’ve got banged up slipping on ice badly enough in recent years that I generally take a cab to work if I’m not comfortable with how the walk looks. Like today, where we had a slight dusting of snow overnight which was just enough to cover the icy spots so it’s harder to avoid them.

    Even with my increasing caution (and let’s face it, outright fear now) I still managed to slip a couple of times this season but fortunately both were soft landings. It’s when it’s like this after freeze/thaw cycles when things get more dangerous.

  7. says

    @1 I second that suggestion. Those really do help.

    You would think a trail like that would keep a shovel or box of salt nearby but I guess not. Get some rest, talk to your doctor and feel better soon.

  8. rabbitbrush says

    Don’t bother with those strap-on ice grippers that have cable or coil-like traction. After about six miles they start to uncoil and become worthless. Studs or spikes are MUCH more effective and durable.

  9. hillaryrettig says

    This is my terror. I hope you’re okay PZ.

    I’ve been using the Costco Yaktrax this winter and they’ve worked very well. (And I’ve walked a lot, canvassing for Bernie in IA and MI.) They are the rubber ones with small spikes.

  10. smellyoldgit says

    Two years ago I did the spectacular ‘feet flying’ – flat on back routine. Fractured six ribs!
    I now wear huge spiked crampons at the first sign of a light chill in the air ….

  11. moxie says

    steal some kitty litter from the cat (not the clumping kind) and throw it on the sidewalk.

  12. tccc says

    Yaktrax or the Costco version.

    Always, every time.

    I got them for my parents and put them on their boots for them, they just stay on all winter.

  13. lambert says

    Glad you have an appointment for today. Don’t want to scare you, but head trauma is no joke. I know of two people, an uncle of mine, and Donald Dewar, the first First Minister of Scotland, who died as a result of exactly this kind of slip and fall. Bleeding in the brain it’s no joke.

    Hope it all turns out well.

  14. opposablethumbs says

    Sympathies, PZ! They don’t do any practical good, but sending ’em anyway. Hope you feel less chipped around the edges as soon as may be :-s

  15. Kevin Karplus says

    I haven’t slipped on ice since moving to California, but I still manage to fall once every year or two.

    I highly recommend taking aikido or judo classes, just for learning how to fall more safely. It saved my life once at MSU, when I slipped on black ice crossing a road. I was able to get up and out of the road before a car came (it would not have been able to stop on the black ice).

    The last couple of times I’ve fallen have been on steps while carrying a mug of tea. In both cases, I somehow managed to put the tea mug down without breaking it and without injuring myself as I fell.

  16. brightmoon says

    I was going to recommend a dance class to help with strengthening your knees and hips to improve balance and reaction times . Martial arts is a great suggestion. When I realized my balance wasn’t as good I started dancing again . I look like the ballet dancing hippos from the original Disney Fantasia but hey, their technique was pretty good

  17. Snidely W says

    Does Brenthaven™ make professor-shaped protective gear?

    Ditto on lambert’s comment: “head trauma is no joke”, as I’m sure you already know.
    I’ve had a few serious head bangs in my day, and I feel lucky that all that it has cost me (so far) is some doing-math-in-my-head skills. And that is no joke either.

    Good luck with it all.

  18. nomdeplume says

    Take good care of yourself PZ, you must be very careful not to make it worse – don’t think you can just carry on as normal, wrap yourself in cotton wool. Think of yourself temporarily as a very old man, one aged, oh I don’t know, nearly 75…

    Thinking of you.

  19. jrkrideau says

    Checks the desk drawer Korkers?

    Anything like them or Yaktrax is a great idea. I picked up 12 stitches in the back of my head ( and a complimentary ham sandwich at the hospital) before buying them. Not a serious problem since.

  20. bionichips says

    Years ago a friend of mine showed me her shoes/boots with retractable cleats/spikes that she was very happy with. She said they were very popular in Scandinavia. You may want to seriously consider something like that as in Minnesota you never know when you may need them. I saw one model that you flip a switch to engage/disengage the spikes.
    Googling “shoes with retractable ice spikes” gave a lot of good options.

    As an aside, even if it is only a few feet you are obviously now older and wiser – so engage them.

    I cannot recommend a particular model/brand but based upon my friend’s enthusiasm I can recommend the concept.

  21. waydude says

    Oh I feel your pain. If you remember Deer Valley up in Park City, I was a waiter there at a fancy restaurant and our supply closet was down by the entrance to underground parking and where all the skiers would walk by. I come out with an armload of table cloths and slip on ice and Charley Brown it right on my back knocking the wind out of me (fun aside, if you this happens it’s hard but blow out until your lungs are empty then you can inhale otherwise your fighting against your collapsing lungs which is why it’s so panicky when it happens), I had to lay there a few minutes to get myself together while everyone just kinda walked around me without looking at the ‘help’ lol

  22. jack16 says

    Google “screwshoe” for treatment for old shoes. I used three eighths hex sheet metal screws on an old pair of sandals. Still using.


  23. hootsmctaverna says

    Ah shoot PZ that’s terrible. Hope you’re not too banged up and you’re back to 100% soon!

  24. lochaber says

    I want to second what Kevin Karplus said.
    Maybe not much interest to our host right now, but for anyone else thinking of trying a martial art, take one that involves throws and teaches you how to fall (judo, jujitsu, aikido come to mind, but there plenty more out there…) – hopefully most people don’t need to use the combative part of martial-arts training, but everyone falls, and learning how to fall is a life-time skill, that pretty much everyone who learns it will benefit from. Something as simple as reflexively tucking your chin to your chest on a backwards fall can literally save your life…

  25. says

    I was going to suggest using an ice axe and crampons next time you go out but I see that others have made more practical suggestions.

  26. jrkrideau says

    29 Dr. Pablito

    : Hey, a ham sandwich is better than nothing.

    Not complaining. It was just that I arrived at about 9 PM and they were kind enough to make sure I was not starving. The fruit juices, etc, they supplied were just normal.

    Perhaps the weirdest thing to a US reader was my arrival ( I had no ID on me). The check-in desk said, “Oh yes, he was here a couple of years ago so he must be covered by OHIP. We will get the paperwork later.