One falls, we all go down.

By: pbcmedia

Mar 11 2010

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Deep Thoughts, elderly


Focal Length:50mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon EOS 5D

I go to the YMCA most days to do my version of a water aerobics class.  I attach myself to whatever group is formally there for a class but invariably I end up off by myself with my water noodle.  Either the class is too strenuous for me or not strenuous enough, so I have developed my own routines.

Today’s group is the class where participants need a doctor’s note to participate.  People with arthritis and often severe cases of it attend, many elderly people with a variety of physical limitations-knee reconstruction, shoulder reconstruction.  Some come poolside with walkers, some with canes, some walking in an hobbled gait–but they come through all types of weather for the opportunity to get in the warm water and move in the pool as I imagine they once did out of the pool.

The lifeguard is a kind man who is now back doing morning “guard” duty after a couple of years of driving a school bus.  He is older himself with a bit of hearing loss.  He has a very nice way with people and I had heard from someone that he had been an attendant in a mental hospital at one time.

Behind the lifeguard’s chair, the door to the men’s locker room opens frequently as the class gathers.  On this morning, one of the regular attendees, an elderly, very stooped man came out and appeared to trip and went down in slow motion to suit his gait. Members of the class began pointing to him, calling to the life guard to turn around and help him, but the lifeguard was writing on his attendance chart at first and simply didn’t hear them.  Several moved right to the edge of the pool and under his station and finally got his attention and he then moved like a much younger man out of the guard chair to help the gentleman.

The teacher of the class and several other men who were able to help got out of the pool and went to him.  There was that moment when every set of eyes in the pool was on this downed bird with the damaged wings, unable to right himself.  He was eventually helped into a chair with his bad leg propped up.  The lifeguard applied bandages to various parts of his arms and legs  that had been scraped in the fall while the man smiled and appeared to wave off any fuss.  His facial expression reminded me of photos of FDR, appearing as gaunt as a human being can look while still conscious, but who nonetheless wanted to appear vital and strong and held his cigarette holder at a jaunty angle with wide smile.

This gentleman didn’t have a cigarette holder but he smiled at the lifeguard as he bandaged his bruised wings and legs and said, “I’m sorry to be a bother,” to a swim instructor who brought him a glass of water.

©Pat Coakley 2010


**Select photographs from this blog and from my wider archive can be purchased at

6 comments on “One falls, we all go down.”

  1. The photo is great. I think it’s the sort of image that stock libraries would be interested in.

    It’s very sad to see people starting to loose their mobility. I was once walking down the street and I passed a very old man who could hardly walk. I watched as he struggled with every difficult step. I went up to him and asked if he needed help and with a look of utter helplessness he nodded yes. Even speaking was hard for him.

    I put his frail old arm over my shoulder and helped him along, worried all the while that his arm may break. He was so frail and so helpless. I took about half an hour to make the 20 or so steps into the bank he wanted to go to. In the end I basically picked him up and carried hiw. I had other things I had to do, so when he was served I left, wondering how he was going to get home. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was the last time he ever went out on his own.

    The old man reminded my of how I feel when I see junk yards full of old cars. Each car represents someone’s dream that was once shiny, glistening and new in a showroom. Finally if wore out and was thrown away.

    I think a lot of old people are treated like the cars in the junk yard. People don’t tend to think of what they used to be like in their day but just see them as something to throw away.

    I think what a lot of people don’t realise is that many older people are young people trapped in decaying vehicles and so many people only look at the surface and enquire no further.

    • Razz, this is a comment worthy of me going out in the near future and trying to locate a junkyard for cars. Honestly, how poignant your story of helping the frail man is, as well as the reminder that they (we) are all young people trapped in decaying vehicles. Thank you for these thoughts!

  2. This is an interesting image, with its clean lines, the absence of any reflection from the figure and the odd perspective suggested by the glass panels at the top. It also suggests how each of us is alone — however much we try to surround ourselves with others. The help and company of others can be a great comfort throughout our lives, but in the end we are alone. Perhaps the old and frail remind us of that sometimes uncomfortable fact.

    • Don, I took this photo a couple of weeks ago at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Their exhibition floor is on the 4th floor and after moving out of the main exhibit you enter this long windowed corridor facing Boston Harbor. Logan airport is off the the right. After this palette cleanser (which is how I experience it always), you then go into the more permanent collections of the museum at the far end of the corridor.

      This is a perfect example of taking photographs that appeal to me for one reason or another and only weeks, months, or years later finding a narrative that suits them on the blog.

      Yo are so right. Everyone in the pool yesterday had a very uncomfortable moment, hence the title of the blog post.

  3. i also find the photograph very moving. something about the stance, the drape of the pants, the wideness of the glass, the way he stands almost up against it, there is a kind of suggestion of frailty in it. as if one could fall through the glass into the water. the little hole in the back pocket, too. i have seen people, figures, in a moment that passes quickly while still remains impressed in the minds eye but this gives such a rich opportunity to “See” it. I keep being drawn back to it, as if my eyes just can’t take it in all at once. and the story is intense, and reflects the photograph.

  4. You know, Kathi, that is exactly why I took it. But, of course, I needed your comment to explain it to me!

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