Falling 

08.06.2024

by Astrid von Rosen

"Falling, for example - that's a liminal act, both in life and on stage. The real home of the fall is the dream, isn't it." (Margaretha Åsberg)

1 The Falling Accident

The accident happened on 13 July 2021 at a petrol station in Ystad, a coastal town in southern Sweden. Suddenly my husband was lying there, like a beetle on his back. Something was broken, crushed, inside his body. He had stepped wrong, fallen backwards from the ten centimetre high railing where the payment machine was placed. I was standing by the car, ready to fill up with petrol, when he gave a schout. He was lying there on the asphalt, crouched down to protect himself, one arm with bloody scratches. "My watch," he shouted, "take care of the watch." I ran forward, bent down, held him gently. Soft skin, body stiffened in pain. "Something's broken," he said, and winced as he tried to move.

I dialled 112, the emergency number, at the same time as a couple of women came forward and offered their help. One of them said she was a nurse. She asked if he had hit his head. He answered in the negative. She gave him a small pillow to put under his head and a blanket to cover his body. Another helpful woman put a rubber mat under his injured arm. A man, who remained in his car, asked if we had called an ambulance. When we answered yes, he quickly drove off. "Is there a next of kin?" she asked, saying she was a nurse. I flinched, realising it wasn't crystal clear who I was. "Yes, I'm his wife," I replied quickly. My holiday clothes, the white t-shirt with the word LOVE in silver glitter and the new green tinted sunglasses suddenly felt strangely out of place. I curled up by my husband's side, trying to be calm, present, give warmth, give love. The carefree road tripwe had started the day before was over.

It felt like time was stretched out, becoming endless while we waited for the ambulance, yet it arrived within minutes. My husband was given morphine and a first Covid test was done; there would be many more. One of the ambulance nurses wrote my phone number in ballpoint pen on her arm. She told me that I was not allowed in the ambulance, and that I would not be allowed in the hospital because of the Covid restrictions. It hurt, deep down. This being denied to be by my husband's side felt unjust and terribly wrong.

I dug his phone charger out of our shared suitcase, the only suitcase that fits in the car's minimal luggage space. Handed over the charger. A last lifeline, a bond between us. He blurred, disappearing into the combined fog of pain and morphine. "Do you have a driving licence?" someone asked. "I'm the one driving," I said. Then I refuelled and pulled the car over. Sat there a bit away from the ambulance, waiting, trying to decide what to do. Emptiness, loneliness, yellow-green grass around the asphalt. Friends, living in the countryside a bit from the small town Anderslöv, were expecting us for the evening. I sent them a text message about what had happened.

As the ambulance drove away, I followed, at a reasonable distance, shadowing it, like in a detective story. The ambulance drove slowly and smoothly through the roundabouts before disappearing into the hospital grounds. I stopped and turned the car round, driving aimlessly around the city. It was hot. Eventually I drove down to the sea, sat on the beach and waited for a phone call from the hospital.

At one stroke, the fall ended our life together. For my husband, it was a struggle for survival; for me, it was a reorganisation, or downsizing, of my professional life as a constantly working, hyper-stressed academic. We both fell, but in different, yet intertwined ways.

This text encapsulates my search for a life-giving understanding of falling. Is it possible to talk about an art of falling? Can art, dance, music, images, words, show their power in relation to falling? I want to be involved in creating something that makes my husband and I fall lively and lovingly. Far away from the hard asphalt of the petrol station.

2 Falling Better

After my husband had been operated on at Ystad Hospital, he was taken by flying ambulance to Landvetter Airport, for onward transport to Mölndal Hospital, and Ward 234. He had five hip screws and a plate in his femur, and was heavily medicated for the pain. Oxynorm, a morphine derivative. Oxycontin, an opioid. Plus all his usual medications.

I drove home to Gothenburg, and then every day to Mölndal Hospital to deliver a GT (a Gothenburg evening paper printed early in the morning), chocolates, postcards with hearts on them. Everything was packed in warn cloth bags, used many times, all very sustainable. A nurse, a new one each time, met up outside the hospital, received the delivery. My frustration over not being able to be close to my husband, and not being able to hold him, wouldn't go away. It was as if I, as the next of kin, had no place, no value. Doing something, buying a GT, driving, handing it over, became my way to counteract our involuntary separation. The paper was appreciated. It circulated among the other patients, I learnt.

It was still unusually warm. Sometimes I drove out to the sea, to the swimming areas of Näset, or Askim, after being in Mölndal. I read some book on the beach, but I can't remember which. I tried to cope with being alone. I did manage, especially if I kept moving, or lay like a herring among the other bodies on the beach. Almost invisible, but with a place in the sand. The warmth of the sun softened the strange, unsettling feeling of unease and uncertainty. I swam in the sea, quickly and vigilantly, with one eye on my bag, which remained on the towel. At home in the kitchen, I cooked for my husband in his absence, fine dishes like buttered cod, blue cheese pie, crispy pizza bianco. Eating slowly, out on the balcony. Breathing, feeling how the whole existence was changing.

We talked on the phone several times each day. He told me fantastic and delirious stories about his life in Ward 234. "I see dots, you see, little black dots, on the window frames. There are several layers, they move. There was a piece of art in the corridor, but I didn't see it, couldn't understand what it was. I was seeing double. Do you think I hit my head when I fell?" He returned to the visual disturbance in different versions, becoming increasingly worried about it. I tried to counter the story with facts, like the statement that he hadn't actually hit his head. But his drug world was somehow more real, more powerful, than what I could conjure up.

After an eternity, or just a few days, he came home, pale, transported in a wheelchair. Aids arrived: an elevated toilet seat, small ramps at the thresholds, a rollator, a walker, a pair of rock-hard support socks, almost impossible to put on his tortured feet and lower legs. Tablets in different colours and shapes. Home care workers came and went. A young energetic physiotherapist made her entrance.

When asked to organise a bin for all the new people's blue shoe covers, I put a brown recycling bag in an ice bucket and placed in the hall. My husband was given shots in his stomach to prevent blood clots. The home care workers threw the small used syringes in the sorting bag for combustibles under the sink. Everyone did their best, yet it only got worse.

My husband screamed in his sleep, he had delirious dreams. Both his legs, especially the wrong leg, the one not operated on, were swelling up. The legs looked like hot dogs threatening to burst. Could it be a blood clot? He was hospitalised again, this time at the Sahlgrenska Hospital not far from our home. It was not a clot, it turned out. It was a malfunctioning cardiac valve, and he had a little devilish pneumonia. New medication. Changed medication. New, softer support stockings with a plastic sock that made it easier to put them on. Bed-making, emptying the night pot, washing, helping him dress, checking medication, changing the water in the carafe and in the glass, breakfast, getting the morning newspaper, going to the garbage shed, answering the door when someone rang the bell, buying the GT, organising lunch and dinner. Constantly being on hand in a life that was shrinking, consisting of my husband's pain and struggle for survival, mixed with my everyday chores and attempts to fulfil at least a part of my university duties. I was afraid to open the computer, felt sick, had to force a professional objectivity as I went through email after email. My husband had fallen, now I started falling too. I wanted to fall with him, fall as if we were flying.

In my mind, the scene at the petrol station played over and over again. It was as if the whole thing began to transform into a brutal choreography. My husband undergoing a random and horrible transformation from a standing man to a beetle on its back. It was my past that haunted me, turning my gaze towards the art of dance. My imagination kidnapping the fallen man, making him perform in a bizarre dance piece. Before I became an academic, I was a professional dancer. I danced in everything from classical ballets to dance theatre. It was a hard and difficult profession, but at the same time wonderful in a way. Wonderful as in laughing out loud at bad jokes in the dressing room, wonderful as in having your body dissolving in hot sweat when floating across the floor, wonderful as in getting high on endorphins as your muscles become instruments of art. Maybe I was an endorphin addict instead of a dancer?

After my husband's fall, it was as if a creative urge took over my body and mind. I allowed myself to be infinitely sensitive to the way fabrics felt against my skin. I observed my movements as I walked to and from the garbage shed, I felt how the paved path in the yard, the air outside, the bushes, the windows of the main building and its brown 1970s brickwall became a stage, where I moved. When the ambulances pulled into the yard to drop off my husband, or drive away with him, I was there, meeting the car, in a dress recently bought in the mall in Mölndal.

It was a cheap cotton dress, but it had a nice design. Thin shoulder straps together with a generous width made me think about fashion as art. It was a magical dress. Christine Sjöberg, a PhD student in art history at my work, writes that "fashion is not only about clothes and different clothing styles, but also about everyday practices and existential struggles". Her way of articulating events involving the body and clothes, and her responses to my messages on various social media comforted me. One rainy afternoon, she sent me the following lines: "The scene of the body that is there, the scene of what is there, everyday and at the same time intensified. The scene that transforms. I am disconnected, I can observe myself from the outside, but at the same time I am completely present. An almost paranormal experience. Everything seems to stand still in the moment and at the same time it continues, creates movement – a change that continues."

My cotton dress became a main component of the car journeys to the hospital building where Ward 234 was located. When I was cooking, the dress got grease stains, and I accidentally sprayed bleach on it. When I realised the mistake, I sprayed it more and more. I padded it with my hands, turning it this way and that in the bathtub. Then, I put the dress in the washing machine at random FIXA. When it came out it had a fantastic batik pattern. The mistake with the bleach was just stupid, and at the same time it turned out really well. Like falling into the first issue of Vogue Scandinavia, headlong and punky, and landing in soft fluff. My husband liked the dress; he said it looked good on me, and I felt beautiful in it.

I think of Samuel Beckett's famous words about failure: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Transposed to falling, it becomes: "Ever fallen. Fall again. Fall better." I really like the idea that it is possible to fall better. Keep falling, again and again, and it gets better.

[Chapter 3-8 will be published soon]