by Liz Smith | bio

The statistics on women in menopause and those with osteoporosis are terrible. Breaking a bone or having a really bad sprain seem all but a certainty.

And I notice women of all ages with fractured bones in their feet (usually from mis-steps) or broken hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders. You don’t have to be growing older to break something.

I don’t know where you live, but the streets, curbs and sidewalks in New York City are regular pitfalls of pot holes, busted sidewalks, erratic stone steps, submerged-by-inches manhole covers and gratings.

They do say haste makes waste. And it does.

I was going on a small private jet down to Austin for the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards last March to substitute for my friend Ann Richards, once the popular governor of Texas, the divine departed soul who was vanquished by George Bush and Karl Rove. Ann had created the Texas Film Festival, and a few New Yorkers wanted to help carry out her vision.

I was traveling with Ann’s former aide, Sandra Castellanos; the terrific actress Anna Deavere Smith; Abilene’s gift to NYC, Joe Armstrong; and my sainted helper, Mary Jo McDonough. I saw we had a rather small jet donated by some generous Texas millionaire.

So I was greedily determined to get a good seat facing forward and not have to end up gallantly sitting sideways as sometimes happens. This led to my speed on leaving the terminal to board. I bounded up the steps like a gazelle right to the aisle, in a big hurry. Did I know that this particular little plane had an aisle placed six inches below the seats? Did I step down carefully into this lowered aisle? No, I dropped six inches onto my innocent right foot in my haste, breaking two bones.

By the time we got to Austin, I couldn’t walk and had to hop down the steps into a wheelchair. I managed to get on stage that night on the arm of a big strapping Texan and do my emcee chores, but I was in a cast and had huge doctor bills and nasty inconvenience for six weeks after.

I couldn’t get my cast wet or take a real bath for the entire time. Worse, I felt like an old fool for all the weeks I was hopping, using a cane, or had to cancel my social and business life. It was embarrassing to explain what had happened.

This led me to revisit words of wisdom I want to pass on to you from one of nature’s noble women, Joan Ganz Cooney, the inventor with Jim Henson of “Sesame Street.” They didn’t give Joan the President’s Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for nothing. So here’s her simple but important advice: DO NOT HURRY!

You only save a few minutes in what you are doing. If you don’t hurry yourself, don’t do it on the double as if your pants are on fire, run instead of walk carefully, you probably won’t fall, stumble, collide into something or make a mis-step. You can take time to be mindful of where you are going.

I have tried since I recovered to be slow but sure, ever holding stair rails, pausing at intersections, looking down at the street and then both ways, whatever I am doing. I examine holes and cracks and inclines, testing my damned shoes to be sure they are “working” — just taking it kind of slow.

This is hard for someone who has literally whizzed through life and doesn’t like to be “helped” and can’t stand being in a wheelchair for fear of being dubbed “all washed up.”

So I say don’t hurry, but keep on going. Sen. John McCain’s 95-year-old mother drove herself all around France last year. When the rental car company turned her down, she simply bought herself a car for the trip. But she wasn’t in a hurry; she took her time.

Now Roberta McCain seems like a special case. Ninety-five, she has learned to be slow but sure. So this is the best way for anyone any age not to have an accident. Every time you decide to do something real quick you are taking a chance.

When I see young people, all over New York where biking and running is endemic, when I pass many of them in casts, on crutches, using canes hobbling, I often ask “Were you in a hurry when you did that?” They look exasperated and 98 percent of them say, “Yes.”

Stop hurrying yourself. Your menopause will go on as long as you live. It’s not rushing somewhere — so don’t you rush either.

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  • Carolyn Hahn January 4, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    PS: I loved that article in the Times about McCain’s mom–my best friend pointed it out to me. The last line was that the sister, age 96, had just gotten her passport renewed–good for the next ten years. “I like to think positive, ” she said. Plus, those chicks looked pretty darn good for 95 and 96!

  • Carolyn Hahn January 4, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Oh, Liz!!!!!!!!! So sorry to hear. You are so right, though. A friend is just recovering from breaking her arm (she’s 64) after a fall, says she felt so stupid: she’s a physical therapist and had just gotten the classic little old lady “Colles Fracture” of the wrist. We have to find a way to re-write the little old lady bone thing.