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Beacon Senior News

Lying in wait: Watch out for black ice

Dec 02, 2019 03:51PM ● By Sharon Love Cook

As winter approaches, I’m taking it upon myself to warn my fellow seniors about a deadly menace. No, it isn’t the School District 51 norovirus or hackers stealing information from shoppers’ credit cards, nor is it salmonella breeding inside the holiday turkey.

It’s something trickier and potentially more dangerous because it lies in wait for the young and old alike. Often, you don’t see it until you’ve fallen—literally—into its trap. I’m talking about black ice, the hidden danger that gives no warning.

Black ice is slick and deceptive. You don’t realize you’re its victim until you’re flat on your back staring up at the clouds. For some, it can lead to concussion or brain injury.

I had my own spill the end of last winter. Heading down the driveway to my car, I didn’t see the ice. It cunningly hid under a thin layer of snow, creating an even more slippery surface.

In a flash, my legs were up in the air like a cartoon character’s and my head hit the asphalt.

For several minutes I lay there, staring up at the sky. It was sort of peaceful and I was in no hurry to get up. I knew that eventually the mailman would arrive and wonder why I was stretched out on the driveway with the temperature a bracing 20 degrees. I wasn’t in a state of shock; it was more a state of stunned.

My vigil ended when my husband arrived, asking, “What happened? Did you fall?”

I wish I’d had a snappy answer but my thinking was a little cloudy.

Black ice forms when the air suddenly cools after a warm spell melts snow and the runoff refreezes. It is highly transparent, blending in with the road or pavement. Because black ice is so thin, it’s nearly impossible to see. Just ask its victims. They realize they’ve been tricked when they find themselves on the ground. Moreover, the stuff is so slippery, it’s impossible to remain upright.

My skull was intact though it remained sore. My back, however, didn’t fare as well.

Immediately, I developed something called “foot drop.” While walking, the right foot does the standard heel-toe movement but the left goes “flap.” It’s annoying, having to be aware of your every step lest you trip.

My doctor ordered the standard tests: x-rays, bone scan, MRI. I also had a test where he stuck tiny electrodes into the nerves in my legs to check their response.

Judging by the pile of tissues I shredded, they responded enthusiastically. Next on my list is a visit to the neurosurgeon’s office.

I don’t know how helpful I’ve been. Outside of wearing a padded suit like the Michelin Man, I don’t have much advice other than to take it slow and let caution be your guide. Don’t go boldly where no man has gone before. Hang back. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time in doctors’ waiting rooms.