In the Suburbs: A wake-up fall

The last thing I thought I wanted when we shopped for houses nearly three years ago was a two-story colonial. I hoped for a nice, spacious ranch like the beautiful home we’d left behind in Fairfield or even a raised ranch. That was largely due to my wife’s increasing difficulty with walking stairs.

But our real challenge was the beautiful, albeit large maple dining room set that fit perfectly in our large Fairfield ranch and had been crammed into the much smaller dining room in our Bridgeport rental home for nearly four years. My wife would not part with the set and, sadly, every ranch we saw, including really large ones, simply wouldn’t accommodate it. After seeing 12 homes, my wife became increasingly frustrated. So we expanded our search to two story homes with larger dining areas.

In the end, we doddering old seniors probably made a big mistake, but we purchased a colonial with a really nice size living, dining area for the prized set and 13 steps to the second floor. Everything fit perfectly on the main floor and we decided that the former dining room of the house, which is now my wife’s social work office, could be converted to a bedroom if walking became a problem for her.

So we forgot about the 13 steps and, thankfully, they never became an issue until last November when my wife took an unexpected little tumble down five steps, holding poor Patches, our little dog. Fortunately, there were no broken bones, but later that evening, when my lovely wife couldn’t move from her chair in the den, she had to be carried to an ambulance and taken to Bridgeport Hospital for observation. Fortunately, the pain killers helped her to walk and when I picked her up after midnight, she was moving pretty well.

But my spouse had extreme difficulty navigating the steps that night and for the next several weeks. And occasionally her knee buckled as she was walking down the steps. Let’s just say that this little incident was a “wake-up fall” for us and we started to do some really serious thinking about next steps — literally.

“What about one of those stair lift things like our former neighbor had,” I suggested. “We have the space for it, I keep hearing ads for Collins Medical in Fairfield. I have no idea about price, but they are certainly becoming the popular addition for seniors in houses like ours.”

For the first time in the last 10 years of our marriage, my wife was willing to entertain the idea of a stairlift. But she still pushed back and said that something like the stairlift was certainly worth considering down the road. I jokingly said that down the road was really right around the corner and I decided to do some research.

I reminded her that we were both 76 years old and if we truly wanted to remain in our house comfortably, we needed to make some adjustments. She reluctantly agreed. Meanwhile, within weeks of her first fall, my wife’s knee buckled on her one evening and she slipped down two steps, fortunately grabbing the banister. The waiting game was over.

Fortunately, in an unrelated conversation with our school social worker Suzanne, I happened to mention my concern about my wife’s falls and Suzanne mentioned a wonderful stairlift place that she and her husband had contacted for her mom. And the place had a rental program. I couldn’t make the call fast enough.

Fast forward to Good Friday and within four hours we were the proud renters of a great stairlift and we both had peace of mind for the first time in months. The unit is amazing and my wife can “zip” top to bottom and do it in reverse all within minutes. The chair folds up and we still have half the staircase to use for the dog and me.

And my wife loves her little stairlift. Once she figured out the controls, she became a real stair mistress. And the best part is that once she arrives at the bottom, she just steps off and walks away to take care of her downstairs work with her social work clients or watching TV.

What is really great is that if we decide to buy the unit at the end of the first year, the company will apply 70 percent of our rent payments — just under $150 a month — to the purchase price and we can finance the rest. And if we decide we don’t want to keep the unit, the company will remove it with no charge.

Making the decision to get the stairlift was one of the best things we could have done and for additional aging-in-place strategy we added a small, stationary, safety bar in our bedroom to give my wife more stability, particularly with her various back issues, in getting in and out of bed. The bar swivels and is relatively unobtrusive.

I believe the addition of these two pieces of healthcare equipment should give us much more pleasure with our two-story home for many years. And happily, we won’t have to face another move, with or without our dining room set.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at