Monday, 05 January 2015

Stairs Can Be Deadly

You don’t have to be a doctor to know that stairs can be deadly, says Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
‘Mind the stairs’ is something I say so often as people descend the steep stone steps to the basement that I am considering getting a recording that goes off automatically as soon as anyone grabs the handrail.

This twisted bar of metal has stood the test of time since 1835, during which, statistically speaking, there will have been several casualties, some of them fatal. In 2011, for instance, there were a staggering 693 deaths from a fall on and down the stairs – a fair proportion out of the average 17,000 or so people who die annually from an accident of any kind. Stone stairs are particularly treacherous, the blunt surface on impact doing most damage, of course.

Rock House was once home (and part-time surgery) to Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female to qualify as a doctor. For the last 30 years of her life, she lived out her semi-retirement here with her companion, Kitty, and a succession of small dogs – also rather treacherous underfoot. There is an old plaque on the side of the house in her honour, the date of her death recorded as 1910 (in the upstairs bedroom). The stroke that brought about her demise at 89 years old was precipitated by, yes, a fall down the stairs.


I had always assumed that it was a sharp turn down the stone steps to the scullery here at Rock House to have a word about the crumpled ironing (or something) that did for her. But no, the tragedy actually struck while treating herself to a holiday on the Clyde coast of Scotland in the Kilmun Hotel. She and Kitty loved the bracing air and the warm welcome, returning several times, until, on the fourth visit, she fell headlong down a full flight. Although no bones were broken, it is said that her system never fully recovered. After a peaceful passing here three years later, a service was held at St Clement at the bottom of the road and then her body was returned to the churchyard at Kilmun at her request – she preferred the view, apparently.

The funeral was well attended with many wreaths sent, including a large laurel one from a group of recently qualified lady practitioners with the inscription: ‘A pioneer – from some of those who are trying to follow in her footsteps.’ Although I am sure they didn’t mean it literally.

Next week: Flat fish-gate

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