By Hannah Berman


There are certain expressions that most of us would probably not use. It is unlikely that many folks would say, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” It may be perfect English, but people just don’t talk like that. So those ads for call buttons, the ones that are meant to be used to summon help, are somewhat off the mark. Despite the fact that the words “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” are now so familiar to me, I don’t speak that way. The expression is grammatically correct, but, in times of trouble, grammar would not be my main concern.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that I have never fallen. On two occasions, I have had the unpleasant and humiliating experience of having done just that. The first time I fell I was in my house, but, as embarrassed as I was, I was lucky to have friends who were in the room when it happened. We were playing mah-jongg at the time and when it was my turn to get up from the table, I stood up, but I turned too quickly and — boom — down I went. Serious mah-jongg players are never thrilled with interruptions, but the girls did leave the table — albeit reluctantly — and put the game on hold in order to help me up.

The second time I fell it didn’t go quite so smoothly. It was a few years later and it happened as I was walking on the sidewalk of Peninsula Boulevard in Woodmere. I tripped over a sidewalk crack and, once again, down I went. My first move was to look around to be sure that nobody had seen me. At first, I was thrilled when I determined that nobody had witnessed my fall. But sanity quickly returned when I realized this was not a good thing; if nobody had seen me, nobody was going to help me!

I was blocked from the view of passing cars by the many parked cars, and it was nearly 20 minutes before help finally arrived. As soon as I fell, I reached for my cellphone — only to discover that it had flown clear out of my hand and landed several feet away. Initially, I thought I would crawl to get to it, but as soon as I got on my knees, I realized the futility of that plan. The pain of my knees pressing on tiny pebbles on an already rough cement sidewalk prevented me from going too far. I managed only three small crawling movements before realizing I had to stop. So I decided to wait and hope to be spotted somehow.

That did eventually happen when somebody decided to park in the one open spot that was available. A man got out of his car and discovered me lying on the sidewalk. The bright sun had been blinding me, so I had shut my eyes for a moment, and the fellow stopped in his tracks. He hesitated because, as he later explained, he wasn’t sure if I was unconscious — or worse. I knew his explanation was sincere because when I sensed someone nearby, I opened my eyes and asked for his help, and the poor fellow got so frightened at the sound of my voice that he looked like he had seen a ghost. It was the only humorous moment in the entire experience, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. He eventually recovered from his shock and managed to help me to my feet.

Things are different when I am at home. At a minimal annual cost, I always wear a call button. The button hangs from a string I wear around my neck. It isn’t the most glorious necklace I own, but it does the trick. I keep it on while I shower and when I go to sleep. Nobody ever sees it because I take it off when I leave the house. The plan I devised is as follows: just before I go out, I hang it from the doorknob of my front hall closet so I will see it as soon as I return home and immediately put it on.

As I see it, there is no need to wear it when I am out of the house because if I fall in a store, someone will surely see me and come to my assistance; and if I fall while crossing the street, chances are that, as I am not a small person, some motorist will spot me and come to my aid before an inattentive driver (and there are plenty of those) runs over me. As previously mentioned, if I fall while walking on a sidewalk, it might take time but I will eventually be spotted.

When I am alone in my house, the call button gives me a sense of security. Fortunately, as of this writing, I have never had to use it, but I know exactly what I would likely say if I did. After pressing the button and getting a response, my first inclination would be to shout the following: “Help me, quick; I fell down and there’s no way I can get up!” I tend to be verbose on most occasions but never more so than when I’m in trouble. Or I might say something like, “Help, I’m alone in my house and I’m on the floor. Please send somebody, fast!”

The ads for call buttons annoy me because I like things to be “real,” so my personal preference would be to hear speech as most people would be likely to use it. It makes little difference how one phrases the request for help because anyone who wears a button and presses it to call for help will get the same prompt attention regardless of how he or she phrases it. Hopefully, I will never have to use the button, but life is uncertain, so, when at home, I have it on my person at all times. That’s just the way it is!

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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