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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Fiddler injured in a fall from a ladder plays gig

by Ryan Thomson

It was a typical fall weekend in New England, cool with patchy clouds and brightly colored foliage. Many people were spending the time doing repairs around their homes, in preparation for the coming winter. I was presently painting the trim on a second floor window, and thinking about my gig for the evening, a Saturday night contra dance in Jackson, New Hampshire. Jackson is about a two hour, 90 mile drive north into the White Mountains, from my home in Newmarket. I was supplying both the fiddling and the sound system.

I reached over a little too far with the paint brush, and one leg of the ladder sunk into the ground. Before I could compensate, down I went, ladder, paint, and all. The long fall left me momentarily disoriented, and the first thing I attempted to do was check my hands and arms, thinking about about music making ability. Everything seemed functional, and then I heard a voice from my next door neighbor who had come outdoors and encountered me sprawled on the ground. He inquired as to my well being, and feeling foolish, I quickly responded in a macho way that "I was just fine thanks, had a little spill."


I struggled to my feet and almost went down again, as I experienced excruciating pain in my left ankle. To take my mind from the pain, and to further prove I was OK, I began sealing up the paint can, and hobbled around to the back yard with the ladder. There I stopped to examine my ankle and found that there was nothing obviously broken. I remembered reading that badly sprained ankles are often far more painful than broken ankles however.


I calculated that I had approximately 20 minutes to get ready to leave for Jackson, and that if I hurried, I could get on my way and still make the gig despite my injury. It was too late anyway to find a replacement, and I was determined to play my fiddle. I limped painfully into my house, gulped some aspirin, removed my clothing, and got into the shower to wash away a full days work worth of grime. While in the shower I noticed that the ankle was beginning to change color, and was swelling ominously. I realized that I had to hurry, or I wouldn't be able to get my shoe on over the swelling!


I quickly dried off, got dressed, and was just barely able to get my shoe on over the rapidly expanding ankle. It ached and throbbed, and I knew that it hadn't yet reached the peak of discomfort, and so I was anxious to get in the car, and on the road. Because of the pain I was hopping around on one leg. I managed to get my fiddle in the car, and I was on my way. Fortunately I had previously loaded the sound system into the car.


After a half hour drive, the edge came off of the pain, and it settled down to a dull roar. I arrived in Jackson on time, and was the customary one hour early for set up. I hopped into the dance hall on one leg and noticed a couple of people already present. I explained that I was the fiddler, and that I couldn't walk, but I was here to play! I was pretty much helpless in setting up the sound system, but I had eager volunteers to assemble everything in the proper way. Someone found me a chair to sit in while I fiddled, and also another chair to prop my ankle up on.


The dance went well, and having to concentrate on playing fiddle helped distract me from my ankle problem. At the end, I attempted to stand up and found it impossible to put any weight on it at all. Now that the gig was over, I became more concerned about whether it might be broken. Several people helped load me and all of my equipment back into the car. I headed back down out of the mountains and recalled seeing a small hospital in Conway on my trip north.


I drove to the hospital, and hopped into the emergency room where I was x-rayed and examined. My ankle was soaked in ice, and test results pronounced it unbroken, but badly sprained. By this time, it wouldn't fit back into my shoe, but was bandaged up, and I drove home, happy, at least, that it wasn't broken, and that I had managed to complete my gig! I couldn't walk on it for several days, but I got a lot of fiddling practice in! 


For those of you interested, I subsequently learned that the proper treatment for sprained ankles is immediate icing and compression. That is, put your foot into a bucket of ice with water as soon as you possibly can after the injury, and then wrap it in such a way that it can't swell. Talk to a medical person to get the details as how to best accomplish this. These treatments greatly speed up recovery time and lessen pain.

Written by Ryan Thomson, 1996

Ryan Thomson's Newmarket home and the second floor window he worked on just before his ladder collapsed.

2nd floor window on the right, on the front of my house

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