I recently spent some time up a ladder to paint the trim on the house. It’s an extension ladder that stretches to twenty-some feet and I’ve gotten fairly comfortable, even when I’ve climbed to a reasonably unsafe height. It briefly crosses my mind that something bad could happen without a lot of effort on my part. Nevertheless, I extended the ladder fully, leaned it against the front of the house, wedged the bottom into the lawn, and crawled up. Once at the top, I used a paint roller on an broom handle to paint trim at the peak of the house. By the time I had finished, there were paint drippings all over the front walk. It was a barely contained, minor disaster.
Eighteen years ago, I went for a wild ride on a ladder. It was roughly the same situation–painting the trim at the peak of the roof facia–except that I positioned the ladder differently. The foot of the ladder was on the wood deck, and it leaned against the gutter about halfway up the house. And up I went.
I carried a coffee can full of paint in one hand and the brush in the other. As I reached for the trim with the brush, my weight shifted over the fulcrum created at the gutter, and the bottom of the ladder moved. The ladder lost its grip on the wood deck, and it slid violently across the deck, blasting through the balustrades. Meanwhile, I plummeted along with the ladder towards the deck, going from a vertical position towards horizontal very, very quickly.
It was a situation in which time seemed to slow down. It’s a flash bulb moment for me in that I can recall specific details. I know that I consciously told myself to drop the paint can and brush and grab the ladder with my hands. I did this. I recall telling myself to hang on tight and get ready to hit the deck.
In a matter of about one second, the ladder slid across the deck, blasted through the balustrades, and (luckily) stuck into the soft ground beyond. My fall halted with the ladder about two feet above the deck, and me holding on tightly. I was looking down, through the rungs, at the deck, which was now, incidentally, splattered with the paint I’d dropped.
I remained there, suspended above the deck, until I had a chance to breath. I stepped off of the ladder, relaxed my hands, and decided that the clean up could wait until another time.
I walked inside and called it a day.