By: Giselle General
So this happened during my first winter here in Edmonton, back in 2008. There’s a lot of things to learn and navigate and get used to. I learned that winter looks and feels different in different provinces. Things are starting to settle after moving here in July. I have a stable retail job, and I’m earning enough money at the time, I started dating someone who I fondly called my first Canadian boyfriend. And I am navigating all the different schedules and routines I need to do so I can go to the two schools I’m attending which is the University of Alberta and also McEwan University which was called at the time Grant McEwan College.
I worked the closing shift in the retail store where I was working, which is Future Shop at the Terra Losa business centre. It is located on 95th Ave and 172nd St and commuting in the evening was tricky at the time. You have two choices: be lucky and take the bus that is coming along less frequently from the area to the mall and then catch the bus from the mall to our house on the West End. Or if there are no longer buses that are passing through the business centre , take a 25 to 30 minute walk from the store to West Edmonton Mall, through the mall, to the transit station along 87th Ave. This walk is actually nice and refreshing most of the time, especially in the fall or spring or summer months. But winter is a whole different ball game.
You see, at the back of this giant mall, West Edmonton Mall, there’s an overflow parking lot along 90th Ave where people can park their cars if the multi level parking areas all around the mall are too full. Essentially I’d walk through a residential neighborhood , walk through that parking lot, cross to into the mall, walk through the mall, and then get out on the side of the mall where the transit station is.
The thing is in the winter, this parking lot is like a giant, giant ice rink. The reality is, if lots of snow falls into the ground and if left untouched by snowplows, trucks or snowblowers, that pile of snow – however many inches it is – it gets packed down. Then, if in a couple of occasions the weather gets warmer the surface layer of the snow melts a little bit and it becomes ice and that can happen over and over. Cars would not have a difficult time navigating the parking lot because they have tires. It might be a bit slippery driving around but that’s pretty much it. However for people on their feet it gets a bit more tricky.
That night, I decided to walk from my workplace to the mall because it was a night that is not too cold so I thought I can handle it. I’m still dressed for the weather though, I have my nice long winter coat that we bought not too long ago from Winners , and I have this really nice and warm knitted hat that I got from my cousin’s and aunt’s place in Ontario. It’s really thick, thicker than most hats. And it is really cozy with a nice little flower knitted on the brim.
As I left the residential area of Summerlea, passing through the playground and entered the parking lot I realize I’m in big trouble. There are hardly any cars around, there’s the very faint light from the street light switch was not helpful in helping me identify where is a section of the parking lot that is the least icy. You know, how you can usually differentiate between the really really slick shininess of an icy sidewalk and the pathway where it’s just snow that is a little bit bunched up but you might have more traction. That night was not my lucky night.
So I did the only thing I can do . I started walking baby steps, little tiny steps to get as close and to get across as quickly as possible. Here’s the tricky thing. I am very aware what time the bus I’m taking will be departing, 9:58 PM. If I do not catch the bus, since it’s already almost 10:00 PM, I need to wait one full hour for the other bus before I can get home. So I’m conflicted! I need to walk slowly because it’s so icy and scary but at the same time I have this bus I need to catch . I’m so happy that there’s no one else in that parking lot because every three steps I would slip a little bit and scream!
I was about halfway through when, I suppose, my balance was a little bit off, because I slipped and fell forwards. I was really afraid I’m gonna slam my face onto the icy pavement. However because my hat was a lot thicker than most hats I actually had a cushion. I did fall face first, but it was my forehead that hit on the ground. I was lying there in shock for a second or two . And I realized I was not bleeding, I wasn’t hurt, no scratches or bumps on my face and I was so shocked and relieved. Then slowly but surely I rolled over on to my back, tried to sit up and struggled because even my hands cannot grip anything because everything is so slippery. And I slowly stood up and continued walking . By the time I crossed the parking lot and reached the sidewalk along 90th Ave I was overjoyed. I moved on to enter the mall through Bourbon Street the restaurant area tried to run and walk and shuffle through the mall to catch my bus.
The next day I woke up in pain and was very scared. My neck hurts! I could not even pinpoint where that came from. Because I arrived home late in the evening I didn’t get a chance to tell anybody what happened the night before. Over breakfast I went into the main floor of our house and talk to my aunt and I told her what’s happening with my neck. She was very worried and for good reason. During the vehicle accident in my childhood where my parents and sister were killed, my brother and I were not left unscathed. My major injuries consisted of a lot of wounds causing a lot of blood loss, and a fractured skull. So my aunt was really worried that it might have something to do with my head again, even if it’s been a couple decades since my injury . Then, I told her about the slip and fall I had the night before. Now she was even more worried! She told me to go to a doctor ASAP, because my slip and fall might have affected my head and she said that it actually might be a concussion. Now here’s the thing, I haven’t heard of the word concussion before so I was even more scared and it sounded really serious.
While enduing my neck that was hurting, I took some painkillers and went to school. For this day my classes were at the University of Alberta. I discovered that there is a medical clinic there that students can go to, which is such a relief. So in between my classes, I went to the Student Union Building on the 2nd floor, and try to see a doctor. I’ve never been to this building before, I’ve never been to this clinic before, so I quite don’t know what to expect.
I didn’t have to wait very long and when I told the doctor what is happening how I’m feeling and what happened that might be related. He asked a few questions, touched my head a couple times, and said he doesn’t seem to see get it was anything really serious. And he introduced a brand new word to me. Whiplash! As it turns out, a whiplash can happen when you experience a strong incident like slipping and falling that can cause muscles or joints in other parts of your body to feel tension and be hurt. I was told to take painkillers, take it easy on myself, and wait it out. If I’m still feeling dizzy (if ever), if my neck or my head or other parts of my body are hurting, then I could go back for further help.
A couple days after, I was chatting with my boyfriend at the time. We’re hanging out in his apartment. He is born and raised in Canada so he has experience with a lot of winters both in Alberta and BC where he was from. I told him what happened, I told him what the doctor said , and he said that makes a lot of sense.
It wasn’t only until a few years after when I learned about the “Penguin walking technique”. I think I saw something about it on social media. I mentioned it to the new boyfriend I was dating then, the guy who ended up being my husband. He said that makes a lot of sense. I told him about the slip and fall incident and how that’s very scary for me. So now, every time we walk around and there is a potentially slippery and icy area he would remind me of the Penguin walking technique, hold my hand and we’ll walk through together.
I think this is the reason why icy sidewalks and roads caused me a lot of stress and anxiety when walking around in the winter. This is particularly important for me as well, as a person who cannot drive. A couple of years ago, there is now an app launched by the City of Edmonton, where you can report icy sidewalks and piles of snow and windrows. Which in many ways is nice. But I really hope that everybody, from policy makers, to building owners, to parking lot owners, to home owners, to ensure that there is at least one straight path that is wide enough, safe enough, accessible enough for everybody to pass through all seasons long.