Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Fall, The Fitness, The Chances For Recovery – Forbes

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg accepting an award last May. (Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “RBG” to many, took a fall in her office and fractured 3 ribs last night. We don’t yet know the extent of the fractures. For someone who is age 85, as Ginsburg is, any fall is a high risk for complications.

Many of us have seen an elder’s decline start with a fall, a fracture, hospitalization and a downhill slide from there. But RBG may be very different from most people in recovering from broken ribs . It’s not just her astonishing resilience in pursuing equal justice for women under the law amid intense resistance that sets her apart. It is her relentless self-discipline in caring for her health with exercise and attention to strengthening her body. That truism “strong mind in a strong body” likely will apply to her recovery. There are legitimate reasons for optimism.

For those who have seen the documentary about her life and the illustration of her physical training sessions, we know that she uses weights and performs stretching and strengthening exercises very regularly. Medical research shows us that this kind of routine is excellent for balance, toning, and recovery from any physical trauma. It’s well understood that people who are fit have better chances for overcoming illness and injury. The reasons are multiple but generally involve healthy blood flow to muscles and other tissues,  providing adequate oxygenation, essential for healing.

Then there is the spirit and will to manage the everyday physical demands of getting and staying fit. That’s a state of mind. It is an intangible but it also has plenty to do with healing.  Haven’t we all seen this at one time or another? A positive attitude goes with doing better than a negative one for just about everything. In my nursing career, I certainly observed that people who were determined to be undefeated by injury were the ones who got better faster and those who adopted a passive or defeatist attitude did not fare as well.

The one thing I learned about rib fractures is that they really hurt. One can’t put a cast on broken ribs. And other than a supportive belt sometimes used to help hold ribs in line so they can heal properly, there is not much treatment medical providers can offer other than to treat the pain and help the person avoid aggravating the injury. (This assumes that surgery for severe fracture is not needed–we don’t know this yet.) The ribs expand and contract with every breath. Imagine that it hurts just to breathe!

This is where the utter determination demonstrated by RBG throughout her life will help her. She has never given up on anything, as far as we know. I would expect her to be asking her doctors right away if she can do some physical activity to help with her recovery. Even as it it painful, I would also expect her to do any movement she is allowed to do as soon as she is allowed to do it. That, together with good muscle tone and good blood flow she has undoubtedly achieved with her exercise routine gives her the best chance possible to avoid the many risks of complications.

All of us can learn a few things from RBG if we haven’t already. Just focusing on her fitness routine, we see that she continues to serve as a decisive Supreme Court Justice by doing whatever she can to maintain her stamina for the demands of the job. That’s a reminder for everyone. Living long is not an accident of fate, but a combination of factors about 70% of which are our personal choices for our own lifestyle. Obviously she keeps her weight in line, another factor that reduces the risk of illness as well as risks of complication from any trauma. She has purpose in life, which is another crucial factor that helps anyone survive difficulty of every kind.  The drive to keep going is a powerful force.

As a strong advocate of healthy aging myself, I’m sending my thoughts of hope and encouragement for a full recovery to the iconic RBG. She sets an example of physical self disciple for all to follow. May she get through this and be back on the bench, feisty as ever.

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