Thursday, September 25, 2014

Universal Language: Falling Down The Stairs

by Peter Hyatt

When is it appropriate for a person to use the pronoun "you" when the person speaks of himself? The use of the word "you" when speaking of oneself, is often found in both distancing language, as well as universal language (which is a form of distancing).

2 months ago, I fell down a flight of stairs.  I broke my collar bone, toe, and bruised up pretty badly.  I also tore my shoulder muscle, which has yet to heal.  I had just received a new prescription for glasses:  progressive lens glasses.  I was struggling with them, and came down very early in the morning, and had left a book on the step the night before.  I fell down almost the entire stairs, hit the landing, and fell down 2 more to the floor.  The pain was acute.

Note the following statement:

"It hurts when you break your collar bone."

This is not something you would expect me to say after the above described fall.

When was this said?

Herein lies the key: context.

A broken bone is very painful.

How close to the break was this sentence spoken?

When the pain is mostly a memory, it is appropriate to use not only distancing language, but 'universal' language:  "you" is anyone who experiences a broken collar bone, no matter how the injury occurred

For me, it was the flight of stairs.

Now, a case to examine from several years ago in which an employee fell down stairs.  I am always on alert for those who seek to "game" the system, and seek some form of compensation.  The subject said:

"Fell down a flight of stairs.  I have to be seen."

I noted the missing pronoun, as I take notes, always.  She did not say "I fell..." but "Fell..."  This is distancing language.  It could be because she was in severe pain.  Having experienced a fall down an almost entire flight of stairs, the pain is blinding.  Yet, "I have to be seen" is a legal responsibility an employer has.  Besides "gamers", I also am concerned about health, safety and well being.  No one in pain needs someone questioning their account, yet, my training has me on alert.

My response:  "Yes, immediately."

The subject continued to talk, therefore, rather than cutting her off with another insistence upon seeking medical attention immediately, I asked,

Q.  "How many steps did you fall down?"

A.  "How many steps did I fall down?  Well, uh, three."

I noted both the repetition of my question, and the number within the answer.  This sensitivity (answering a question with a question) may be due to pain.  I must always remain open-minded and believe what I am told.

Q.  What hurts?

A.  "Everything.  Everything.  Everywhere it hurts.  You hurt when you fall down the stairs."

Q.  Yes it does.  You need to be seen immediately.  

A.  "Okay.  I have to wait for my husband to drive me."

Q.  "Do you want me to arrange a ride? Would you like to go in an ambulance?"

A.   "No, I can wait."

Q.  "If you choose to wait, you can ice it, and take advil."

A.   "Yeah, that's true.  I should be seen, but I don't like when they prescribe pain medication.  It makes my head swim."

I noted the introduction of narcotics.  I noted that not only did she introduce narcotics, but she did so in the negative.

The secretary called the medical office contracted to see the employees, with the relevant information and the description of the injury.

The treating physician called me.  "I know your work!  What do you think about this case?"

I reported that I had my doubts, particularly for two reasons:

1.  The number of steps was given as three.  Of course, this may be true, but according to research by Mark McClish, "3" is to be flagged for possible deception.  (I think that "two" might sound too little, for a deceptive person, and "4" might sound excessive, therefore, 3 is chosen. More on this later).

2.  The distancing language within moments of the fall the subject used

I also told him that I had not asked about pain medications, but that by offering to me that she did not like pain medications, I was concerned that this may be a ruse to score meds.  I told him that she may have very well fallen down three steps, injured herself, and hates pain medication, but that the linguistic indications mean I should verify.

He thanked me for my opinion, and said that he would report back to me the findings, including any work restrictions.

After the examination, he said, "She reported global pain, and needed assistance to enter the office.  I have ordered x-rays as a matter of routine, due to the report of such acute pain.  Upon examination, there are no injuries.  She requested pain medication but I only gave her a script for a single tablet,  since there was no visible injury, and  I also noted that when she was leaving, she did not know I was watching.  I noted in my chart that she left with perfect gait. I told her that if the x-ray showed fracture, I would give her another prescription for pain medication. "

She was sent to the x-ray facility, next building down.

She did not show up.

When an injury, or a physical attack happens, it is very personal.  The distancing language comes into play as the pain or memory of the pain subsides.  Emotion has a powerful ability to change language, and in this case from

"I hurt" to "you hurt" when you break your...

Conclusion:  Part of context is when the subject makes a statement.  How often has the subject made the statement? If time has passed the subject is repeating his words, you make hear a "self reference" indicating the subject is no longer working from experiential memory, but memory of what he said earlier.

"Like I said, when you break your collarbone..."

As time and healing has taken place, universal, distancing language (2nd person, "you") is appropriate.

When the wound is fresh, or if the incident is not universal, distancing language should be examined for possible deception.  Passivity and dropped pronouns should also be noted.

Lesser injuries will use universal language.  When gender is not known, "their" or "they" is sometimes used, even when plural is denied.

Pronouns are instinctive.  When something is universal, "you" is sometimes used.  When something is up close and personal, we must question why one is using distancing or universal language.

Recall the Baby Ayla case, in which the deceptive grandmother took two unique, and terribly intrusive personal events and said:

"When you're waiting for someone to call about your missing granddaughter...when someone is casing your house..."

She did not lie.

People do not like to lie outright, instead will withhold or suppress information.  No one likes to be seen or caught as a liar.  When one is caught, rage is often the response.


Jo said...

In a statement to WTVR, Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Martin said he believed there was no evidence to suggest Matthew was involved in Murphy's disappearance.

He doesn't claim his client wasn't involved, just that he believes there isn't any evidence.

Anonymous said...


John Mc Gowan said...


Richard 'Pedie' Perez, Unarmed Man Killed By Richmond Cop, Being Ignored, Dad Says

Anonymous said...

What about what isn't said?
Wouldn't you expect this couple to be grateful that they are alive? Why did they take their dog? Where did they take their dog to eat? (Seriously.). Instead it's all money, etc.

Polo said...

I am an xray tech at an urgent care clinic and could really appreciate this exercise. I never realized how much SA helps to evaluate patient statements. What these Work Comp or MVA patient's do not realize is that they are only hurting themselves by misrepresenting their injuries.
1) Lie or exagerate your injuries to a doctor and watch how unsympathetic they get.
2) Did you know radiation is cumulative? You never get rid of the dose you get. If you say you hurt all over, the physician or PAC HAS to order all those xrays on your neck, back, hip, etc. Even if the physical exam is negative. Enjoy your dose of radiation.
3) Potential employers have access to records that indicate whether you have filed Work Comp claims in the past and it is held against you. Same for when you try to buy life or disability insurance.

Anonymous said...

Falling down three steps would be painful enough. Enough to twist or break an ankle, leg, and yes, even a collar bone if the landing is wrong and depending upon the condition of the person that fell.

I fell once standing on flat surface. It was one of the most painful experieces I've ever had in my life. I was too embarassed to complain about the pain that continued for well over a year and then some.

John Mc Gowan said...

OT of sorts?

I came across this quote and thought it apt for SA.

“One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.”

― Niccolò Machiavelli

Tania Cadogan said...

Broken collarbones hurt like buggery, I broke mine when i fell off a sofa i was lying on. I had a nice lump on the break for many years.

Falling down the stairs one time i hit every step on the way down on my butt.
I heard my coccyx snap,i also put my albows out against the walls on either side to keep me upright.

I knew it hurt but having a high pain threshold kept on with my job which involved a lot of lifting, carrying, cleaning of animal pens and sundry other work.
it finally got to a point where i couldn't use my left arm for more than a minute or two which considering my workk was a bit of a buggeration.(6 weeks) Me being me, popped down to the vet and asked if i could use their image intensifier. She said yes and asked why. i told her and we had a good look.

I had broken my left arm. I had a hairline crack going from the elbow to halfway down my forearm.
There was little we could do there and occupational health told me go visit ER.

The next day i went to ER where they x rayed it again with the same result. Die to the time they strapped it up rather than a cast and stuck my arm in a sling.
This was not good as was was going to a posh dinner with my then boyfriend and i had to ask the waiter to cut my food up for me LOL.

I also damaged the myelin sheath that goes over the nerver on my elbow( the funny bone) the result now is if i lean on my elbow the wrong way i get what feels like an electric shock through my arm which hurts.
My coccyx sorted itself out but it meant i couldn't sit down for weeks and even now if i sit too long it shouts or i get a pain going from my coccxyx to my hip.

At least now you will know when the weather changes Peter though there are less painful ways to do it.

In the meantime invest in a bubblewrap suit, it helps you bounce better :)

Polo said...

Tania, in the medical field, we would call you the Queen of the Stiff Upper Lip. I hope you have healed well.

Tania Cadogan said...

Hi Polo i did, my butt and my arm let me know though when i am overdoing, when the weather changes or if i sit wrong or lean on my elbow wrong.

I need a bubblewrap suit and a danger mobile disaster area t shirt :)

Anonymous said...

@ appx 9:20 it appeared as if they may be headed up the rabbit pole. Hope they don't fall down all the steps and break their bum!