I fell out of bed the other night. It surprised me.

It's one thing for a small child tangled in blankets to fall out of a so-called "youth bed" in a carpeted room. Children can fall out of bed, reposition themselves on the plush rug below, and still be there in the morning, having never quite awakened. I, on the other hand, dropped off the edge of a mattress that's a good 36 inches from the floor, and when I say "floor," I mean wide pine boards without so much as a scatter rug to soften a person's descent.

Not that nothing broke my fall. My head hit the bedside table on takeoff and my left shin caught the edge of the closet door mid-flight before I landed squarely on one hip.

Apparently I had been lying with my back even with the extreme edge of the mattress. Rolling over in my sleep became a demonstration of gravity plus momentum. One second I was dreaming; the next I was losing altitude. No lemming ever felt so helpless.

That's the absolute truth, by the way. I just learned that lemmings don't plunge off cliffs to their deaths. That myth originated with a 1958 Disney documentary called "White Wilderness," in which filmmakers chased a pack of perfectly healthy lemmings off a cliff just to give the script some excitement. As if this weren't bad enough, the scene of the tiny animals flailing in the air and probably calling for their mothers before hitting the water was enough to win Disney an Academy Award. Don't tell me good always triumphs over evil.

Back to my story: I was blissfully unconscious until the conk on my head alerted me to an emergency on my side of the bed. Then I landed. It turns out all those older people who stopped me when I was grocery shopping with preschoolers were right: It does go so fast. Too bad they were talking about child-raising and not 36-inch falls.

My husband thought something had exploded. He manfully leapt up, galloped around and stood over me as I sat on the floor trying to wrap my arms around my head and my shin at the same time.

"What happened?" he said.

"I fell out of bed!" I said, perhaps more forcefully than was, strictly speaking, necessary.

I was pretty put out, though. Not with my husband -- he was catching up fast -- but with having traveled from sleep to wide-awakeness, suffering several conks along the way, without so much as a heads up from a warning buzzer.

That was the worst of my injuries. My head is still tender, my shin looks like it came in contact with a steel-toed boot and I have a colorful bruise where I hit the floor. But the memory of falling backward, helpless to stop what was coming, is the hardest to shake. I've wondered if soldiers feel this times 50 zillion when their Jeep hits an IED. Falling from bed is nothing unless a person breaks a bone -- it was several days before I thought to be grateful for my two intact hips, though trust me, when I did think of it, I was grateful indeed -- but it's almost like PTSD, the way the first wave of helplessness keeps circling back.

"You nitwittedly rolled off the mattress! Forget it," I tell myself, but when I climb into bed, I position myself so far from the edge that my husband is all but nudged into the bedside bookcase on his side.

I'm trying to develop the philosophy of my 4-year-old granddaughter, who recently slid down the slide at a neighborhood swimming pool for the first time. When she shot into the water, her drenched sensibilities, like a car's brakes, refused to work for a few seconds. She was buffeted by several subsequent sliders before her mother jumped into the water and boosted her out.

Later, though, she assessed the afternoon at the pool. The best part of the day, she said, was going down the slide. And the worst part? The water at the bottom of the slide.

Now, isn't that healthy? I'm going to take the same approach to my fall. The best part was floating in the air. The worst part was just after that.

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.