Crutches and canes and visible disability

One of the things I’ve learned through this process of knee surgery and recovery is how much people want to help, when they judge help is needed.

Walking around campus with my cane or with crutches and students leap to help me. They open doors and they offer to carry my books or my coffee. If I’m waiting and seating is limited, they offer me their chairs.

It’s lovely and I don’t refuse offers of help.

But I’m actually much more able, in much less pain than I was before surgery. And without the cane and crutches no one offered to help. I’m not blaming other people. They didn’t know. But it is a reminder of how much we rely on visible signs of disability.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I am heartened by how lovely and attentive people are being. Now I just have to figure out how to get that switch into helpful mode to activate without the cane or the crutches.

What’s your experience been using a cane or crutches?

Sam in her office with crutches



Sam is checking in for November 2022

It’s been thirteen weeks since knee replacement surgery and aside from that new annoying muscle I discovered, things are ticking along just fine with my left knee.

I’ve added massage therapy to my toolbox of things to help and that’s been good.

I checked in with the surgeon though and things aren’t so great with my right knee. I’m seeing him again in February and we’re looking maybe–knock on wood, fingers crossed–on a May date for total replacement of that knee. It will be great to have all this over with and while I hate to miss a summer of outdoor riding it will be nice to be recovery walking without the added worry of snow and ice.

Because of my right knee woes we’re not going biking in Cuba this winter. I think it would be too much. But you? You should go with these guys. The trip looks amazing. I’m aiming for 2024. I know and I like the tour guides and strongly recommend them to you.

Cuba Bike Touring

I’m still doing a lot of physio–twice daily, most days–and I’ve racked up more than 400 workouts in the 222 workouts in the year 2022 group. A few people congratulated me when I hit 400 and while it’s true that’s a lot I haven’t had much choice about it with all the physio (plus aquafit and some walking and some weight lifting and riding on the trainer.)

What else to report? Let’s see. It’s unlikely that I’ll finish 7 more books before the end of the year. Wish me luck!

Reading back over old posts I see I had the ambition of riding outside at the 12 week mark and I haven’t managed that yet. It’s certainly warm enough this weekend but we’re away in the big city for a weekend of music and theatre and meals out with friends. Hard to complain about that. I also planned to try classes at my new fancy gym, other than aquafit. Maybe hot yoga? Or a spin class? That might end up being an ‘over the Christmas holidays’ thing.

While November is always a struggle, it’s been great this year having friends who recognize that and who reach out. We’ve had visits with Susan, and with Alice, and with Steve, and Greg, and with Ellen. I also gave a Zoom talk (I don’t love it and each time say that will be the last but this one felt ok) and I’ve been teaching Ethics and Data Science. So more people than usual and that’s been a good thing.

In general, connecting with other people has made me feel better. Shocking, I know. My friend Todd Tyrtle is blogging about his efforts to feel better in winter and I’ve been enjoying our conversations about what helps and what doesn’t. Here’s the silliest list I’ve seen of 53 ways to feel better in winter. The list includes face glitter, drawing on bananas and walking backwards.

Anyway, November is done and I’ve made it through the worst month of the year. Next month is all holidays and parties and bright lights and presents and yummy food. And then the days begin to get longer and there’s bright sunshine and snow (here at least)!

Leafless trees on snow covered ground. Scopio.
fitness · motivation · sleep

Sam is singing the nap anthem

I heard a great interview on CBC recently with Fatuma Adar, a playwright and creator in Toronto who has made mediocrity her mission. She’s written a musical play, She’s Not Special, about the pressure to be excellent as a Black Muslim woman. Adar was featured on an episode of the CBC show, Now or Never, talking about the joys of mediocrity.

The theme of the show resonated a lot with me and with some of the questions we take up on the blog. Not every active thing we do needs to be a quest for excellence. It’s okay to enjoy a sport or a physical activity and not excel at it. It’s just fine to be a bad dancer. Many of us who love running are slow runners.

In my post about being a fitness Muppet, I took my inspiration from Brett Goldstein (of Ted Lasso fame) speaking as a guest on Brené Brown‘s podcast, Unlocking Us, about the Muppets.

“Well, it’s like… The secret of the Muppets is they’re not very good at what they do. Like Kermit’s not a great host, Fozzie is not a good comedian, Miss Piggy is not a great… None of them are actually good at it, but they fucking love it…

And they’re like a family and they like putting on a show and they have joy and because of the joy, it doesn’t matter that they’re not good at it.

And that’s like what we should all be. Muppets.”

In that post I wrote about my joy in playing soccer even though I am not a great soccer player. Being willing to be at a thing is thing I’ve written before in the context of motivation.

Anyway, I loved the interview with Adar and think her dad, who appears on the show too, is terrific.

Adar has also written and directed an ode to the nap, inspired by the Nap Ministry. It’s the Nap Anthem and I love it!


Happy Planksgiving from Margaret and Gemma

Happy Planksgiving! 😉🦃🍁
from Margaret and Gemma.

In these great photos from 2021 Margaret is planking with her dog niece, Gemma. Gemma has her own Instagram account. Follow her on @goldendoodlegemma.

Margaret plans to blog for us in the new year. We’re looking forward to it Margaret!

aging · fitness

Aging, Activity, and Myths

I saw this on Twitter and love the assignment and the results.

Here’s Number 1: Frailty is “Inevitable”

I especially love the tips about avoiding self-identifying as frail.

Follow the full thread for the others myths, such as “older adults are not crucial members of society,” “Older adults should skip exercising to avoid injury,” “All older adults should skip strength-based exercise,” and more.

Nice work Healthy Aging students! I’m busy grading my own students work but these all look like As to me.

Help share if you’re still on Twitter.


When to work out? Sam is back to lunch hour workouts

Oh early winter, dark days. It’s a struggle.

And while in theory I like the idea of winter as a quiet restful at home low key season, nestled on the sofa with a stack of books, thanks to the pandemic I’ve spent quite enough time at home. Thanks to recovery from surgery I’ve also spent enough time on the sofa.

I also know it’s better for my mental health and energy levels if I keep moving. Rest sounds good but it doesn’t always make me feel good.

But when to workout? At 6 am in the dark? At 6 pm in the dark? Neither seems to be working right now.

It doesn’t help that my big busy job is also extra busy right now with lots of days starting at 8 and going into the evening.

The one time that’s been working for me is lunch hour. Meg and I meet for personal training then and I’ve almost always got lunch hour booked off. It’s also nice to get out of my building and walk to the gym when the sun is shining. Yes, there are complications around work clothes and gym clothes but end of term makes that less of a conflict. I’m going to try to make the lunch hour workouts a thing in December. Wish me luck!

When do you workout in the winter? Does the dark affect your ability to get out in the evening?


I learned an important sentence in Spanish

We need to buy some new bicycles!

Necesitamos comprar unas bicicletas nuevas!

I’m still thinking about a new bike, either a new road bike that can fit wider, all surface tires, or a new gravel bike. See Sam has that look in her eyes, she’s thinking about bikes. Even Duolingo knows what I’m up to!

It’s 12 weeks past knee replacement now and I’ve riding my bike on the trainer, with the seat even at its usual height. It seems like I’ve got pretty good range of motion in my left knee. I’m ready to ride outside (just once or twice even) but the weather isn’t cooperating. I don’t want to risk falling on the snow or the ice. It’s also very cold out there. Brrrr.

I might have to wait until spring if I don’t make it somewhere warm to ride bikes this winter. But in the meantime I am bike browsing and thinking about my options.

fitness · injury · Zwift

Regaining speed and trying not to care

Let’s recap last week’s ups and downs while recovering from knee replacement surgery (12 weeks ago).

I began last week declaring that I was back to training again and not just doing physio. Life could be about more than range of movement and balance. What this means is that I started riding in Zwift again, watching my avatar and the related metrics, not just watching My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Never Have I Ever. But then I managed to hurt another muscle. See Sam discovers another weird and painful muscle .

So I spent part of the week back on crutches and back to all the physio. Bah.

But that setback didn’t last long and now I’m riding again in Zwift actually watching the screen, which means that I can see I’m gradually getting faster.

Here’s my time on the Fuego Flats spring three times since surgery:

But just as it’s nice to see I’m getting faster, I’m nowhere near as fast as I was. That’s to be expected but I am trying not to care! I’ve ridden that particular sprint segment 171 times and my fastest time was 41 seconds.

The fastest time ever for a woman is 27 seconds. My fastest time puts me in the 16,479th spot of the 127,073 women who’ve ridden it.

I’m trying to take pleasure in getting faster in my recovery from surgery while not caring too much about not being as fast as I used to be and not being as fast as some of the women out there Zwifting,

Wish me luck in the return to bike training and wish me luck finding comparison useful and motivational in some contexts and ignoring comparisons when they’re neither of those things.

injury · training


So my patience is running low 12 weeks after knee replacement surgery.

I was doing okay until I did something to my Tibialis Posterior–see Sam discovers another weird and painful muscle–and now have ankle exercises along with all the knee exercises. More physio! Argh.

I’m searching “ways to make physio less boring” and found this.

“1. Link the rehab exercises to something that you love. If you’re in the habit of watching TV in the evening, do your exercises while your favourite shows are on and never allow yourself to watch them unless you are doing your exercises while watching. In my case, I pick some of my favourite albums and only listen to them if I’m doing a workout at the same time.

2. The “brussels sprouts” method. In other words, get them over with as quickly as possible before moving on to something that you love. Don’t think about it, just do it. No dessert until all the sprouts are gone.

3. If you are in the habit of exercising regularly, create pairs of exercises where the second one is an exercise that has been assigned to you by your therapist. For example, if you are doing sets of pushups, follow each set with a gait exercise rather than just resting between sets. This is called the “bi-plex” hybrid method and is my personal favourite.”

I’m already doing 1 and 2, so I think I’ll give 3 a try, work some of the physio into a routine of regular exercises that I’ve been missing.

Any other tips out there? All advice welcome!

fitness · injury · training

Sam discovers another weird and painful muscle

I feel like this is the year when I’m working my way through the annoying and painful muscles of the leg.

Last time it was the gracilis.

This time I’ve irritated the Tibialis Posterior. According to Wikipedia it’s the key stabilizing muscle of the lower leg.

For a few days it’s been painful putting weight on my left foot and then the cane wasn’t enough to make walking possible. For a couple of days I’ve gone back to using crutches. I was worried at first that I’d done something to my knee. But my knee is fine.

My physiotherapist says it’s the Tibialis Posterior, which certainly hurt when she put pressure on it. So for now I’m back to aquafit and physio exercises, including new exercises that target that muscle. So much for my plan to return to bike training

She says that the muscle hasn’t been used in a bit and I went from asking nothing of it to asking a lot. Fine!

I’m in “take it easy” except for aquafit and physio mode. Bah. Grumble. But also I’m just relieved it’s nothing to do with my knee.


This happened to coincide with our first serious snow so I’m actually glad to have the crutches for navigating my way through that. The bright side is that they’re much more stable than just the cane.

Sam’s street with snow

Here’s a video about how to strengthen the Tibialis Posterior:

Is this a muscle you’re familiar with?