Still alive

At this stage of my life, I must get out and walk at least a mile every day, or my tendons start to calcify and lock up, and every step turns into an agonizing process in which a little homunculus scurries about in my blood vessels and uses a pointy hammer to shatter the crystallized pulleys and levers and get the joints moving again. It’s not fun. It’s better if I make a daily effort to keep the limbs supple and well-oiled, and then everything runs smoothly all the time.

My next life-stage? I’ll either be constantly moving, restlessly shark-like, or I’ll be frozen stonily, a kind of Morris Giant. In the latter event, at least my wife will be able to sell me to a freak show, or even charge admission to see the terrifying antediluvian hominid.

Anyway, so I have to take a lubricating constitutional every single day. One catch today is that we’re in the waning phases of a blizzard…but that does not stop me. I don my layered apparel and brave the fierce assault of the frozen north lest I face the dreaded tendon-freeze. External frigidity is better than internal rigidity.

So I wandered through the drifting snow, waded over roads empty of all but snow-clearing vehicles, fought against chilling wind-blasts, felt the ice build up in my beard, was occasionally blinded by flurries stirred up by the fitful gusts, to end up here, in a coffee shop, thawing. Also typing as an act of procrastination — when I finish this, I have to swaddle, zip, and button up and stagger out again to fight my way home again. Right now I’m alive and limber and warm, but that could change. Everything could change. Nothing ever stays the same and it’s always bracing to do battle with one thing or another.

The alternative is that career as freak-show statue, I suppose, which at least sounds restful.


  1. says

    Ah, another of my physical failings: a skin condition that is worsened by immersion in chlorinated water. You cannot imagine the agonies I went through while trying to figure out what was causing the ferocious incessant itching.

    Also, the walrus comparisons from other swimmers might make me uncomfortable. Especially since there aren’t even any clam beds at the bottom of the pool.

  2. Ogvorbis says

    Have you considered an eliptical bike or a treadmill?

    I feel for you. I get off of an airplane, or up from my seat at the computer, or anything that keeps me stationary for more than an hour or two, and I spend the first 30 seconds walking like Grandpa Simpson.

  3. Didaktylos says

    Nothing else for it, PZ – the Trphy Wife will just have to get busy with a pillow.

  4. says

    Well down in TX the weatherman has pulled the big lever to switch from flu season to hay-fever season. Not as bad as the inflammation of the Arthur (or whatever) plus the cold, but this is what you’re missing.

  5. says

    I have no choice — my employer makes me park in the wilderness, then I am forced to hike through darkest Providence to my office. But, it’s all for the best.

  6. johnott says

    PZ…I’ve been walking for decades. Consider using an Ipod or walkman…The music makes it a pleasure…In more clement weather.

  7. DonDueed says

    I would consider this a triumph. Make a note: Huge success.

    He does it for the good of all of us. Except the ones who are dead.

  8. says

    Especially since you live in the Still-Frozen North, I’d second the idea of the treadmill/elliptical, assuming you can find a spot for it. Netflix has lots of interesting series that I’m making my way through while walking nowhere, and it beats fighting the weather.

  9. lesliegriffiths says

    Yup the chlorine is the downside.

    My local pool also tends to get a bit murky. A bit like a mesozoic swamp, full of mysterious, slow-moving creatures.

  10. Sastra says

    I used to be a walker: 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. “Oh, I know you — you’re that woman who walks by my house every morning.” Last spring I got sciatica and they discovered (among other things) a herniated disc. No more 5 mile walks. I go around the block a couple of times and stop before I start limping too much. 5 miles a day has gone to …. nothing. Normal exercise. Shopping at the mall. 10 minutes strolling on a treadmill. You really can’t tell I’ve got a problem — except nobody sees me out the window rushing by every morn into the country hills. I used to tell myself I didn’t like My Walk so I would keep at it even when I didn’t want to: I was lying to myself — and I knew it.

    Tomorrow morning at 5AM I’m going to the hospital and they’re cutting into my lower back at 7:30. It’s damn hard to go bopping briskly over to have spine surgery. Status quo really isn’t so bad. But damn — I miss those lubricating constitutionals. So I’ll risk it.

    Still alive this time tomorrow, I hope/assume. But — like you — not yet ready to move to ‘another stage of my life’ without some sort of a fight.

  11. Sastra says


    Thanks. Maybe the forced inactivity of the recovery period will allow me to finally read through all the Pharyngula threads and get all caught up…

  12. janiceintoronto says

    Oh!. Gasp! Freak-Show Statue bigotry!


    And just what about the Child Freak Show statues? How about how badly you’re making them feel!


  13. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Get well soon Sastra. Hope everything goes well.

    I seem to get my exercise climbing stairs. Both at home and at work. Plus ye olde parke at the far end of the lot.

  14. Dick the Damned says

    Sastra, here’s wishing you a speedy recovery, & many more long walks in the years ahead. And the latter thought applies to you, too, PZ.

  15. shouldbeworking says

    A speedy recovery to Sasha. I had far too much exercise shovelling snow eeryday for the past week.

  16. billgascoyne says

    Reminds me of the exchange from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

    “I’m not dead … I think I’ll go for a walk.”
    “You’re not foolin’ anyone, you know!”
    “I feel happy!”

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    Adding my best wishes, Sastra, as someone who will be going under the knife in the next few years (certainly knee, possibly disc).

    I can’t run anymore, and walking gets harder every year (ancient ACL, with osteoarthritis advancing), but I’m grateful to still be able to get good workouts on the stationary bike.

  18. otranreg says

    felt the ice build up in my beard

    A good balaclava is probably the best solution to ice on your facial hair. And to what to wear on your head if it’s below -10C outside.

  19. Ogvorbis says

    Mmmm. I like balaclava. Gooey honey and walnuts wrapped in nice flaky dough. Good stu . . .



    Never mind.

  20. crowepps says

    I have trouble walking on uneven surfaces, especially in the winter when they’re covered with ice, and a low tolerance for cold. Here locally my options in winter are to walk around the perimeter of the Fred Meyer store (4 laps per mile), do laps around the ice hockey rink over at the Sports Center (too cold for me), or eight times around the square of halls in the Junior High (available 6:00 to 8:00 every weekday evening). Bet there’s a similar work-around available somewhere there locally, perhaps even at the University. Walking is great, but I see no additional plus in freezing while doing so.

  21. Ogvorbis says


    Wife and I use the local casino. Six laps around the loop enclosing the gaming area is one mile. And it is carpeted which helps the old knee joint.

  22. frog says

    Sympathies on the sensitivity to chlorinated water (though better places have saline water instead), but references to walruses? Screw that noise! My fat ass is way more graceful in the water than most people’s. You know what looks graceful and at home in water? Aquatic mammals–all of whom are large and most of the time have a good layer of blubber. I should not need to tell a biologist this.

    Sorry…I get caught up defending some of my favorite critters.

    As for the walking, I’m uncertain why you are obligated to go outside? Is it just that you won’t be motivated if you are indoors walking in circles for half an hour (or however long you walk for)?

    My gran would walk inside when it was cold, but of course she was past 90 at that point. It was kind of funny to sit on the sofa and watch her shuffle past every thirty seconds or so.

  23. evilDoug says

    though better places have saline water instead)

    Salt pools are still chlorinated, and in my experience just as hard on my hide and eyes as conventionally chlorinated pools. In a salt pool the chlorine is produced by electrolysis of the salt. It is much safer for staff than having to handle cylinders of chlorine.

    Best wishes to Sastra!
    I sometimes suffer from mild to moderate sciatica and one of the best things I can do for it is take myself for walkies! It seems completely paradoxical to me, but it reliably works. I’ve been consuming quite a bit of ibuprofen lately because my walking is seriously impaired by a knackered foot that can be brutally painful.

    Anyone know anything about custom-made metacarpal supports? According to my doctor, who didn’t even bother with an X-ray, I’m suffering from age-related sagging of my metacarpal arch, which puts pressure on the joints. Two years ago I could happily walk 30 kilometres. Right now a three kilometre is risky. According to the doctor, the support will fix me right up, but I haven’t had a chance to get out to the vendor yet.

  24. Ulysses says

    He does it for the good of all of us. Except the ones who are dead.

    But PZ is a scientist. He’s got experiments to run. There is research to be done On the people who are still alive

  25. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    I was just looking into aquatherapy for a hip issue and found that some of the pool places that offer physio nowadays are saline rather than chlorine. Problem is there aren’t many, and most won’t take health insurance as payment.

  26. WharGarbl says

    Regarding the Portal references, I think we’re missing a few lines in between.

  27. Brandon says

    I must get out and walk at least a mile every day

    I think this is probably a pretty good idea for everyone that’s not disabled in a fashion that prevents it. When I got out of grad school and moved to my new location, I had to start walking ~0.7 miles to the train and then about 0.5 miles to work. Even those short little distances twice a day noticeably affected how I felt in really short order.

    Now, I just about lose my mind if I go a couple days without running or biking at least a few miles, but that’s another story…

  28. JimB says

    or I’ll be frozen stonily, a kind of Morris Giant.

    Anybody else think of The Stone God Awakens by Philip Jose Farmer?

    And to think he wrote that in 1955, long before LOLCats or Ceiling Cat…

  29. Anthony K says

    And to what to wear on your head if it’s below -10C outside.

    A balaclava? At -10C? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

  30. says

    Quick recovery Sastra!

    I walk around the neighborhood several times a week. Based on my speed, I’d say I walk about a mile and a half to two miles. Trust me, it sounds much more impressive when you factor in the 15 pound baby strapped to my chest†.

    I know how you feel, PZ. It’s not my joints I’m worried about at the moment, but I just can’t stand being cooped up in this apartment for days on end. Tomorrow we’ll probably spend some time playing in the snow.

    †She has a hell of a snowsuit.

  31. Dick the Damned says

    I’m just back in from a walk from our house to, & around, Beaver Pond, with my wife. She goes a bit slower than my preferred pace, so it took about an hour & a half. The thermometer says 0 deg C. Bracing! Much better than walking anywhere indoors though.

  32. gregoryhilliard says

    Back in Pa., a friend’s father walks every day, too. He’s 95. In the winter, he does circuit after circuit in the basement. Boring, but it gets the job done. Here in Phoenix, the wife and I have a 2.4-mile we do almost every weekday morning about 6.

  33. jufulu says

    I’ve gotten to where I can no longer perform the driving marathons that I used to do for long trips. Now, if I don’t get out and walk for a bit every 2 hrs, I stagger around for about five minutes before being able to move easily. And the bladder is now just as bad. GET OFF MY LAWN!!

    Sorry what was I saying?

  34. phoenicianromans says

    @Sastra: Tomorrow morning at 5AM I’m going to the hospital and they’re cutting into my lower back at 7:30. It’s damn hard to go bopping briskly over to have spine surgery. Status quo really isn’t so bad. But damn — I miss those lubricating constitutionals. So I’ll risk it.

    Good luck. If it’s any help, you can probably recover the constitutionals habit again – it’s been three years since I was laid up in hospital with a dying back, and I’ve worked my way back to the regular 10k hike.

    Find yourself a sarcastic aunt who’s willing to force you to go stumping up and down a driveway on crutches daily. It worked for me – and I’m still thanking her for her necessary sadism.

  35. carlie says

    Oh, Sastra, may your surgeons be dextrous, smart, and excellent. And good luck with the recovery – keep us updated as you feel like it.

  36. Lithified Detritus says

    EvilDoug –

    I’ve always had flat feet, and years ago my left arch completely collapsed. I lived in pretty much constant pain for a long time. I now have a custom insert for my shoe, and it has made a huge difference. Ask around & find out who is really good at making them.

    I’ve also found that cycling works the foot in a way that strengthens it without impact, and that helps, too.

  37. opposablethumbs says

    Best wishes for your surgery, Sastra. And good health and mobility to the Horders and to our really rather beloved Squidly Overlord (what? So I’m feeling uncharacteristically sentimental, so bite me. It’s the sleep deprivation: these deadlines won’t meet themselves. And I’m pissed off that they’re currently stopping me from going to the gym, probably for a whole fortnight, dammit. I hate going to the gym but I love it. Especially reading while on the cross-trainer and the bike).

  38. Andy Groves says

    Yoga is another great way of keeping flexible. Even 10 or 15 minutes a day can work wonders.

  39. DonDueed says

    Regarding the Portal references, I think we’re missing a few lines in between.

    Well, there’s no use crying over every mistake.

    Sastra, FWIW, I had disc surgery (L4-L5) in December 2000. It helped a LOT. I rarely have any issues with it now. One thing I would recommend is at least one night in the hospital post surgery. I went home the same day and that ride was NOT pleasant. Best of luck to you.

  40. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    Seconding #52… my disc surgery was the best thing in the history of ever. Every once in a while I still have a bout of sciatica- not surprising since the disc in question wasn’t just herniated, there were pieces of it floating around in the spinal fluid on the MRI, and they initially wanted to perform a vertebrae fusion. I did end up with a numb area, much of my foot and the back of my leg, but it’s really really uncommon, and much better than the screaming pain I was dealing with. I was lucky in that I did stay the night in the hospital, I don’t think I would have done well going straight home. Best of luck… I woke up in the recovery room immediately noticing that while I had pain at the surgical site, the nerve pain was gone. Completely.

  41. says

    Best of luck with your surgery Sastra! The worst thing isn’t actually the operation, but the 4 weeks that follow in which you are not allowed to sit.

    Ain’t it great to slowly fall apart! These days when I get on my knees to examine someone on a chair, they make such a horrible creaking noise that some people ask me if I’m ok…

  42. says

    get a dog,a big one and let it drag you around the blocks on a evening walk every night.
    we do that except for weather that would be bad for the dog.when they take off with you in tow to check to check storm drains for racoons it’s as good as 10 minutes on a stair master..
    the dog should not be trained to heel! this is not a proper “doggy walk” but a forced march lead by your furry friend.

  43. otranreg says

    @38 Anthony K

    A balaclava? At -10C? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

    What? Also, I said ‘below’ (although I would don mine at -10 if it’s too windy).

  44. skmarshall says

    See this video for an example of how “restful” being a statue can be:

    Keep walking, PZ!

  45. rbh3 says

    May I suggest tai chi? Strip away all the woo and it’s a good leg strength, joint flexibility, and balance exercise. I’ve used it post three surgeries and a bunch of chemo (at age 71), and it’s been real good for me. And one doesn’t have to brave blizzards to do it. It is not a specifically aerobic exercise, though.

  46. Mak, acolyte to Farore says

    I covet your winters something fierce, even the blizzardy types. Back when I lived up north, I used to love to put on layers and wait for the walk to warm me up. It’s the heat that I find unbearable.

    I’ve had to move waaay south where the winters are pretty tolerable, but the summers are not only hot, they’re also muggy as hell, even at night. The doc told me I’m supposed to run at least thirty minutes every day, and right now it’s not too bad, but I’m not sure of what to do when the summertime comes and it’s still upper-70s with 80%+ humidity in the dead of night. Today was mid-seventies with 75% humidity and I got pretty hot and broke into a heavy sweat after the first half-mile.

  47. says

    I must get some sleep so I am just skipping down to the bottom to leave these ideas here for you.

    1. If you like to swim, try to find the special, chlorine-removing soap that swimmers and triathletes use. It is rather expensive but worth it for removing the itchiness of skin and brittleness of hair.

    2. Toss some sloppy pushups into your routine. That’s when you support yourself with your arms but let your midsection sag down as far as possible. It helps to counteract bending over a desk and hunching over a computer, so your knees, elbows, back, etc. won’t ache.

    3. Do some knee bends or forward lunges that get your knees bent at least to right angles. My physiotherapist has me doing them to lubricate the knee joints.

    4. Stretch and gently move all your joints in their complete range of motion every day. Your body will thank you.