Saturday, September 29, 2012

The ‘Friend’ No Longer at My Side

First, to reassure you all: No, this isn’t a weepy or sentimental piece about the death of a loved one.

I’ve been on vacation this week. We had a quiet, family-oriented, stay-in-New-York vacation.

My wife, daughter and I went to the 9/11 Memorial, rode the Staten Island Ferry, visited the Metropolitan Museum, and stopped at about four playgrounds on the east side of Central Park.

And we walked. A lot. Sometimes, what’s more, I was carrying a tired three-year-old. I have no idea how many steps I took over the course of the last seven days.

There was a day, not so many years ago, when saying that would have been unthinkable. When I was battling knee pain, I never went anywhere without my pedometer. In fact, I remember on more than one occasion leaving my Hong Kong apartment without it, and rushing back, as if I had forgotten my wallet or keys.


Because I’d reached the conclusion that knee pain wasn’t random, as one of my doctors seemed to suggest when he shrugged and said, about my knees that he deemed beyond hope, “You’ll have good days and bad days.”

It made no sense to me that the rest of the physical world is governed by laws of cause and effect, but my knees existed within some strange Bermuda Triangle where “cause and effect” just went and vanished, without a trace.

In my attempts to decipher patterns in the apparent randomness, I knew I had to closely monitor how many steps I took. Gradually, it became an obsession. I seriously tracked and logged the steps I took outside, on shopping trips and walks and so on (note: I didn’t use the pedometer around the apartment, or if I was just going to say the post office.)

That blue clip-on pedometer really was a friend at my side. It told me when I had done enough walking and needed to rest (for a few minutes, or even for the day). It provided a sense of security, of structure. I was no longer free-floating in some nightmare world called “knee pain forever;” rather, there was a way to escape this place, but I had to be patient and get stronger, always conscious of my limits -- even though, I knew in my heart, they would be temporary.

Indeed they were. The last time I remember that pedometer getting a workout was when I came to New York to hunt for an apartment, in December of 2009. I remember too that my step total for one day was off the charts. Something like 20,000, or maybe 21,000 -- the equivalent of more than 10 miles of walking.

Wow. Even though by then I had been biking pretty hard, and was more than a year and a half into my recovery effort, I still thought, “Oh boy, you’re going to pay for this.”

And the next day ... I opened my eyes, climbed off my hotel bed ... and felt fine.

After that trip, I retired my pedometer.

When I needed it, it was invaluable. I would strongly recommend using one to others, because you don’t get better from knee pain just by crossing your fingers and hoping against hope. You need a plan. And ways to measure and monitor how well you’re doing within that plan.

But eventually, this is one friend at your side you’re going to outgrow, if all goes well. And that’s a good thing.


  1. Wonderful!

    May I ask, where did you put the pedometer? Was it in your pocket? On your hand? Belt?

    I got one that was too bulky for me to walk around with. But after your post I feel like I'll look for another one.

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Also, if you don't mind, could you put a link to the pedometer you used or any pedometers that you recommend on Amazon?


    2. My pedometer was small and cheap and clipped to my belt. The pedometer doesn't need to be at all complicated (though you certainly can buy those). It simply needs to count steps. A $7 or $8 model will do this perfectly fine.

      My pedometer I bought in Hong Kong, so it's not on Amazon. I'd just look for a basic model that is reliable, that's all.

    3. Hey Richard... this is Jenni ... I've been a reader for awhile but for the last few months other things have taken over. My knees are better overall but I am not a disciplined person so it's slow. Anyway, how did you use your pedometer to monitor your progress?

    4. Hi, Jenni. Hang in there! My pedometer I used to measure any kind of significant distance (so I would clip it on before leaving on a shopping trip, for instance, or before taking one of my daily walks). I would also record the number of steps in my knee journal each day.

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