During multiple visits to the hospital recently to see a friend, I am impressed at all the activity on the floor by post-operative patients who want to hasten their recovery. The main exercise is walking around the floor. I am guessing that the doctors and nurses are really urging their charges to get out of bed and chair, but it seems to me the patients like the change of pace as well.

Most of the time the walker is hooked up to liquids in see-through bags and monitoring machines that are hanging from a sort of hat rack on wheels. It’s a 6-foot-high intravenous (IV) pole with five wheels on the bottom and sometimes a circle of steel near the middle for hand support and pushing. There are often friends and family members walking along too for conversation and moral support. At some stage, the walker lets a companion do the pushing, so he can walk faster, when he doesn’t need to hold on to anything.

There is no rule about the direction you have to walk, so you are constantly smiling at others perambulating opposite to you. And the demographic mix is quite varied…young and old, men and women, all in partially covering hospital gowns. But the guests are more distinctive, for I saw Orthodox Jews with skull caps and wigs, Indians in saris, Upper East Siders in designer clothes and fancy jewelry, as well as the overheated guys in shorts and polo shirts. I loved the Middle Eastern patient whose arm and back were completely covered with elaborate tattoos.

Now how fast you go is really a challenge. My friend could only go a few steps, a helping hand under his arm, and balancing with the pole the second day. He often needed to pause for a breath and that day turned around and headed “home” to his room after a total distance equal to just one fourth of the circuit. By Day 3, he was doing two laps, four the next day, and two of those without him pushing the pole. I was advised not to pressure him to go for a mile real soon, because that was 13 laps at the hospital I visited.

On my third visit in a week, he was doing five non-stop laps at a time, 15 total laps for the day, and was walking so fast that it seemed there was a wind generated by the speed that whisked papers off the nurse station desks. The pole-pushing person walking with our group of four had to practically run to keep up. She said she felt like the last body on the outside end of some ice skaters turning a corner and whipping her around. I thought my friend was like a race horse who’d been cooped up in a stall (his bed and room) who was just let out for a walk, but geared up immediately for a gallop.

Whether “jogging” without assistance or using a walker or cane, each patient is trying to improve muscle tone and mobility as quickly as possible. Their courage and determination to overcome their weakness and pain are laudable and an athletic challenge I never appreciated before focusing on this site.