Lum: Physical therapy: S&M at AVH |

Lum: Physical therapy: S&M at AVH

Su Lum

Last winter, I was diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica, a condition that attacks the joints, the treatment for which is prednisone. I was hobbling badly and porking up on the steroids until it looked as if I were about to pop triplets.

My grandmothers — who rocked their way deep into their 90s — would disagree, but my doctors felt that I needed some kind of exercise, so, in May, off I went to physical therapy up at Aspen Valley Hospital.

The physical therapy department is in one of the new wings of the hospital, roughly eight miles from the entrance. “You need a people mover,” I said as I passed David Ressler in the hallway. In a building the size of Denver International Airport, there should be an easier way for the halt and the lame to get to the place that will aid them in walking again, but they have more things on their minds these days.

Katie McManus is my therapist, a joy to work with and very funny.

“We get raises if we can make you scream,” she deadpanned while I was bitching that my knees were breaking.

“Just three more,” she said cheerfully when I was upended on a Rube Goldberg contraption, lying on a moving table with my feet suspended in lambskin-covered stirrups on aerial pulleys, from which position I was supposed to airwalk. Snap, crackle, pop.

Most of the equipment in the physical therapy room appears to have been constructed for a sadomasochist’s dream man cave. “I bet you guys have a lot fun after hours,” I said as Katie loaded me onto yet another atrocity, and I wondered where she kept the whip.

The apparatus that most suits me is the anti-gravity treadmill. It looks like something that should be in outer space. I put on (with a lot of tugging help from Katie) a pair of rubberized Bermuda shorts and then climb onto and get zipped into its plastic covering. Katie then pushes levers, presses buttons, and the shorts suck up around me, and my weight gets reduced by 50 percent, and lo, I can walk at 1.5 miles per hour while experiencing the world’s most serious wedgie.

At intervals during therapy, a questionnaire indicating your level of improvement is required. You get points for pain levels, fear of falling and other things such as sexual activity, so next time I’m going to improve my pitiful score there by adding points for the wedgies.

I’m up to 15 minutes on the anti-gravity treadmill, scratching at the bottom of the barrel for ways to entertain myself. Since I’m on oxygen, wear glasses and have hearing aids, I am not a candidate for books on an iPod. For a while, I amused myself with the alphabet game: “A my name is Annie, my husband’s name is Art, we come from Alabama, and we like APPLES,” but I soon got that one down (“My husband’s name is Quinton, and we like QUINOA!”) and moved on to trying to remember all the states and their capitals, always leaving out one of the M’s. When I master that, it’s on to the presidents — I might as well educate myself while I’m at it, but when will I be asked if the capital of Nevada is Carson City?

When that’s over, Katie returns for chat and torture time. She taught me how to bake whitefish fillets, thin-sliced vegetables and cherry tomatoes folded in parchment (15 minutes at 400 degrees), and I’m walking better; I really am. And I’m down to 6.5 mg of steroids without any physical reprisals.

Su Lum is a longtime local who smells progress. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at

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