Writer's Notes

This Job is Killing Me: Judy Alter

Exercising From a Wheelchair

By Judy Alter, Author of Murder at the Peacock Mansion

Things I have never willingly done: kayaking, distance swimming, tennis, golf, basketball, softball, volleyball, mountain climbing, diving, marathons and a whole long list of vigorous exercises. Things I did in my younger years: swimming (neither very well nor very far), biking, walking, yoga, jogging. You get the picture: if I weren’t conscious of health needs and pitfalls, I’d be a total couch potato, albeit at my desk and computer rather than the couch and television,

You’d think fate has played right into my hands by sending me through extensive hip surgery that after almost five months has left me unable to walk unassisted. I’m Speedy Gonzales on my walker, and I can go from the patio to the garden gate (twenty feet maybe) and back holding onto someone’s arm. But I’m not what you’d call mobile.

So, do I sit like a vegetable all day? Not at all. Four months of physical therapy taught me exercises that, to most people, may seem to be barely moving. For me, they are the source of strength and improvement, and I do them every day—well, almost. At my desk, I do leg exercises 20 times each–raise my lower legs, lift my knees, slide my foot far forward and back, lift toes and then heels, and do something that amounts to holding my feet together, then spreading them, heels still together.

At a grab bar in the bathroom, I extend my left leg (the leg of the surgery) as far laterally as I can comfortably 50 times, extend it backward to press on the wall for five seconds 20 times, 20 squats and 20 shifts of total body weight from one foot to the other. And I do walk with someone every day—not far, but I walk.

It seems that in addition to letting my hip disintegrate over the years, I also have torn both rotator cuffs and have limited shoulder motion. So, at my desk I swing a 2-lb. weight (okay, it’s a #2 can of diced tomatoes, 28 oz.) like a pendulum 20 times, then holding that can raise my arm as high straight out as I can (no fair launching it with my body). Standing at the sink I practice putting glasses on the shelves—note the glasses are plastic to cut down on breakage. With my right arm, I can put a glass on the second shelf; with my left, I can reach halfway to the second. When I started, I could barely reach the first shelf with either arm. I also do arm exercises with a door pulley, both straight up and straight out, 20 times each. I told the therapist her brain is stuck on 20.

Confession: I have probably gotten too comfortable on my Rollator—the walker with four wheels and a seat. It says not to sit in it while moving, but I do it all the time. It’s how I get around my cottage, because it enables me to carry things, cook (my avocation and something I am again doing with increasing satisfaction), brush my teeth and put on makeup without worrying about my balance. Life would be a lot tougher if I had to stand and hold on to the walker with one hand while doing whatever, so that’s my compromise or concession. Yes, I wonder if I would be walking sooner without it. But I am seeking balance in my life.

The last time I saw the surgeon, I told him I am writing again, cooking again, and wearing make-up. What more could he want? Of course, he and I both want me to walk again, but I have faith it will come. That’s why I do my exercises.


Judy AlterAbout Judy Alter

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and the current Murder at Peacock Mansion. With the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries. The second in that series, Pigface and the Perfect Dog, will be released in August 2017.
For many years, her fiction focused on the experiences of women in the nineteenth-century American West. Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame.
Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.