Is one’s first cane a milestone? My HurryCane story

Is it a milestone when one first acquires a cane? There’s no blank to enter that data point in my baby book. Should infirmity be an addendum to my wedding album?

Purple aluminum HurryCane walking stick freestanding on a wood floorWhat I wouldn’t give for the event in question to be possession of the sword cane—yes, exactly that object of awesomeness you are imagining, where a bona fide sword emerges from a carved wooden stick!—handed down from my paternal grandmother’s second husband’s estate to my parents…

But—alas!—no, the cane I’ve acquired is a modern aluminum number. I needed it because my knee simply would Not. Stop. Giving. Out. One minute, we’re taking steps as always, the next: a lucky catch at the top of the stairs that left my heart pounding.

Thanks for the excitement, autoimmune disease!

I opted for a HurryCane (Model HCANE-PR-C2) because it was the only purple option available for immediate delivery from the nearest chain pharmacy. With the heretofore reliable knee deciding to dictate for itself whether it would bear weight or not, I didn’t have time to wait for delivery by UPS or another common carrier.

Not even Amazon-speed delivery would do! I needed support ten minutes ago.HurryCane folds for carrying or storage

With effectively zero knowledge of canes aside from a firm grounding on correct usage on the side opposite the bad joint—thank you, television reruns of House plus sitting in on a single one of Dad’s PT sessions after total knee replacement—I worried that a collapsible cane would be wobbly or otherwise not sturdy.

This fear was unfounded. Once the elastic strap releases the HurryCane’s three sections and each narrow end slots into its wider receptacle, the interior elastic pulls the entire stick firmly together, and my not particularly insignificant weight is borne with ease.

There’s no wobble to my HurryCane.

Weighing in at exactly 1 lb (455 g), the HurryCane is less stressful on my generally tender wrists than I feared a stick might be.

Historically, I’d wondered if a walking stick might make getting around easier, yet I feared stress on my small joints from carrying one. My large joints have tended to behave themselves more often than my tiny ones. This week’s experience of sudden failure was a novel one. My fingers or my toes typically give out first.

I thought toting a stick would add to my hands’ burden. Since I can dangle it from a wrist by its strap—or leave the HurryCane standing alone on a firm, flat floor—it has been perfectly fine to use around my house. Until I take it on my upcoming trip, I won’t have any commentary about using it outdoors or on uneven ground.screen shot of delivery order showing Walgreens knee compression sleeve and HurryCane for $39.95

If I’d had time to wait for Amazon delivery, I could’ve spent a mere $34 there for my HurryCane (±$2 for alternate colors), whereas Walgreens charged $39.95 regardless of the choice of black, purple, blue, or red.

Ordering direct, the official list price is given as $69.95, but the actual direct sale price is also $39.95; they do sell limited edition colors and discounted bundles at HurryCane’s own site, so check there first if your favorite color isn’t one of the four standards or you if plan to buy in bulk and color coordinate your cane to all your outfits.

A knee compression sleeve was my doctor’s advice, and I couldn’t wait two days for that to arrive, either.

I did end up ordering a second knee compression brace from Amazon that fit much better than the simple black neoprene tube my pharmacy stocked… once the adjustable one arrived.

Since it cost $20 more than the basic Walgreens model, I’m very glad that it did exhibit superior performance. Following the doctor’s advice to use compression on the affected joint was the most important factor in healing my knee, however, and the Walgreens garment did do the job with an occasional need to tug it back up sooner than the mail order one ever could.Amazon sales page for Neenca knee brace costing $27.99 for size XL

If you have a heavy thigh and a distinct size difference between the leg above and below your knee, you might also prefer the Neenca velcro knee compression sleeve. The Neenca wears somewhat cooler during a heatwave than the tube style Walgreens brace, but both felt hot when temps topped 90º F. Suffering begets more suffering!

When a body part as integral to movement as a knee acts up, any immediate solution is often more useful than the late-arriving ideal one. I was darn near delighted to see the DoorDash driver pull up with my pharmacy package that day.

There’s little more to say about the HurryCane beyond it’s timeliness when I needed it and its suitability to my needs. I do enjoy the ridiculous wordplay of its nomenclature.

As if any aluminum stick has the power to turn those of us who need one back into a Tasmanian Devil style tsunami of energy and motion!HurryCane next to ruler showing it is a few inches beyond 12" long folded

Then, too, the HurryCane does come with a rather minimal “carrying case; I suppose that’s worth a mention. It’s a thin poly or nylon pouch, “secured” shut by an inch of Velcro on the open end. There’s no handle or drawstring for the pouch.

After a few days’ use, I feel confident I will soon toss the useless sack, but the wrist strap attached to the cane itself works well enough to drag the stick along if I’m not actively leaning on it. Between the compression brace and the cane, my knee did seem to recover quickly over the following few days, and I did not need to report to the doctor for a steroid injection this time.

Folded up, the HurryCane measures about 15″ long. The base is wide enough to stand on its own on even surfaces; its three points form an equilateral triangle about 4″ on a side. The handle is 5 long, feels ergonomically curved in my hand, and is more rigid than giving or spongy.

Standing about 5′ 3 tall, I use the HurryCane at its lowest setting. It turns out most female users of canes use the wrong size. Follow sizing directions on the packaging or online using this WikiHow article or get help from a physical therapist if using a stick for support for the first time.

Many people use the wrong size cane, and I read somewhere that women are more likely to fall with an overly long cane than without any assistive device at all though that appears to be an open question.

Speaking for myself, putting a compression sleeve on my recalcitrant knee and offloading some of my walking weight to an aluminum cane seemed to give my complaining joint the support it needed to heal. I hope I won’t need my HurryCane again for a long time, but I’ll find a place for it in my closet.

Autoimmune disease offers nothing so readily as new ways to be baffled by one’s own body.

In truth, my dad did use the sword cane to get around for a brief period after each of his knee surgeries. I lived in fear, because I was pretty darn sure going to the grocery store with a concealed sword is not legal in this day and age. Fortunately, Dad’s an introvert, like me, so he was happy for me to do all the shopping, and he didn’t take the cane/weapon outside the house much.

It is probable that Dad was just amusing himself with my horror at the idea of him using the sword cane in public. He’s an attorney, so more aware of the law than most, and that sounds like something he’d find funny.

The cane stands easily with no fiddly adjustment necessary on hardwood and tile. It will usually balance on the low pile carpet we have in a few rooms, but generally tips over on my plusher bedroom carpeting. In the bedroom, I hang it over the knob on the back of a chair to keep it in a convenient and useful position when I go to sleep.

Dyson “space gun” encourages reluctant sons to vacuum

My kids have had chores since they were little. Getting them to do their share of the housework has taken major effort on my part for just as long. In this era of sheltering at home to flatten the Coronavirus curve, however, we’ve faced some the same frustrations as many others.

Here’s my biggest one: Mom is the only one who notices most of the messes, but this mom is neither willing nor able to tackle each and every spot of filth by herself!

My solution? I bought a “space gun.”

Dyson V8 Animal+ stick vacuum rechargeable motor

Okay, so this is actually the body of a Dyson stick vacuum, not a futuristic weapon. Here are the rest of its parts.

Dyson V8 Animal+ vacuum attachments and accessoriesI’d unpacked the new cleaning tool upon arrival, carrying it into the kitchen to charge at a convenient outlet. When my older son walked in and saw it on the counter, he exclaimed, “Hey, what’s with the space gun?!?”

“Hey, what’s with the space gun?!?”

My son made a beeline for the new vacuum. He couldn’t resist picking it up and pulling the big, red trigger. That’s exactly the reaction I was hoping for.

Trigger that activates Dyson V8 vacuum

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Being good at math, also female, and why I must talk about that

We all tend to repeat our favorite stories, and I thought I’d told this one to everyone I know. Naturally, my verbal shorthand led to offense. Again. Oops!

I’m good at math; my conversational skills could use work

I’m not always great at talking to people. That’s one reason for the blog. I like taking the extra time to clarify myself in writing. One major risk factor for my verbal missteps is that I routinely take great mental leaps during the conversation without bringing my audience along.

Lots of things are “obvious” in my mental space, but require explanation when I want to discuss them.

I’ll begin by stating what I thought was crystal clear to everyone I’ve ever spent more than a few minutes with:

I’m good at math.

When I say “good at math,” I mean, “I successfully completed an undergraduate degree at a competitive US college with a major in Mathematical & Physical Sciences concentrating in Computer Science.”books math texts - 1

I have studied advanced math at the university level. I succeeded in those classes, often earning good grades. I have some innate talent in this area, and I applied concerted effort to developing these skills.

All of this “my own horn”-tooting is to make clear what I mean when I say, again:

I’m good at math.”

And now we’ll carry on to the meat of this story.

We were out to dinner with friends. Being a pair of introverts 15+ years into marriage and with a couple of kids at home, we go out like this around four times per year. Usually, we invite friends over and order pizza (because I’m bad at cooking; this post is not about how totally great I am.)

Sitting around the table, waiting for appetizers, I started telling a story about home schooling my oldest son. It’s an uncommon thing, so people often ask questions about our daily activities. Many academically inclined friends are sincerely curious: What is it like, going “back to school,” in a sense, by doing it all over again with one’s child?

I was going to tell a story about helping a friend’s daughter with math.

So I began:

“In high school, because I was a girl, naturally, I was bad at math…”

I should have used the mortifying—but edifying—air quotes gesture. This is when my friend freaked out.

“Not true! It’s nonsense! Girls are perfectly capable of…”

Right! Of course! That was my point, too, but I went into the story all wrong. I can see now that I took liberties with my audience. Hopefully I fixed it with my friend, at her birthday dinner, no less. Sheesh. Way to go, me.

Let’s call this a teachable moment. I needed a reminder of something I’ve come to take for granted.

Even though I’m sure I’ve told this story before; even though it is obvious to anyone who’s ever worked with me; even though it should be clear to any person with whom I’ve held a conversation about education.

Let me reiterate that I:

  1. am good at math
  2. worked as an engineer in the (logic-based, i.e., “math-y”) field of computer technology
  3. lean technocratic and abhor non-objective criteria for advancement of platforms or people

In spite of all this, I really can’t tell a humorous yet informative story about being “bad at math” without the usual lead-up. I must always preface this statement with the fact that I erroneously believed myself to be “bad at math”…

because society;

because gender roles;

because socialization.

I saw through part of the illusion in high school, but it took years before I really got it. I believe most people—men and women—who claim to be bad at math are really the victims of poorly implemented math instruction.

Realizing math instruction was bad, not my math ability

High school was mostly boring. I was there doing time and ticking boxes so I could get into a good college to begin my real education. I wanted to be excited about school like I was about learning, but boy did the system make it tough.

I realized that science classes were more challenging to my logic-oriented brain, and I craved real learning of the sort that revved my engine.  I registered for as many science electives as I could squeeze in, graduating with eight science credits on my transcript. I was proud of that!

And yet…

…even with eight science classes on my transcript, by the end of high school, I was failing Calculus and more convinced than ever that I was “bad at math.” I could no longer conceive of being good at math, though I “knew” this fact in grade school.

I was privileged, and smart, and relatively enlightened. Still, it was that difficult to perceive the reality of what math was, how I could engage with it, or why I should.

Failing Calculus had more to do with not doing my work than a failure to grasp essential concepts, but I didn’t clue in to that until I repeated it in college. You see, I was interested in science and computers, and spoke about these subjects at college interviews, but I doubt I ever mentioned math.

“Math” was a hurdle I would have to clear to get to these fascinating, juicy fields of study. “Math” lived in my consciousness as a threat to be avoided.

Our K-12 system gives a very poor illumination of the field of mathematics

Math is presented in our schools as a skinny, rigid ladder to be climbed. There is one straight path from ignorance to Calculus, and success is measured by computational accuracy.

Almost no effort is made to highlight the diversity of thinking in math, the creativity that goes into the work of real mathematicians, and the awesome power of mathematics to solve real world problems.

books math texts - 2Ostensibly, Common Core is fixing this problem. In practice, I have grave doubts.

I read a fascinating book about a year ago before I kept a handy reading list like I’ve posted on this blog. I think it was Jo Boaler’s What’s math got to do with it?. The most important takeaway I got from that book had to do with a learned, innate fear of math that pervades American society, and female Americans in particular

And guess who’s teaching our children math? In 2011-2012, 76 percent of public school teachers were female. Women sure as hell can do math, but teachers with unaddressed phobias often unwittingly pass them on to their students.

For decades, I’ve repeated something I heard and find powerfully telling:

Americans feel perfectly comfortable admitting that they’re bad at math. Women, especially, feel free to flaunt their innumeracy.

“Tee hee, titter, titter, I’m so bad at math!”

How many people are equally blasé about their illiteracy?

Virtually none.

Teacher training can make a huge difference in breaking this pattern. Vocal and visible advocacy by female mathematicians and engineers make a difference, too. I talk about my enjoyment of math, logic, and puzzles more often than I probably should, but I want people to hear me. I’d like to be one more pebble in the pile of evidence it takes to make a self-evident mountain.

I’m good at math. I’m female. I’m going to keep talking about that.