I was at a Manhattan hospital this week, visiting a friend who’d had a kidney removed the day before.

I expected to find her in bed and zonked out on pain killers. But she wasn’t in her room when I arrived. Where could she be? The options seemed limited, and slightly alarming . . .

I went to the nurses’ station and asked after their missing patient. The desk nurse didn’t say anything. She just pointed down the hallway with her pen as she answered the ringing phone. And there was my friend, fifty yards away, moving further away at a shuffle as she pushed along her rolling IV pole.

Was she trying to escape?

No. She was doing laps.

Even though the surgeon had sliced her open, yanked out a major organ, and stitched her closed less than twenty-four hours earlier, the nurses on the floor were working her as hard as any mid-season track coach, wanting her to boost her stamina and elevate her HR so they could get her back home the next day.

She was under strict orders to crank out four orbits around the ward before going back to her room. When I caught up to her (it wasn’t hard), she still had three to go.

For her, the pace was pretty much all-out even though we were moving at a crawl. She looked as in pain as any miler with more than half the race still to go. Her shoes may have been partly to blame–they were those awful hospital socks they give you, so traction and support not mention aethestics were an issue.

On the back stretch of the second lap, we crossed paths with another patient, just as he was starting out on his perambulation in the other direction. A competition was underway. But it was competition of a comradely sort. Though they may have begun by comparing each other’s pace every time they passed each other, they soon evolved into each other’s biggest cheerleader, pushing each other on every time they passed.

After finishing our last lap, we waited for the other gent to finish his routine. Outside the patients’ pantry, where we all sipped free apple juice, the two tired athletes spent a minute or two comparing notes.

“Wait until you see the woman in room 526,” the gent said. “She was out here this morning, leaning into the pole, I mean really leaning into it, and just going for it.” He showed us what he meant.

“It’s all about form,” my friend responded.

“You said it,” he said.

I had heard this conversation a million times before.

It was just another day at the running track, in other words.