Move like a mollusc


Almost every day I try to go for a walk. I say walk, but it mostly resembles a cross between a distracted toddler and a snail who’s lost its slime. I shuffle along, overtaken by the most elderly of human beings. Because I look pretty hale and hearty, passersby don’t quite know what to make of me. I often get looks of confused pity mixed with impatient skepticism. As though my youthful shuffling gait and non-rattling deep breathing is an affront to their box of visible disabilities.

On these ‘walks’ the thing I dread most is the kind motorist.

I have to cross at least five roads on my challenge to get to the next cafe in my mobility challenge. As I approach the borders of the pedestrian lands and enter vehicular territory, my control over the pace I can handle shifts. The car slows down and an anonymous hand waves, flicks or sometimes merely a finger gestures me to cross.

My heart sinks with the stranger’s kindness.

The unwritten rule of allowing a pedestrian to cross in front of an approaching car is that said walking human will not inconvenience the motorist further and will speed across the road in as little time as possible. This part of the deal I cannot honour.

I sigh deeply, looking like an ungrateful wretch before we’ve even begun. And I’m far too British to wave the car away. I’m too afraid of us getting stuck in some kind of waving loop, each person trapped in competitiveness politeness. So I obey the flicking hand and move into the road.

Except I don’t speed up. I can’t. I break my part of the bargain. Instead I keep my eyes firmly rooted on the road ahead, each slow motion step make me hyper-aware of the rising impatience of the driver. As though they were standing right behind me, puffing irritated air into my ear.

Meanwhile other pedestrians have taken advantage of the situation and sprinted past me, highlighting the sluggish pace of my own body even more. I act as a kind of slow motion lollipop lady.

I know if I speed up, if I push myself, there will be a price to pay. Much as I’d like to give the gift of ten extra seconds to those charitable drivers, I can’t afford the cost to myself. If I push myself it has to be on my own terms and for my own benefit. Because nothing else is worth the ramifications. Too long or fast a walk could mean two days motionless and gloomy on the sofa. That I can not bear and it’s those kinds of days that challenge my mental health most deeply.

My life is all about balancing energy. Conserving it, spending it, generating it, paying for it.

Tiredness is normal after surgery. The anaesthetic has a profound effect on your body function and a hospital stay can disrupt circadian rhythms. Being less mobile can affect your muscle mass. Opiate-based pain medication can make you drowsy and slow your breathing. If you’re not breathing so well, then oxygen isn’t getting to your cells and they’re not doing their job fantastically well.

Your wounds are also a problem. Not only has your body got extra work to do to heal, meaning even while you’re sitting very still you’re actually working a full time job internally. But your wounds are continually evaporating away precious water, like steaming cracks in the Earth’s crust. During my pre-assessment appointment, the anaesthetist educated me that skin holds water inside our bodies. Seems kind of obvious but when our skin is cut, water literally evaporates out of the tissue that’s exposed. This is why the nurses kept filling my water jug over and over and over. Dehydration shrivels your brain and your cells need water for just about everything.

So there’s lots of reasons to be tired, even fatigued. I oscillate between the two but tiredness is the set on which my life is performed. Fatigue means the show cannot go on. Then only sleep or withdrawal will renew me. It’s tricky to know when I’m tired but can regroup and when I’m fatigued and must stop. Sometimes there’s a long delay before I actually feel the effects of whatever I’ve been doing. I have to be a kind of tarot reader for energy levels.

If I’m really unlucky I could become chronically fatigued, meaning the condition will be ongoing and long lasting. Luckily I don’t have the predictors for that possibility. I wasn’t depressed or had anxiety before surgery. My levels of general health and fitness, aside from the deadly disease, have set me in good stead.

For now I work with what I have on any given day and try to strive for more. Or accept less.

One slime-less snail move at a time.

6 thoughts on “Move like a mollusc

  1. aart

    Hi Heidi,

    Since you writting skills still surpass mine by a factor umpteen you brain doesn’t seem to have suffered a bit.
    Everytime I’m genuinly impressed by your capacity to put situations and feelings into words.
    Good luck with all the balancing and the negotiating zebrapaths and the painfull drag of recovery.
    See you soon I hope! Many huggs Aart

  2. Heidi

    Aw thanks dearest Aart! I was going to write a longer, more ambitious post exploring the ideas around fatigue.. but I got tired. Hah! Would love, love, love to see you all too. Maybe when all this is done and my energy is high! ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

  3. Diana Morant

    I am so sympathetic with all your efforts Heidi – I had a very slow recovery 3 years ago from cancer surgery. May I suggest that when you go out for your “snail” walks you use a walking stick? They come in some jolly colours nowadays and then all those impatient motorists would comprehend that you have difficulties walking at speed.
    You don’t need to lean on it just have it in your hand.

  4. Heidi

    I’m so sorry to hear you had a cancer to contend with too Diana. What a great idea though to get a walking stick! Makes an invisible thing visible! I’ll think on that for sure. I have chemo coming too so as soon as I regroup from this, there’ll be more to face. Thanks for the inspiration. xxx

  5. Karen

    Thank you again for your writing, it really helps to understand what you’re going through. The lovely Facebook posts of a beautiful cup of coffee in funky surroundings don’t convey the challenge of actually getting there and getting home again. But what a great plan to have your gentle exercise regime featuring lovely cafes. Sending you lots and lots and lots of love xxxxxx

  6. Heidi

    Hah yes Karen, I started to realise that maybe those Facebook pics weren’t conveying the full reality of those trips out! So funny the different social media and how each one propagates a specific version of events. But there is truth to those pics. Just not the whole story. Hopefully the blog fills the gaps.. Xxx

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