For me, one of the great joys of being at boarding school was the time and opportunity to do all sorts of different things (here I go again); the days were scheduled so as to be able to get involved in sports, theatre, drama and whatever else might take your fancy. Being a keen bean – or perhaps because I was too indecisive to focus my time and energy on specialising in any one area and so turned out to be a Jack of all trades but master of none – I did as much as I possible could, because it was there.
When I got to university, though, I realised that other people were not always going to be so eager to adapt their schedules to allow me to continue all the activities with which I had filled my days at Downside. I got in touch before going up with the captains of both the rugby and football teams, to tell them I couldn’t do both but that they needed to persuade me to go for one or the other (in the end I decided my small frame was likely to cause me more trouble when playing rugby at university than it had facing age-limited opponents at school, so opted for football) and during Freshers Week pulled out of an audition for a more commitment-heavy choir before I had a chance to be rejected, settling for my more relaxed college choir instead. Most of all, though, I focused on drama, which involved intensive three/four-week rehearsal periods before performing for five nights and probably a matinée or two before moving onto the next play. The football fell by the wayside, and I have to admit my appearances for the choir were patchy at best.
Just as it was more difficult to squeeze everything in at university than it had been at school, the ‘real world’ presented even more challenges; no longer was everything presented in an easy-to-sign-up-to list and clubs and societies for whatever took my fancy were no longer on the doorstep. What’s more, the pesky commitments of work reduced the time available for extra pursuits, particularly when getting to the evening tired, hungry and less enthusiastic about heading back out in the cold to take part regularly in some activity. Oh, and I got lazy.
As humans, we are not always very good at recognising the sensible limits of our own endurance; it’s easy to forget the limits of the human body and mind. The other day Mariacristina and I went for a wonderful walk on Streatham Common, which took us all the way up to the beautiful Rookery and back down again, before we finally explored the world beyond the train bridge at the end of our road and confirmed that the old fireplace shop there is no longer open – after some terrible lack of observational skills that led us to completely miss the fact we were standing directly in front of it and waste another 15 minutes going up and down the road on our hunt. We then wandered up to the new Tesco so Mariacristina could do some shopping – I decided to take the risk of going in to help choose the right light bulbs, as the aisles are broad and it wasn’t too busy; you’d be surprised at how exciting it can be to visit a supermarket after you’ve been avoiding public places for so long.
It was such a beautiful day, and so wonderful to be outside and enjoying the sunshine and beautiful scenery (except perhaps the dodgy bit under the bridge and, er, Tesco), that we just kept walking until we were completely worn out and staggered back home. We thought no more of it until my legs started aching at around about the same time my mucositis was also keeping me awake, and my body just felt too worn out to sleep.
In hindsight, taking on such an epic journey after months as an inpatient and then being confined to home was not very sensible. At the time, though, we just didn’t think twice about it; my legs were holding up and it felt good to get some exercise. At first we didn’t really understand why I was failing to get to sleep and my body was aching so much; after a bit of thought, though, we realised that it must have been a ‘simple’ case of heavily overdoing it on that one occasion – particularly given that my joint are not the strongest these days anyway, partly as a result of all my previous treatment.
I’m just grateful for the existence of the painkiller Oramorph! The doctor prescribed it relatively liberally, albeit in a fairly small dose, and I can assure you it’s good stuff… A snifter before going to sleep, and then perhaps a top-up in the middle of the night if I was up to go to the loo, and my ability to get some proper rest was returned to normal.
It’s very easy to overestimate our capabilities when the effects aren’t immediate; I’ve found this particularly to be the case since going through this treatment. Given that a lot of the time, I feel relatively well, I don’t always remember that I am actually undergoing anything adverse, with all its entailing complications (even down to the the weakness of my legs after so many weeks in hospital).
My strength is building up, but I’m learning to force myself to take it easy, too – however tough that can be when feeling a bit more full of beans…