The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.

Author:Herman, De Fischler
Position::Book review

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Elisabeth Tova Bailey (2010)


Elisabeth Tova Bailey has been suffering from an unnamed autoimmune disease for 20 years. The very act of having a telephone conversation with me as she did on June 5, 2012, requires her to lie flat in her bed and still depletes her energy. Through sheer will and a gift for narrative, however, she has written and published The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a beautiful book that simultaneously connects the reader with the natural world, the science of mollusks, and the world of one confined to her bed.

Among family, friends, and acquaintances, as well as patients in hospital and hospice care, I have witnessed hundreds of individuals who have succumbed to incurable illnesses. I've also come to know some who suffer from one or more of the 80 identified chronic and debilitating autoimmune disorders with no known etiology, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus, or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Daily life screeches to a halt; caregivers, hospital beds, and other medical equipment become necessary; food requires special preparation; activities of daily living depend on one or more assistants to fulfill; homes need to be reconfigured or abandoned altogether and exchanged for unfamiliar surroundings to accommodate disabilities. Family relationships are strained. Caregivers burn out. The spiritual life of the sufferer as well as family and friends can wither from the unceasing toll on the body and the relentless physical demands of caregiving.

As a spiritual caregiver I am constantly reminded that I am blessed and privileged to be at the bedside. There but for the grace of God go I. After all, I could be in that bed. I am moved by their suffering and the strength of will to live fully and with dignity every day they are gifted to wake up. They are my greatest teachers.


During one of a number of years the author has been bedridden, a friend brought a pot of field violets and a snail to cheer her and placed it by her bedside. When Ms. Bailey discovered the snail was alive, the thought of being responsible for another living thing overwhelmed her. Yet as the days, weeks, and months passed, she grew to form a bond with the small creature and it became her teacher.

Living through seemingly endless hours every day, Ms. Bailey took to studying the habits of the Neohelix albolabris, the woodland snail residing under the violet's leaves in the terra-cotta pot. A lover of the natural...

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