What can one possibly have to do with another? It’s a stretch, I admit, and it may take a post or two, but I’ll bring it home to language in the end, I promise.
This week is Sleep Disorders Week, coming right on the tail of National Sleep Awareness Week. What a yawn, right? I just yawned. Now it’s your turn. Yawn. You did, didn’t you? Maybe it’s not just my writing. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep last night.
I guess most don’t. I never used to. In fact, for something like 30 years, I was tossing and turning all night, every night. My wife learned to put up with my snoring, but it would freak her out when I stopped breathing. No problem, though. I felt fine. And as the years added their inches to my waist, it seemed I got less and less sleep. So she badgered me into going to the sleep doctor, who proceeded to wire me from head to foot for a sleep study. Well of course I didn’t sleep through all that, either, tangled and pinned to my bed like Gulliver. So it was no surprise when the next morning the doctor told me, “Mr. Clark, you are not sleeping at all because you have severe obstructive sleep apnea. You are waking several times a minute. You will have to wear a positive air pressure device to force air into your lungs with each breath in order to get the necessary sleep.”
“I’m already a light sleeper, doc. I could never tolerate something like that! And besides, I feel fine. I’m not falling asleep behind the wheel or anything like that,” I replied.
So I left and, for the next several years, continued to slowly gain weight and sleep less and less, until even I could no longer deny that I wasn’t sleeping at all. Hell, I couldn’t even fall sleep behind the wheel if I tried. So I went back and got fitted for the device, called a CPAP, pulled the face mask on, uncomfortable as hell, turned on the air pump to the strange experience of having a machine inflate my lungs for me. With the whoosh of the air pump, my wife said it was like sleeping with Darth Vader. And then I fell asleep. For the first time in 30 years. And then, I woke up, for the first time in 30 years. I was awake. I was like Rip Van Winkle coming off the hill. You guys who’ve been doing that asleep/awake thing all your lives have no idea how sweet it is. And you guys who don’t, you apnea guys, have no idea what you are missing.
The thing is, when I was in that 30-year dream, I didn’t know it was a dream. Sitting at a desk all day accomplishing nothing was SOP for me. Or spending days trying to string two sentences together, because who wants to write this stuff anyway? Or my office door with the outline of an ashtray thrown through a panel, or the fist fights on the street… I just thought I was a passionate guy. I used to kid my Mom, “What’s a family gathering without a police presence?” That was normal. I had no idea that I could be any different.
And once I was awake, instead of throwing ashtrays, I was able to write, and work, and hit the gym, so I could lose enough weight to leave my CPAP behind and move to a snore ball and dental appliance for an even better night’s sleep. Because now I am a sleep junky. I need my fix, my nod, every night, and I’m a connoisseur, too. I want only the finest snooze that memory foam can buy.
So did old Rip regret his own nap up in the hills? I try not to think about all the things I missed out on during that long twilight, or any long-term damage I’ve done to my heart or brain through oxygen deprivation, but instead enjoy the privilege of having lived two lives instead of one. But if I could start again? Man, in a New York minute.
So my do-over is for you, gentle reader. If any of this sounds familiar, try to get some sleep, even if the doctor says you need a CPAP to do it. You’ll want to thank me because I’ve just saved your life. Please be sure to pack that cake carefully before shipping.
And for you language and translation buffs who got a good sleep last night, and actually read this far, stay tuned for part 2.