I am firmly in favor of denial. In fact, I recommend everybody stay in denial as long as possible. Willful ignorance is the land of bliss. But all good things must end. The end of my denial I blame on my daughter. Here’s what happened. Her doctor ordered her to take a sleep apnea test.
“That’s interesting,” I said. “Tell me about it.” I should have kept my mouth shut.
Dee Dee described her symptoms: things like waking several times a night, dreams of suffocation, waking up gasping for breath, breathing hard, heart pounding, thinking one had a good night’s sleep yet being tired all the next day, little things like that.
“Isn’t that normal? Doesn’t everybody have nights like that? I have nights like that.”
“No, Mom, most people sleep at night. You’re like that every night, like me. I’ve been after you for years to check your sleep.”
She told me about the new CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask she wears at night. It makes her look like Darth Vader. Very sexy, she says. With the mask she sleeps all night long, does not get up even once and she wakes rested. Now, she says, “I would never give up my mask. You would have to pry it out of my cold dead fingers.”
It was the “sleep all night” part that blasted a crack in my denial and made me scoot in to see Dr. Joe. He listened to me and while I was talking, wrote out an order for me to have a sleep study test. So off I went to spend the night in a cushy bed at Northern Montana Hospital.
Tony, the sleep technician, hooked me up to twenty-three hundred sensors, each connected to a long wire hooked into some sort of machine. The sensors were attached to my body by great green globs of sticky stuff. Tony adjured me to tuck into bed, relax and go to sleep. “Oh, sleep on your back. Nighty-night.”
I never sleep on my back. I sleep on my side and flip-flop all night like a fish gasping on the shore. I lay awake in bed entertaining my last vestige of denial, “I don’t have sleep apnea, no, not me.” Then I ran a mental movie of Tony finding my body in the morning, strangled, wrapped in sensor wires.
Sometime in the night, Tony entered my bedroom with a mask, one with a long elephant-nose tube and lots of Velcro straps. As he fitted the device onto my face, he crashed through my denial with, “You definitely have apnea. Let’s try this mask. Now try to sleep. This time stay on your back.”
It was magical. I relaxed into the rhythm of the air flow. Within minutes I felt the muscles in my face soften. I awaken every morning with a tight jaw, often so tight it is painful. Goodness, I thought, my jaw muscles must have been holding vigil, keeping me alive, so to speak. I could feel every individual muscle in my body follow suit. Soon I was a relaxed blob in the middle of the bed. I loved it. I felt exhilarated. But now my mind kicked into high gear.
This device could change my life. My head, which thinks it can operate completely independent of my body, began reviewing ways my life might be enhanced, physically, mentally and emotionally. We didn’t leave anything out. Neither did we sleep. The excitement was too much.
I touched the mask over my face. I caressed its lines. I lifted and shifted the coiled elephant-trunk tube. I asked the mask his name. “Alphonso,” he replied. “Will you care for me and stay with me forever?” I asked. “Forever and ever, I’ll watch over you,” Alphonso promised. I fell in love, head over heels. “I’ll be with you through thick and thin, as long as the power doesn’t go out,” he added.
Just as I began to shift into dreamland, Tony burst through the door, removed my lover from my face, unhooked the sensors and told me it was time to go take a shower. “Do you think you slept at all?” he asked. I shrugged. “You’ll have to come back. I need to record real sleep time in order to set the adjustments for your mask.”
I nearly cried. I wanted to take Alphonso home with me. Now I have to wait an entire month to see him again. Next time, with Alphonso glommed onto my face, I know I’ll sleep. Sigh.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)