Kage Baker never liked to admit to any physical problem. I’m still not sure if she thought it was an admission of weakness, or just terribly gauche. She was a firm believer in the old adage: Don’t tell your friends about your indigestion: ‘How are you?’ is a greeting – not a question.
Anyway, she didn’t like to talk about the aches and pains to which flesh is often, and usually banally, heir. She’d squint over her keyboard for hours, chugging caffeine and swearing, before she’d take action against a head ache. Ditto cramps, nausea, a head cold, a hangover … about the only reason Kage would indulge in palliatives was for aching feet. Her feet were a conspicuous weak point. She was a total sucker for a foot rub.
It’s one of the reasons I didn’t figure out she was ill until it was almost too late to do anything about it. Unfortunately, that delay was just enough to eat up all our safety margins; by the time I was raging to get Kage proper care, it really was too late. Turns out she could convince even herself that nothing was really wrong.
Of course, one of the reasons that worked was because, in all our day to day lives, our malaises and megrims usually are next to nothing. Let’s face it – as we all progress into the Uttermost West, we learn to deal with that hitch in one leg, the sore shoulder, the increasing difficulty in finding 4th gear on an upward climb … personally, when I first began to feel constant pain in my left arm, I thought it was arthritis due to knitting too much. Most of us expect the hoof-beats in the distance to be horses, not zebras.
But zebras are real, Dear Readers. It serves us best to remember that from time to time. That familiar ache is not necessarily the light-hearted old foe you may think it is; it might well be some badass young punk gunslinger, all rude tattoos and no manners, ready to knock you down and stomp the shit out of you.
Right now, I am being utterly stalled in all my plans by the newest eccentricity in a life-long dance with sleep dysrhythmia. What was once a simple, carefree and easily managed insomnia has degenerated into chaos. Basically, I stay awake until I pass out from exhaustion, and then I sleep until my body must wake up for maintenance. In between times, I dream that I am up and writing, but then can’t summon the brain wattage to actually focus when I’m awake. This kind of fatigue isn’t alleviated by unconsciousness.
Sleep is not restful nor restorative; wakefulness is neither active nor alert. I have all the stamina and sparkle of an elderly turnip. Nor is this subject to any sort of logical rhythm: I can sleep for 20 hours, then barely stay awake long enough to eat and drink before I fall asleep again. On the other end, I’ll stay helplessly awake for 2 or 3 days – an hour’s incautious nap, and I’m stark staring awake for another day and night.
I’ve tried to stay awake, and I fall asleep at my desk, in the bath, standing in front of the sink washing out a bowl. When I’m awake, sleeping pills are pointless – I acclimatize to any given drug faster than a Borg to a phaser setting; my doctor simply won’t give me anything strong enough to make me sleep more than 2 nights in a row.
Hence the recent sleep study. I am earnestly praying it will reveal severe sleep apnea, because that is something my doctor knows how to treat. I will happily wear an oxygen mask to bed – or bat bones, or a necklace of garlic, or any other fetish he prescribes if it will let me sleep. Anything, as long as I can shed this albatross of inconstant, incomplete and unsatisfying somnolence that my damned body has substituted for healing rest.
Of course, I am not assisted in this fight by the fact that Los Angeles is going into another heat wave. But sweating doesn’t keep me awake; I’ll consent to being parboiled in my bedsheets if I can just sleep.
I see my doctor on May 20th – no use going until he gets the wretched report, and that takes at least 10 working days. And nights. Long, hot, aching, exhausting nights, observing the strange transformation of my cool feather pillows into bags of tapioca pudding. Discovering I’ve had my nightgown on backwards all night. Debating my odds of slicing cucumbers for a snack in the dark without cutting a finger off. Listening to the crickets and mockingbirds sing; listening to the little black cat snore while the orange kitten chases the moon across the floor.
God, I’m tired. Those hoof-beats may be horses or zebras, but they sure aren’t sheep. They’re much. much, too loud.
Kate, I feel you. I have two types of sleep apnea. I take an acetaZOLAMIDE (DIAMOX) 250 MG tablet — twice a day cause I can’t use the CPAP. It’s helped me. Perhaps you can ask your doctor about it?
Thank you, Patrick. A other drug to ask him about – I’m collecting a list, mostly anecdotal from folks who have had good results, to see what might help. Ordinary sleep aids are of no use after about a week.
I’ve seen this battle before, with my bride. It is sinister and devastating. I doubt anyone would be such a fool as to tell you, “Lack of sleep never killed anyone.” But if they do, refer them to me. I have a nifty lecture demo for them.
After awhile, telling the sleep-deprived that lack of sleep never killed anyone is likely to get the pronouncer themself killed. Sleep deprivation is well-known and dreadfully documented as producing complete dislocation of the base personality; and, ultimately, death. And of course, during the period of “I am now a murderous zombie because I haven’t slept enough in months” is when the sufferer is most likely to bring death to someone …
It sure sounds like you have apnea, and that’s good news, because they can fix that.
If you haven’t already googled “How to Fall Asleep,” don’t bother, because it was written by a sadist who obviously never had a problem sleeping. Besides “count sheep,” (as if that ever worked for anyone who wasn’t a cartoon character) it suggests getting someone whom you trust to hypnotize you. By no means solicit the help of someone whom you DON’T trust because that’s sure to end badly, as in waking up to find yourself walking down a busy street in your underwear while clucking like a chicken badly.
I have enough problems with wandering around in my underwear – I don’t need any encouragement from well-meaning friends. Besides, previous experiments have indicated I am one of those hard-to-hynotize freaks – I think it’s the astigmatism, which tends to make the hypnotist too fuzzy to see properly.
I can’t help you with the apnea; that’s up to your doctor on Tuesday, but I have had good luck when it’s the heat that keeps me awake by using a damp washcloth on my head – forehead and hair – to cool down. Once I’ve cooled enough I can sleep. When I wake up hot, I wave the open washcloth several times and it cools down quickly. Rinse, repeat. This, of course, doesn’t cover the underlying issue but it’s a temporary and welcome solution to the heat part of the thing keeping you awake. Before our vehicles had any air conditioning (San Francisco natives feel that’s an unnecessary luxury for all but four days a year), we’d travel with wet towels or washcloths to keep cool, draped over our necks or heads or wherever they would do the most good.
I’ll think of you on Tuesday and hope your doctor can help you. It sounds a miserable position to be in.
Oooh, thanks for the wash cloth tip, Lynn! At Faire, I used to soak my biggins or kirtch in the icy melt water of the tap box, and it does work well as a personal A/C – I’ll try that for falling asleep. I had forgotten … and you’re right, getting cool enough to fall asleep is paramount.
Well, this is probably a really stupid piece of advice – but, in my defence I will just say that I have very rarely suffered from sleep deprivation – but, on the few occasions where I’ve been unable to get to sleep, my mind may be active, I’m too warm, I feel like I might as well just get up, I’m getting more and more annoyed thinking of all the time I’ve just wasted lying in bed clock watching, thinking of all the things I could have done that I didn’t have time to finish during the day, etc, – well, usually, if I start thinking of something like a really nice time I’ve experienced or a really good memory it always works like a charm – or making up a story in my head – it just works for me! I don’t know why. That sounds really silly doesn’t it? So, I’ll just say sorry right now!
None of that is silly at all, Lynn. In fact, doctors advise insomniacs to be make sure they are not too hot – and I can testify to the success of that. Also, not to lie in bed awake staring at the ceiling, but get up and do something – and that does help, too. So your ideas/suggestions are actually quite good and known to help.
Some insomnia, though,involves problems with neurochemicals or even anatomy, and calls for other solutions: which is my problem. Luckily, there are solutions for those problems, too, which is why I am having tests done. I just have to survive until the answer is found.
One of my friends in work is suffering with sleep a lot at the moment. She says she’s so envious of the fact I can sleep – I can’t imagine how awful I would be if I couldn’t sleep! Kathy, that’s my colleague and friend – she probably gets about two hours sleep and thinks it relates to problems in her body that wake her – such as arthritis. She ends up with parts of her body cramping up of her back aching if she sleeps too long so she believes her body wakes her up before it becomes painful – don’t know if there’s any truth in that but it makes sense to a degree and so I can understand what you’re saying about other types of sleep problems.
I wish you all the best with your tests and I really hope this finds a solution for you.
Thanks, Lynn. Best of luck to your friend, too – encourage her to try a sleep study, because there are really answers!
Just 4 more days until your doctor’s appointment. Hang in there!
And I am counting every day!