I’ve said before that bedtime seems to be the cue for my brain to fire on all cylinders and run wild while I’m trying to settle down and sleep. Some nights I’m more successful than others.
I don’t know about you, but my brain function and resulting thoughts are very, very different depending on which side I lie: when I lie on my left side, my thoughts are more deliberate and concrete, as if I have to ‘tell’ my brain what to think about. However, when I turn over, which I do often, it feels as if my creativity has been unleashed and torrents of unconnected and random thoughts, images, and colors flood my head. Most of the time, I don’t even have the words to describe it.
I get all kinds of inspiration and ideas while I’m waiting for sleep, but (for the most part) only when I’m on my right side. And if I am ruminating on something – say, a potential blog topic – and I turn over, it’s gone. I struggle to recall what I thought about only seconds before. This is so frustrating! While on my right side, I will have some brilliant, elaborate gem of an idea, and rather than rouse enough to write it down, I convince myself I’ve cemented it in my consciousness – only to turn over and lose it completely. The worst part is, my paper and pen are only reachable if I’m on my left side.
When I first sat down at my dining room table last night, preparing to crack crab for dinner, I felt like a kid. The table seemed higher to me, somehow. I commented to Mr. Stuck that I needed a booster seat, and he said, “Me, too!” And we laughed, having found yet another unforeseen effect of our weight loss. Our derrieres are smaller and flatter and provide far less cushion these days. I ended up fetching a pillow to sit on, which brought me up to a more comfortable working level, and I felt like a grownup once more.
But that is just the latest in my constantly adjusting frame of reference. This new old body of mine is taking some getting used to. When I crawl into bed at the end of the day, I must fold my body with origami precision so my knees (or elbows, or ankles) aren’t knocking painfully together. The sleeping positions in which I have historically arranged myself aren’t as effective without padding, so extra pillows are a must. I find myself tossing and turning even more now than before, as my bonier frame has less tolerance for pressure. Now, when I lie on my side, I can feel my hip implants, and while they’re not exactly painful, they’re certainly not very comfortable
I remember Mother teaching me how to stand up straight and carry a book on my head. I was pretty good at it. As I got older and heavier, my posture changed to support the weight I carried around. I slouched more, hunching myself over. With the development of my inner-ear disorder, I realized that my sense of balance was capricious, and I began reaching out and holding on to walls and furniture for stability. I lost my normal stride as the pain took over and replaced it with a waddling, unnatural gait. You’ve seen it – or maybe you have that same walk: you swing your legs out and rock from one side to the other instead of using your hips and knees. It’s the Weeble Wobble. Mine got so much worse when my hips were bad that my physical therapist actually had to teach me to walk the right way.
It was easy to slump, shuffle, and waddle when I was heavy; that’s all my body wanted to do. My balance issues made me worry about stairs and inclines and uneven surfaces. My activity level slowed to a near halt. So now that my range of movement and my flexibility have improved, it’s time to work on my posture. I’m constantly reminding myself to sit up straight at my desk. Even when my back aches, I know I have to pull my shoulders back and straighten my spine. I’ve got some work to do so my default position isn’t ‘Slouch.’
Living in this new old body is wonderful, but not without its challenges. Bruises appear all the time, inexplicably. When I bump into things, it hurts. (But still, I marvel at the bones appearing under my skin. Cheekbones? Clavicle? Yes, please!) Even my feet are different – after many years of wearing size 10 shoes, I now must wear size 11. My feet seem thinner, but longer: when I put on my old sneakers, my toes hit the end. What’s up with that?
I’ve always been somewhat clumsy and uncoordinated. Being fat didn’t help; it made me feel like I took up too much space, and I often felt that I just needed to get out of the way. That’s changing. I sometimes visualize myself unzipping and stepping out of my fat suit. In some ways, I feel like a gangly teenager who’s going through a growth spurt and hasn’t quite gotten used to his body. But I suppose, like that teenager, I will grow into it.
So last Tuesday, the 10th of December, I went in for my surgery.
We reported in at just after 7 a.m.; actually, I was standing just inside the building near the reception door waiting for Mr. Stuck to take care of the parking fare when the check-in desk called to ask where I was. I had been standing there a few minutes already, watching him through the window, but I hadn’t checked in because I was pocket-less and he held my ID and insurance card. Eventually man bested machine, and then he was standing next to me, handing her my driver’s license. We finished our paperwork and had just found a seat in the waiting area when they called me to prep.
At prep, all of the normal things happened: I was fitted with my bracelets, I changed into my hospital gown and non-skid, unisex tube socks, I settled into the gurney with a blanket (a heated-air blanket, even!) an IV was started, and my surgeon stopped in. In between, I met several nurses, a nurse-anesthetist, my anesthesiologist, a patient care technician or two, and the assisting doctors. I also said and spelled my whole name several times and confirmed my birth date to anyone who asked; in the fray I was also answering questions, the same questions I had been asked and had answered before: who is your doctor? what is he going to do?
I remember being rolled out of there into an elevator and then into the operating room. The last thing I remember is a nurse talking to me after emptying a syringe into my IV port and putting a mask on me, but even that’s a bit fuzzy in my mind.
I guess it took me awhile to wake up; I was two hours in recovery before I was brought to my room and Mr. Stuck was allowed to visit. Sure seemed warm in the room; I kept kicking off blankets and requesting ice chips and cold washcloths for my forehead. No fever, but I was just too warm. Besides my pain control IV, I was hooked up to a couple of monitors as well as oxygen, because my O2 level kept dipping. My respiratory rate is slow and always has been, and the monitor didn’t like that at all. Periodically, the respiration monitor (whatever it’s called) would go off because I wasn’t breathing fast enough and it apparently thought I had stopped. No, I was still breathing, just at my own, slow, pace.
Each time I hit the button to get more hits of Dilaudid, a cycle began: the narcotic entered my bloodstream; I would relax and drift off; the alarms would sound as my respiration slowed and my oxygen dipped; I would wake with a start and sharp inhale; the monitor, assured I was again breathing, would go silent (most of the time), and with my muscles tense and heart pounding I would again feel the pain and need the Dilaudid. Over and over and over this played out. The oximeter’s alarm was about four times louder than the respiratory alarm and sometimes the alarms wouldn’t cancel once my stats came back into their ‘normal’ zone, and I would have to wait for a nurse to silence them. This went on from the time I came back to my room until after 2 a.m. — about twelve hours! It was awful and it just wouldn’t stop. If the nurses were getting tired of the routine, and they were, you can imagine how I felt. When they called him, the doctor told the nurses that I was exactly the type of patient who needed those monitors on. I’m sure he’s right, but it was a long, sleepless night.
Around 2 a.m., the doctor allowed the alarm to be turned off on the respiration monitor as long as they got me a better cannula (the nasal oxygen tube) so my oxygen saturation would rise. Thank the Lord. I was able to get a few hours of shuteye until the resident doctors made their rounds some time around 6 a.m.. But at least I finally — finally! — got some sleep.
It took a long time the next day to get discharged, but we finally did, and we made it home after stopping to pick up my prescriptions. I suddenly took very cold and started to shake; even my teeth chattered. I had been so overheated in the hospital, but now I was freezing! This was the anesthesia talking. Mr. Stuck tucked me into bed with extra blankets and got me my medication. My belly was bloated and sore; I just wanted some rest. After a few hours, I awoke to rejoin the family.
I’m glad everything went so smoothly for my surgeon; apparently, chaos reigned (rained, too) at home. Bo, the Epileptic Chihuahua had suffered a couple of seizures. Number One Son ran his car out of oil. Number Young Son’s car has to quickly be rendered safe and drivable to give NOS a way to work. Mr. Stuck’s truck has been inoperable for several days, waiting for a special tool, because it is leaking fuel. But these are not things for me to worry and kvetch on; my job is to rest and get better.
Today, four days after surgery, here’s what I know:
Although at first disappointed that I didn’t get a heated-air gown, I found that the heated-air blanket is just as good.
I have five neat incisions from an inch to an inch and a half long on my belly, which is still a little sore inside. No tape, because I’m allergic, but all 5 healing nicely.
I am still burping from a lot of trapped air (‘scuse me), but I am not so bloated now, and I am sleeping well.
I’m not hungry, but I am thirsty, so I am constantly sipping small amounts of fluids.
Last night I didn’t need to get up and take pain medicine at all during the night. Yay!
I am tolerating strained soup, protein shakes, tea, jello, and water just fine.
Mixing ground-up prescription pills into your food and drink is worse than nasty, and I will stop doing it the very moment I can. Bad memories of marshmallow creme and crushed aspirin came flooding back. Mr. Stuck says Actigall is worse than anything I’m taking. I’ll take his word for it.
Omeprazole is my new best friend. After the couch and the heating pad, I mean.
19 Oct 8:45pm. Saw the therapist today. I hope this is all normal. Sometimes I feel I’m going crazy. She tells me I’m not. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ll ever get through this.
20 Oct 9:30pm. I wonder what my husband thinks? I don’t want to bore him – if he asks me how I am, I guess I’m just the same. Every day. Nothing changes. Will my marriage survive? Will I? He’s got to be tired of this. I am. And my kids probably wonder who I am anymore – certainly not the Mommy they used to know.
22 Oct 10:10pm. I always seem to do this before bed, don’t I? What a nice way to go to sleep. But it’s the only time I have to myself – and since I’m always thinking of it anyhow, I guess bedtime’s as good as any. Any quiet time for me is painful. Sometimes noise is easier – but I frustrate so easily now – I’m a real shrew.
25 Oct 9:15pm. Going to bed early tonight. Hope it helps. I’m always so tired. The therapist says grieving is hard work and wears you out. I agree. I could stay in bed all day most of the time if I had the chance. Mom, I can hardly stand it without you. Dad, I miss you so much — I try to hear your voice in my head so I don’t forget what it sounds like. I am so terrified that I will. Wendy, it feels so awful to lose you — you were so young and full of life — I wanted you to grow old with me and still be shuffling in the kitchen and ‘popping’ your cheek.
27 Oct Weds pm. I didn’t work today. Guess I tripped and fell. I’m a mess. A damned stupid, blubbering mess. I’m so tired. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Isn’t it funny that my pen from the funeral chapel fits so nicely in my journal? Why is that funny? Boy, if someone reads this someday they’ll probably have me committed.
It feels strange reading these pages again. Almost voyeuristic. Can I be a voyeur of myself?
I haven’t kept up with the Daily Prompts very well, and I would say that part of the reason is that I’m a night owl in an early-bird world. I get up before anyone else in my household, and I am often out the door and on the way to work before anyone has rolled out of bed. It’s not as early as, say, the barista down the road at my favorite espresso stand, but to me, it’s an ungodly hour, and it’s difficult. Thank goodness for coffee.
Years ago, I made it clear to my family that on weekends, if there was no reason for me to get up early (vacation, appointment, or chauffeur duty), then I was to be left alone until at least 8 or 9 a.m. Sometimes I have the luxury of sleeping in much later, especially if I have stayed up late the night before. You see, that is part of my problem — I like to stay up late, but I’m not very good at it anymore.
I’m afraid I’ve fallen victim to what my sister would call, “Oldness.” Oldness is waking up early, even when you don’t want to, and even without an alarm. Oldness is wanting to stay up and watch that movie on Netflix, but falling asleep before it’s halfway through. Oldness is knowing that having one beer makes you want to have two; but having two makes you want to take a nap.
I fear I am becoming more of a hermit as I get older. I used to like going out with friends, dancing and drinking, having a few laughs, and coming home in the wee hours. When I was in my 20’s, I would stay at the club until closing time, and then hit the local diner with my friends for some fries and a Coke. I could stay up for days if I wanted to, and I did on a few occasions. But now, I’m ashamed to admit that I when I go out, I start looking at the clock around 10 or 11.
Number One Son is a night owl like his sister, and like I used to be. He was the one who, as a toddler, insisted he wasn’t tired as he fought to keep his eyes open. He would stay up as late as he could if I would let him. Of course, that means he also likes to sleep late. Number Young Son, on the other hand, was always an early riser as a youngster, and he would go full speed until he’d drop, asleep, in the middle of whatever he was doing. Now that he’s a teen, he likes to stay out late but he is still an early riser, especially compared to his friends.
When I was a kid, one of my older, teenaged sisters liked to sleep in late, much to my parents’ annoyance. They, of course, always rose early. One of my father’s favorite sayings was, “Anybody who sleeps longer than me is LAZY!” My sister’s bedroom was right above the kitchen, and my mother would take the broom handle and pound on the ceiling to get her up. I remember one time my father, frustrated that she was ‘sleeping all day,’ went upstairs to her room. He threw the covers back. Much to his surprise, she had slept in the buff. In one sweeping motion, he pulled the blankets back over her and hurried out, horribly embarrassed. He never did that again. (I remember something about dousing her with a glass of water, too, on occasion, but I would have to ask her if that was truth or rumor.)
There is one time when I do like to be up early in the quiet of the morning: when we are at our lake property. Sometimes I will wake before the sun is quite risen, and I will quickly dress and go out to start the campfire. I enjoy watching the day begin over the calm water, with fish rising and ospreys and eagles looking for breakfast. If I have a cup of coffee, it is that much better.
(Oh, and I meant to post this yesterday, but I stayed up to watch Skyfall, and before I knew it, it was 1 a.m.)
The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I dream a lot. All the time.
Many years ago, when I was a teen, my friend Jon suggested I keep a pad of paper next to the bed so I could write my dreams down immediately after I woke. Eventually I got so practiced at it that I could barely wake, not even open my eyes, and jot down words and phrases that would evoke the dream later. For years, I faithfully wrote down my dreams. Most were odd, at least in comparison to Mr. Stuck’s, which are usually about hunting or fishing or something normal. Nightmares were infrequent and most often the result of a television show or movie I had watched.
As expected, when my life went sideways, so did my dreams. I was miserable and shattered during the day, and I began having nightmares nearly every night. I dreamed that certain family members would die in spectacularly gruesome fashions. I dreamed that I saw my grandfather tumble down some cellar stairs to his death. I dreamed that I had blood on my hands as I rubbed my face, but when I looked in the mirror there was no blood. My therapist, who used the Jungian style of analysis and dream interpretation, would discuss my dreams and nightmares with me quite frequently and ascribe them to the ‘mind work’ my brain was doing while I slept. My dreams were manifestations of my subconscious struggles.
Right or wrong, I must admit that many of my dreams certainly seemed to be exactly that.
Those few that weren’t nightmares were often strange dreams of futility. One dream was that my siblings and I were trying to raise my mother’s chair to get her in and out easier. The others were using plastic plant pots, magazines and old cardboard boxes, but I used a stool and it worked. In another dream, my mother and sister were walking arm in arm, just a few feet from me. They didn’t see me at all, and they didn’t hear me when I yelled out to them. I would say that most of the ‘good’ dreams had a theme of vehicles or a journey of some kind. I was on the move — by ferry, by motorcycle, by bus, by plane.
Apparently, I was going somewhere, but in my dreams, I never knew where. They always seemed to have an element of peril; I was lost, or falling overboard, or being chased, or stumbling into a scary situation. I came to think of these dreams as my path through the fire. I wrote down those I remembered and tried to make sense of them.
I have to keep moving, I thought.
The nightmares continued for weeks, then months, with similar frequency. I would stay awake as long as possible so that I didn’t have to go to sleep and have another nightmare. I would keep Mr. Stuck awake by talking, crying, and shouting in my sleep. When it got to be too much, I went to the doctor for sleeping pills. When I took them, I slept so hard that I didn’t dream, or if I did, I didn’t recall them, thankfully. The pills left me groggy, so I reserved them for weekends only.
Rest was non-existent. Sleep was merely a way to pass the hours of the night. Either I tossed and turned restlessly and woke in terror without the pills, or I was passed out cold for 8 hours and woke dazed with them. But no rest. I would wake up drenched in sour sweat. The stress level was so high that I was always on edge. It felt as if I was on the rim of an abyss with a mad compulsion to step off.
I wondered if this is what it felt like to go crazy. I had known people from work who seemed to be a little ‘off,’ and some would talk to themselves or hear voices. Was this what was happening to me? I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t rest. I was exhausted all the time, and not sleeping was not helping. I felt leaden; everything was heavy. My brain felt heavy, too.
I missed a lot of work during those days. I felt as if I existed in a place between living and dead, asleep and awake. It took a couple years for my nightmares to subside; they never really went away, but they came less and less frequently and they were more subdued. I think it was important for me to go through that period; I do believe that those dreams came from whatever my psyche was working through at the time.
Looking back at the dreams I jotted down, I can see the journey I was on.
Laugh, and the worlds laughs with you; snore, and you sleep alone.
Forgive me if this post seems a bit disjointed; I’m a little tired today.
I spent the night away from home in a sleep clinic. Mr. Stuck and the boys have been making fun of my tendency to snore for a while now, so I finally had my doctor refer me for a sleep study.
The clinic sent me the information packet, which included a sleep diary and questionnaire for me to complete. It also enclosed a questionnaire for Mr. Stuck. I was surprised to read that not only do I snore, twitch, stop breathing, gasp, and talk in my sleep, I also sit up in bed while I’m asleep. I dream a lot, so the twitching and talking doesn’t surprise me, but I never knew I sat up. Weird!
The packet directed me to bathe but not use lotions, hair products, or makeup; to bring night clothes because I would be videotaped during sleep; to bring my pillow; and to bring sleeping pills if I needed them. I stuffed a backpack with pajamas, a change of clothes, a book of crossword puzzles, some apple slices, a tablet, and my toothbrush. I put a fresh pillowcase on my favorite feather pillow, stuffed a small fleece blanket inside, and bade goodnight to my family.
I arrived at 8 p.m. There was one other patient in the waiting area, a teenage girl with her mother. I grinned and said, “Slumber party!”
The mother gave me a tired look, and then a gentleman in a medical smock called them in. About five minutes later, a smiling young lady named Grace welcomed me and ushered me to my room.
In addition to the bed, monitoring equipment, television, night stands and chair, the room had a camera on the ceiling. I asked her for extra pillows, and she brought me two more and a wedge. Grace gave me some papers to sign and took my I.D. and insurance card. She started the 15-minute orientation video and told me to change into my night clothes whenever I was ready. She showed me the adjoining bathroom and explained that it was shared with the room next door. Then she left. I filled out the papers and watched the video, which explained the study process.
After putting my things where I could reach them, I got my jammies on. Grace returned, and before anything else, she explained about CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) masks and tried a nasal mask on me.
When she turned it on, I could feel the air coming in, but it was very light pressure and didn’t bother me. When she was satisfied with the fit and comfort of the mask, she removed it. She told me that after a minimum of two hours of sleep time, if the monitoring indicated I needed the mask, she would come in and put it on me.
“I’ll be right back,” she said. She returned with a cart and said that since her other patient had not arrived, she would start with me. The cart held a number of wires, some tape, a Sharpie marker, gloves, and gauze. She motioned for me to sit in a chair facing the television, which, now that the video was over, was displaying the opening credits of some sitcom. Grace worked efficiently, measuring my head and marking with the Sharpie the places where she would affix the electrodes.
I told her I wanted to take pictures of the process for my blog, which amused her, and we made small talk about her husband’s new job and their two-year old daughter. She explained each element of my hookup in turn, and answered all of my questions.
Two long leads slid under my clothes from my shoulder to my shin on each side to record my leg movement.
She put elastic belts around my chest and abdomen to note their rise and fall with each breath. Electrodes on my forehead, chin, cheeks and neck measured muscle activity, eye movement, teeth grinding, and heart rate; several wires attached to my scalp monitored brain activity.
An oximeter wrapped around my index finger documented the oxygen level in my blood. A nasal sensor would detect airflow, and a microphone taped to my neck would pick up my snoring.
When she was done, she connected all the wires to a common box, which fed them all to one connection.
It looked very messy and complicated to me, but it was clear that she knew what she was doing.
All that tape made me feel like I was having a face lift. It was a strange sensation. The electrodes on my scalp were stuck there with a thick gooey paste and gauze. Grace assured me that the paste would dissolve in hot water. She told me to go ahead and relax, and to push the button when I was ready to sleep. Then she left. I turned off the television, which I wasn’t watching anyway, propped myself on the wedge and pillows, and read another chapter of my book. I surfed the net and updated my Facebook status, and by 10:30, I was ready for bed.
Grace came in and connected the box with all the leads to the computer monitoring equipment on the nightstand. She plugged the oximeter in, and a red light shone from my fingertip. She explained that if I needed to get up in the night, I could push the call button, and she would come in and disconnect me. She helped me get settled with my pillow and asked me to lie on my back for a few minutes so she could test the hookups. She turned off the light as she left the room, and I noticed that the camera was now pointing at me.
Grace’s voice came over the intercom: “Can you hear me?” Me: “Yes.” Grace: “Good. I have a few exercises I need you to do now. Using just your eyes, look up and down five times.” I did as she asked, going through eye motions, foot motions, deep breaths, and jaw clenching tasks. The last thing she asked me to do was to make five snoring noises. I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly: “Snoring noises? Like pretending to snore?” I could hear the smile in her voice: “Yes, pretending to snore.”
At last, I was ready to turn in. Or so I thought. The wedge pillow, which had been fine while I was on my back, proved uncomfortable for side sleeping. I tried to pull it out from under me without disconnecting any of my wires, but it was difficult, and in the dark, I couldn’t see what I was doing. “Do you need some assistance?” came over the intercom. “Yes, please.” Grace came in and removed the wedge, and I got the pillows situated. It wasn’t as comfortable as my own bed, but it wasn’t too bad.
It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when I woke to use the bathroom. I settled back down, and the next thing I knew, Grace had come in to put the mask on me. It wasn’t as comfortable as before; the air flow seemed stronger and I fought it. She said she’d turn the pressure down until I fell asleep, which seemed to work out fine.
When she came to wake me at 5:50 a.m., I was exhausted and had a headache.
I had tossed and turned throughout the night, unable to get comfortable. The wires made turning over and changing position a bit more difficult, and my hair got tangled in them, even though I had pulled it into a pony tail. I sat on the edge of the bed and asked her if I had sleep apnea. She said that as a technician, she was not allowed to speak to the test results; they would have to be given to me through my physician. However, she had brought two print outs of my study, one from before the mask, and one from after.
She pointed out the differences in the readings. Apparently, I needed the mask and it helped. Grace made short work of the electrode removal process.
I washed my face and finger-combed my matted, ratted, gooey hair, and decided to shower at home. I got dressed, packed my things up, and made my way to the still-dark, rainy parking lot.
I stopped for a cup of coffee, which I thought might help my headache.
I stood in the hot shower for easily 15 minutes. There were pieces of gauze stuck to my head as well as the goo. The shower felt great, and I thought I’d be able to sleep once I crawled into my own bed.
Nope. Not a chance. I lay there for half an hour, then an hour. I finally got out of bed and got dressed. I’ve been dragging all day, but I’m sure I’ll sleep very well tonight.
I don’t always have an easy time falling asleep. Many times I toss and turn or lie on my back looking at the ceiling. I try the ‘relax from your toes to your head’ method; I try blanking my mind; I try thinking of a pleasant memory; but more often than not, those things don’t bring sleep.
An interesting phenomenon happened the other night as I lay there wishing for sleep. My mind’s eye began traveling with astounding speed through an interesting landscape. It reminded me of the movie Inner Space, where a miniaturized Dennis Quaid travels through Martin Short’s body. In those few twilight moments, I felt miniaturized. It was as if I were a tiny speck, zooming at warp speed through places seen best via microscope. Large shapes loomed over me as I passed, and it was only then that I could tell that these were hair shafts. Shadows revealed themselves as freckles, and ridges became wrinkles.
But it was not merely a landscape of the human body; I saw myself zoom into web-frosted corners where an enormous spider crouched; I was buried in the terrifying clutter of a kitchen drawer. Anywhere my mind reached, there followed my vision in miniature. More than once my eyelids snapped open in surprise when I found myself in another unlikely spot. When I closed them again, the spree continued. The terrain changed so quickly that it all became a blur, and so much flashed by that I was disoriented.
All of this happened in a very short time span; just the few minutes in between awake and asleep. But when it was over, I felt the need to rest, and I quickly fell asleep.
These minuscule journeys have happened a few times since that first instance, and I’m always glad when they arrive. I have tried to coax my mind into it, but it doesn’t happen like that. I can’t think it into being. I’ve also noticed that it only happens when I lie on my left side, for whatever reason.
I’m sure there is a perfectly boring explanation to it all, but I don’t need an explanation. It’s an adventure in miniature, and I love it.