After a long slog, my book, Halfway to Dead, is nearing publication. Whew! I am shooting for November 3, 2014, with both an e-book and a softcover book. Blog followers will notice that I have removed my old posts, which have been rewritten for the book. There are now thirty essays, divided into four categories:
We All Want To Be Special – Just Not in This Way
Strange, Random Thoughts May Cross Your Mind
Transitions Occur, Almost Like Weather Fronts
What Lies Ahead
Today I am posting two essays that were previously posted here but are now revised. The saying “Writing the book is the easy part” turned out to be fantastically true!
Thanks for your support!
It appears that once you’ve crossed the threshold of being halfway to dead, your talent for snoring improves dramatically. My own experience leads me to believe it’s a pipes problem. My food pipe seems to be narrowing while my air pipe is widening—so the cavern where these two pipes meet is an ever-widening open space.
Sometimes when my food enters this wide, open space, it gets confused about which chute it’s supposed to head into: down the food pipe, down the lung pipe, or up into my nose pipe. Consequently I have blown corn kernels out of my nose on more than one occasion, but so far only in a home setting. I am the only one in my family who thinks this is amazing. Everyone else throws down their fork and tells me I’m disgusting.
My point is: I can see how this ever-widening chasm of open space could lead to snoring.
The pipes-gone-awry theory is being proven at this very moment, because the noise erupting out of my sleeping husband’s throat rivals anything that comes out of a Harley-Davidson exhaust pipe.
Oh, let me clarify a point here. My husband does not want me to write about his snoring, so what you are about to read is fiction. Total fiction.
Right now I would love to feel sleepy because it is 1:21 a.m. and my alarm clock is set to go off in four hours and nine minutes. (I’ll spare you the math: that’s 5:30 a.m.) But I can’t enter the front door of Dreamland because my husband is snoring with such vigor that I do believe he’s burning more calories while asleep than he does when he’s awake. No wonder he’s so hungry in the morning.
He didn’t used to snore this majestically. He used to make sweet little huffle-puffle sounds sometimes when we were younger, but once he turned fifty, he became the Pavarotti of snoring. At this very moment, thirty-foot-tall waves of garbled air are rolling out of the deep, dark moors of his throat. Tumultuous, tempestuous tsunamis of wet sounds, almost like he has a hurricane stuck in his windpipe.
Maybe I should close the window so that he doesn’t wake up the neighbors. Or their nine-month-old baby who sleeps through the night.
If I fall asleep within the next minute, I will get exactly four hours and two minutes of sleep before my alarm goes off.
Ah! His symphony has reached its crescendo and is now subsiding into its interlude of large, wounded animal heavy-breathing sounds. This type of snore does not rage at full tidal volume. It rumbles and grouses as it tries to capture a more voluminous air current—but alas, no luck!—and so a wannabe snore slinks off into nothingness.
Slinks off into nothingness and reemerges as a hair-raising roar on the back of my neck, that is! Criminy, where did that come from? It’s given me a minor adrenaline rush that should set me back another ten minutes. If I didn’t know it was my husband in bed next to me, I’d swear it was the great Godzilla. Oh, that’s so, so mean to say, I know. I know! But this is fiction, remember? Yes, it is fiction.
Okay, I just kicked him gently in his calf with the back of my foot, hoping to reboot him into a more normal breathing pattern. Hooray! Success!
Oh, no! Now he’s not breathing at all! It’s like I’ve hit the off switch when all I wanted was to dial it down to normal breathing. How long should I wait before I shake him to make sure I haven’t kicked him into apnea?
Nope, no need to worry. The Lion King has returned at full throttle. Forget a gentle kick in the calf—he sounds like he needs an exorcist. Even our dog is getting up and moving to a different part of the house to sleep.
If I fall asleep right now, I will get exactly three hours and fifty-seven minutes of sleep before my alarm goes off.
Wait a second! He’s waking up!
“You’re snoring really loudly, honey,” I tell him. Boy, I sure let him have it!
“I have to go the bathroom,” he mumbles in response.
Dear God, please let me fall asleep during this bathroom intermission, because if I do, I will get exactly three hours and fifty-four minutes of sleep before my alarm goes off. I know this interlude. He won’t snore when he returns to bed.
Whoever thought I’d be saved by an enlarged prostate?
To be fair, my husband tells me I snore like a rhino blaster. It’s a term he invented, but I’d say it hits the mark in terms of descriptiveness. Not that I’d know, because I’m asleep. My snoring kicked in when I turned fifty, but apparently I’m on an accelerated learning curve.
My husband’s method of dealing with my snoring is to wake me up in a loud, commanding voice that’s loaded with irritation: “Marcianne! Turn over! You’re snoring!”
What will then irritate him to an even greater degree is my unfailingly chipper response: “Oh, was I? I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Sometimes I will begin snoring again less than one minute after I’ve turned over. Or so he says. I don’t know if it’s really true, because frankly I’m sleeping through the entire exchange, and his voice appears as a recurring dream sequence.
In the morning, however, he gives me the full snore report, mimicking the various noises I made throughout the night that kept him awake, and jeesh! I sound like a parched zombie with a fur ball. Unlike him, I sound like I have no mucus in my entire body.
To make him happy, though, I agreed to try one of those strips you put across your nose to prevent snoring. It was hard to put the thing on because I was wearing a wrist brace at the time due to a flare-up of carpal tunnel syndrome. When I emerged from the bathroom wearing my night guard (to prevent teeth clenching), my wrist brace, and now this strip across my nose—well, let’s just say I felt like I should have been wearing satin boxing shorts for pajamas. I looked like I was dressed for going to the mat—not the mattress.
It was an unfair fight, though. That little strip across my nose was no match for what I’m capable of in the snoring department. I fear now the only truly effective treatment would be to have my throat and lungs removed.
And that scene highlights the root of the snoring problem.
Because as we get older, the warranty is up on certain body parts and bodily functions . . . and we adapt. We start wearing glasses to improve our eyesight, we start making lists to help our memory, we start learning how to clench our buttocks tightly to prevent public gas emissions. These are our problems and we deal with them.
But snoring isn’t the snorer’s problem. It’s the awake person’s problem. I know from personal experience that the snorer is stratospheres away from earthly concerns—until the awake person kicks you in the calf.
So I think product development to alleviate the snoring problem is aimed at the wrong customer. Instead of focusing on how to get us to stop snoring, inventors should focus on how to get the awake person back to sleep.
And so for now I bid you good night. I hope.
When I was a kid, our family used to go over to my mother’s sister’s house for Thanksgiving. My aunt Rosemary and her husband, Jack Ready, had ten kids, and there were four kids in my family, so there were fourteen kids and four adults crammed into their Chicago home.
Before we all sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, the grown-ups would sit in the living room with their cocktails and most of the kids would go down into the finished basement. There we played a terrifying game called Go Touch Grandma’s Leg.
Grandma was my mom and Rosemary’s mom, and she was an extraordinarily independent woman who had lived alone in an apartment and took the bus to get around Chicago—even when she was in her seventies and had one artificial leg, which was due to an amputation from diabetes complications. After she died, the adults couldn’t quite figure out what to do with her artificial leg, which had a nylon and a stylishly sensible black shoe on it. It seemed disrespectful to put her leg into the garbage can, and it’s not something you can give to the Goodwill. (“Oh, look, an artificial leg that fits my stump perfectly!”)
A lack of any good ideas led to Grandma’s leg being stored in a dark, cluttered, unfinished storage room in the Readys’ finished basement, where it became the object of our Thanksgiving game. The game consisted of the older kids lining up the younger kids and making us go one by one—alone!—into this dark, scary room to touch Grandma’s leg. You had to navigate your way through the clutter to the very back corner, where Grandma’s leg was propped up against the wall. I always came running out of that hellhole screaming at the top of my lungs while those waiting in line screamed, too—because everyone was sure that Grandma’s leg (or worse, her ghost) was gaining on you from behind trying to touch your leg.
And what would happen as you came back into the light, limp with both fear and victory? One of the older kids would say to you with slitted eyes, “You didn’t touch it! I saw you! Go back in there and touch it!”
It was torture! And we loved it. Sort of. Because sometimes I practically had diarrhea, I was so scared. I was more afraid that when I was alone in the dark with Grandma’s leg, the older kids were going to turn out the rest of the lights in the finished basement and all run upstairs, leaving me stumbling around in the whole dark basement by myself, bereft, like poor Helen Keller before she met Annie Sullivan. You ask any of my older Ready cousins today, and they’ll tell you, “Oh, sure, we would have done that if we’d thought of it.”
So the point of this way-too-long story is that sometimes I wondered what the hell the grown-ups were talking about upstairs that was so damn interesting they wouldn’t notice all the screaming that was going on in the basement literally right underneath their feet.
Now that I’m older and have been similarly absorbed in the pre–Thanksgiving dinner cocktail hour, I realize that those grown-ups were not talking about lofty ideas but most likely about this one’s back problem, that one’s arthritis, and the other one’s diabetes. Get a bunch of people over the age of thirty together in a room and inevitably the conversation veers toward their health problems.
Over fifty and it’s worse. Certainly we talk far more about health issues than our parents ever did, because our generation talks about every aspect of their lives in more detail. Plus, our parents’ generation trusted their doctors unconditionally, which can substantially shorten a conversation between two non–medical professionals.
Not so with our generation. We not only talk about our own health, we’ll bring into the conversation the health of our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, our hairdresser’s neighbor, and even the guy who washes the windows at the pet-food store, if it’s relevant to the symptoms or treatment we’re discussing.
The downside of this loose-lipped approach to life is that it leads to a lot of sharing of personal information that’s really, well, personal. Considering that I just met you. And already I know more about your colon than I do about what television shows you watch.
Over the years we have all become mini-physicians with specific areas of expertise. Due to the medical conditions of my various friends and family members, I specialize in small-cell lung cancer, bladder cancer, and Parkinson’s. If I need to know about dementia, I call my friend Susan, because that’s her specialty. Raynaud’s disease? My friend Wendy. You get the picture.
When I have a health problem (more accurately: when I suspect I have a health problem), my typical MO is to diagnose myself via Google, discuss it among my friends for a second opinion, and then go to the doctor for a third opinion.
I so rarely have headaches that when I recently did have a bad one, I was compelled to check it out. It appeared I could have meningitis. I mentioned my terrible headache to people I ran into that day and “joked” that I hoped—ew!—I didn’t have meningitis! I knew the odds were in my favor of talking to someone who knew someone who had actually had meningitis and had been originally misdiagnosed as merely having a bad headache. This mentioning of garden-variety symptoms in the context of misdiagnosis is like catnip to other halfway-to-dead pseudo-MDs.
Indeed, I was told repeatedly that meningitis was going around right now and that I should definitely get it checked out. Somebody’s plumber’s aunt had died because she just took aspirin and didn’t go to the doctor in time. Obviously somebody’s plumber’s aunt did not own a computer.
When I went to my doctor the next morning to confirm my diagnosis, she told me no, I didn’t have meningitis. All I had was a virus.
I said suspiciously, “Well, maybe I have viral meningitis,” but she said with a slight touch of irritation in her voice, “No, you don’t have any kind of meningitis. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
And I did. And then I had to tell everyone who called to check up on me that I was feeling better, thank you. What a waste of time. Which is probably what my doctor was thinking, too. Even I must admit there should be a friends-and-Google surcharge on my doctor bill.
My goal for my sixties and beyond is to take a page from my dad’s book. He is Superman about his health. Never complains. When I was in high school, he had a bad fall on a family skiing trip when a guy crashed into him. This was back in the days when your bindings didn’t release like they do now. Therefore, the resulting pressure of a bad fall was released by your bones snapping. “Just a bad sprain,” he insisted as he scooted along the floor on his rear end, unable to walk. For a week this went on! Only when my mother threatened to divorce him did he finally consent to going to the emergency room for X-rays. Presto! He had broken both of his legs. Can you imagine!
(Not to press the point, but I do have to tell you one more story about my Superman dad. He had banged his fingertip pretty badly somehow and had a horrific blood blister beneath his nail bed. Did he go to the doctor to get it taken care of? No. He walked over to his drill press and . . . yes! He drilled a hole into his own finger to relieve the pressure! Why the CIA never saw his potential is beyond me.)
Anyway, I’m already sick of all this health talk. While I hope that I am lucky enough to live for a few more decades, I also hope that I am not facing a few more decades of these conversations. So I’m trying to figure out a way around asking, “How are you?” because these days people our age will tell you exactly how they are—body part by body part—and I’ll know someone with a similar problem and we’ll end up having quite a go-around about it.
Undoubtedly, my eventual grandchildren won’t be able to get away with murder during the pre-Thanksgiving cocktail hour like we did when we were younger. Not only because our house doesn’t have a basement, but because I’ll be listening for any excuse to leave all the health talk going on in the kitchen.