Story and illustration by Betty Auchard
I lay in the dark tight as a knot and listened. It was nerve-wracking. How long could he go without taking a breath? It seemed forever. Suddenly, he gasped and thrashed about sucking big gulps of air and never waking up before starting to snore again and then starting the cycle over. The nighttime routine scared me silly. My husband was a gifted snorer and if contests existed he would’ve held the crown.
Another abnormal occurrence was how he fell asleep during the day. Usually, it was while watching TV but often while I was talking to him. When he didn’t take part in my conversation I realized that he was sitting up with his eyes closed. At breakfast one morning I brought up the touchy subject of his symptoms.
“Honey, I want you to talk to the doctor about your sleeping problem.”
“I don’t have a sleeping problem.”
“Well, then—your snoring problem.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Yes, I believe it is.”
In my search for facts I learned that snoring is not good for one’s health and it causes personal dilemmas. A good friend of ours refused to do anything about his ear-shattering snoring, so his wife divorced him claiming cruel and unusual punishment. A woman I knew well snored so loud that it reverberated through the walls. But she and her husband agreed to work it out so he moved to the guest bedroom on the opposite side of the house. Visitations were held in his bed and sometimes in hers. They got so used to the arrangement that life was better than ever, so sleeping apart had saved their marriage.
I had considered sleeping in another room but instead tried a different approach. As soon as my husband went to sleep one night I whipped out my tablet and watched the clock as though a show was about to begin. Actually, it was and I had the best seat in the house. In ten minutes the curtain went up and snoring — the main character — entered the stage, hogging the spotlight for three minutes. I wrote it down. Breath-holding, the supporting role — snuck into the act for nine seconds. I made a note of that. Snoring had a few more lines and then breath-holding had a soliloquy that lasted 35 seconds. And each time Denny thrashed about and struggled for air while never waking up. I was writing like mad.
It was creepy and nerve-wracking, but for 45 minutes I observed Denny’s every breath or lack of it which produced three pages of notes and numbers. That done, I turned out the light and tried to at least doze, but it was impossible. Whenever he started to snore I patted his shoulder and the noise stopped, but so did his breathing. I was afraid to lie down in a different room, scared that he might die if I wasn’t there to nudge him back to life. I prayed: God, please let him wake up in the morning on his own because I’m tired of tapping him on the shoulder. I shoved in my ear plugs and trusted that my prayer would be answered. And it was.
In the morning I flashed my three pages and said, “Denny, if you don’t show these notes to the doctor, I will.”
My husband couldn’t ignore the facts so he made an appointment that we attended together. The doctor studied my evidence and he sent a sleeping machine home with us that would provide scientific proof. It kept a record of Denny’s breathing pattern for one night and I was so happy I could have cried. It revealed that my husband had a pretty bad case of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea: a disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing while asleep. The patient is oxygen deprived which could result in daytime fatigue or sudden death.
I told ya so!
Denny became an overnight patient in the sleep clinic. He packed his newest pajamas, slippers, robe, electric razor, toothbrush, paste and recent issue of Psychology Today. It must have felt odd climbing into bed with a video camera instead of with me. There were other gadgets recording heartbeats, sounds, and movement. The overnight analysis produced a polysomnogram revealing that Denny needed critical help.
If someone had listened to me in the first place, we could have saved a lot of time. The critical help my husband got was another gizmo that would train his lungs to do their job, so they sent one home with us.
Alas; Denny and the breathing gizmo did not bond…at first. After a few sleepless nights my husband’s lungs cooperated because they were no match for a system powered by electricity instead of oxygen. That new machine was designed to take snorers down.
My husband and his new gear were on his side of the bed and I was on mine. From the neck up he looked like a robot. The breathing mask fit like a gas mask and had a baboon likeness. A tube connected the baboon mask to the machine that was the size of a reel to reel tape recorder with dials. Denny usually slept on his right side but while using this device he had to sleep on his back. The machine forced him to inhale and exhale at regular intervals like other people. His breathing sounded like Darth Vader, and to be honest, from my side of the bed he looked like Darth Vader. His lazy lungs got retrained which was a miracle. Denny and I were starting to feel youthful again.
One night my husband accidentally flipped onto his right side dislodging the mask and almost ripping off his nose. He howled in pain and I dashed for a wet wash cloth to clean up his nose bleed. For days his schnoz was red and swollen forcing him to breathe through his mouth with no help from a machine.
Man, machine, and wife got used to the treatment, but after six months of mechanical respiration Denny’s sinuses were getting dried out causing little nose bleeds. Since he had improved, we surrendered the machine back to Kaiser Hospital. Oh joy; freedom from sleeping with attachments; but not for long.
My husband could hardly hold a cup of coffee because his right thumb hurt all the time. His doctor said, “Arthritis,” and he made a mold of Denny’s thumb. So my darling traded the baboon mask for a thumb cast that he wore only at night. Sleeping without his mask was safer for Denny, but sleeping with his thumb cast was unsafe for me. When Denny flipped onto his left side his big old thumb cast whacked me in the head. I didn’t sleep well during the thumb cast period.
To compensate for lack of rest I wanted to stay in bed late each morning, but that was when my husband did his exercises on top of the covers after he arose. I did not want to arise. Denny kept a strict schedule and did his exercises anyway as though I wasn’t there. He stretched one leg up, over and down then stretched the other leg up, over and down where it whopped me before I was awake. Since that didn’t get me up and about, he made his side of the bed, tucking sheets and blankets under the mattress. Then he plumped the pillow and smoothed the bedspread all while I was still in it. It restricted my movement and I felt like a mummy. Making the bed with me still under the covers was his way of saying that it was time to rise and shine.
Eventually we both “rose and shined” together each morning. Nighttime anxieties had become ancient history. What a relief. I didn’t have to tap his shoulder anymore and I could cuddle, snuggle, or even go to sleep if I felt like it. No more snoring or hands in casts. Finally, we were fresh-faced and wholesome every day.
Newlyweds must find out that sleeping with a partner for 49 years has its ups and downs, but not always in a good way.