What I learned the hard way last week (why are so many lessons hard ones?) is that as my cancer and COPD advance, it is crucial – actually, mandatory if I want to function in even the smallest ways - that I get at least six hours of sleep, a couple more is better.
Without that, I am weak as a kitten in mind and body. Carrying a coffee cup from the kitchen to my desk when I'm that sleep-deprived, is a slow trek of only eight or 10 steps but it makes my legs shake, although I get stronger as the day progresses.
On two nights last week, separated by one night of a good, deep sleep, I lay awake the entire night. Whichever sleeping potion I had taken had failed entirely, a second dose didn't help and my thoughts got darker as the hours piled up.
I was ache-y, exhausted, restless and generally miserable. Even trying to use the time to sort through some ideas I had been recently toying with didn't work. My brain was fried, the blanket was snarled, the pillows were hot, my left foot hurt like hell and I just wanted it all to stop. By any means.
At that point, dying seemed reasonable and welcome. Right there and then. Just let go.
As I lay there, it began to feel like it could be just that easy to do. Why all the fuss we humans make about it, I thought. I could end all my discomfort by dying. Turn out the light so to speak. Tell my heart to stop. Be done with it all.
As I considered my impossible idea, it wasn't the same to me as committing suicide. Taking action to end one's life involves mostly violent intervention – a gun, a knife, a rope, a high roof and even those death with dignity pills I have tucked away involve mixing a series of drinks and taking them in the correct order at timed intervals.
If nothing else prevented me from doing one of those things, my exhaustion did. At that point in the night, just getting out of bed was beyond the realm of the possible.
As my sleepless stupor continued, I became indignant that I couldn't end my life by just thinking it. It's my life so why not.
Of course, it doesn't work that way but I began to believe it ought to and the idea had stuck with me even after I finally got some good rest a night later and lost my desire to end it all.
And that was that. With many years of poor sleep behind me, I have a lot of experience with dark thoughts on sleepless nights. I know it is best not to dwell on them.
But sometimes the universe has other ideas. A couple of days later while the idea of simply blinking out still popped up in brief moments, a long-time blog and New York City friend, Annie Gottlieb, sent me this quotation from the celebrated poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke. He wrote it, she told me, when he was ill with leukemia:
“We were such wonderfully good friends, my body and I, I don’t know at all how it happened that we separated and became foreign to each other.”
Oh my yes. Me too. It is close to perfection in encapsulating that late-night death fantasy from a few nights earlier.
Until my cancer diagnosis three years ago, my body and I were great good friends and now we are not. I'm a bit less neutral about what has happened between us than Rilke sounds; more than feeling separated and foreign, I feel my body has betrayed me.
But isn't it wonderful to be given a well-conceived metaphor to further one's understanding.
Part 2 of When Bad Days Turn Good on Friday.
The organization that provides my hospice care is Care Partners, a non-profit that supplies hospice and palliative care to five counties in northwest Oregon. I have a wonderful nurse who is also my case manager along with a social worker and a non-denominational spiritual adviser with others to call on as needed.
They are all excellent and one other thing that gives me comfort: there is always a live person on the other end of the telephone line, a nurse, so that I can have real human help at my fingertips at any hour of the day or night.