Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ode to Sleep

On this my pensive pillow, gentle Sleep!
Descend, in all thy downy plumage drest:
Wipe with thy wing these eyes that wake to weep,
And place thy crown of poppies on my breast. --Thomas Wharton, Jr.

I've never been a great sleeper. The only way for me to sink into a deep sleep is through illness or heavy drugs, and then it's more like unconsciousness than restorative sleep. These days, I feel pressured to sleep, since it's said to boost the immune system.

Lately, I've gone to bed tired, positive that I'll fall asleep right away. But no, as soon as my head hits the pillow, I start having conversations with people. Sometimes I talk to my doctors about my illness; sometimes I talk to my brothers about our childhood; most of the time, these conversations don't cover any new ground, nor do they lead to any apparent insights. Last night, I was telling someone about how I started running at age 44, reliving how difficult my first 5k race was. Thinking about running is no way to fall asleep.

Often, I'll think about the people I've met on the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society discussion board. These people--some patients, some caregivers--are at the center of my social world at the moment, more real to me right now than my best friends. That's because we share a bond that we don't even want to share: all of us have struggled with the Beast. It's an interesting and informative community, unconstrained by time and space. The downside of participation is that members die, often of the very disease you happen to have. That's hard to take. Every time I read a post about another passing, I feel like crying. Sometimes, I do. Right now, there's an "in memoriam" thread listing all our comrades who lost their battle in 2007. It's like entering a virtual veterans cemetery, where everyone who's died has died from the enemy you're still fighting. It's not easy, but it's important to remember.

And I need the reminder. Some days I forget what I'm up against and become too complacent. I forget I'm walking through a microbial minefield, a mental defense mechanism that could be deadly. I must: Think Germs! Wash Hands! Take Meds! Drink Lots of Fluid! Hand Sanitize! Don't Stress! Get Lots of Rest! Live One Day at a Time! Eat Right! Make a mistake, or too many mistakes and BOOM!

When I go to bed tonight, I'm going to try to shut out the voices, the worry, the fear, the cataloging of experience. Maybe I need to look into getting a crown of poppies. The other stuff I'm taking just doesn't work.

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