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The Man Who Couldn't Sleep Proof

The Man Who Couldn't Sleep Proof



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Published by cechaffin

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Published by: cechaffin on Dec 15, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep
 byC. E. Chaffin(5,514 words)He was seventy and thin. His neck was scarred from biopsy and radiation. A denudedthatch of white hair sprouted from his crown, topping a scalp red and flaky from toomuch sun, beneath which a thin monk’s fringe of white barely topped his ears. Hisface looked pinched, with a hawk-like nose and hollow cheeks, and seemed fixed inthe frustrated stubbornness of one who believes he will not be believed. His mouthwas straight and grim and his blue irises, circled in senile white, stared at me as if Iwere guilty. What was my crime?“So, Mr. DeVries, tell me a little bit about what brought you to the hospital.”“I can’t sleep, pure and simple, nothing fancy. about it. I just can’t sleep.”“How long has it been since you’ve slept?”“Goin’ on three months.”I suppressed a smile.“And during that time you have not slept at all?”“Not a wink, Doc. I lie down at night and pretend to sleep, but I don’t. I just lie thereand stare at the walls and try not to disturb my wife.”“Is your wife here with you?”“No, she left already.”“What would she say if I asked her whether or not you sleep?”“How would she know? She’s always asleep when I’m not sleeping. How could shetell if I was?”“I thought she might have gotten up at night and noticed you snoring or something,” Ireplied.
“Not a chance!”“Hmmm ... This sounds like a very difficult problem. Perhaps it would be helpful if we went back a little and talked about the things that happened before you couldn’tsleep.”“Not much to tell. Earlier this year the doctors said I had some kind of problem in myneck with the lymph nodes. Took a piece of one of them They said they could cure itwith radiation. So I went with the treatments. Then they had to give me thyroidmedicine ’cause the radiation hurt the gland. At my last check-up they said there wasnothing there. Which makes me wonder if there was ever anything there. And look how thick my skin is here on my neck where I got the treatments. How could you findanything there now, anyway?”“Did they do an MRI?”“A what?”“Did they stick you in a big tube and tell you to be still for fifteen minutes while they played with some dials?”“Yeah, I remember that.”“Well, Mr. DeVries, that’s the best test we have for monitoring recurrence of tumor.If the oncologist tested your blood and did the MRI, that’s the best he can do. Or am Imissing something?”“How did they even know I had something? I felt fine. I was workin’ out in thegarden, minding the cows, doin
everything I usually do. If I hadn’t noticed the lumpshaving, and if I hadn’t told my wife, none of this might have happened.”“None of what?”“My sleep problem, damn it! Haven’t you been listening to me? I can’t sleep. Andthis all started after this gland problem.”“When you say you can’t sleep, do you mean you doze off a little and wake upfrequently, or that you wake up too early?”“No. I don’t sleep at all. I just lie there.”“Do you feel nervous?”“No.”“Any thoughts of suicide, bouts of crying, or feelings of depression?”
“I’m not suicidal or depressed. I just can’t sleep. If this goes on, maybe I will commitsuicide, but only to get some sleep.”“Do you feel tired?”“Of course I feel tired! Wouldn’t you if you hadn’t slept in three months?”“I think I’d be more than tired. I’d probably be dead, because humans aren’t made tosurvive that kind of sleep deprivation.”“You’re telling me!”“So how are you able to survive?”“You tell me, you’re the doctor.”“Could it be that you doze off occasionally, but wake up with no memory of sleeping? For after all, no one knows if they’re sleeping while they’re asleep.”Mr. DeVries looked puzzled, as if he’d not considered the possibility. Reflexively hestroked his disfigured neck. Then he shook his head.“No, not a chance. I wish I could say I had dozed, but I’m up all the time. Alwaysawake. Sometimes I close my eyes but it doesn’t matter. Sleep won’t come.”I could see this line of questioning was fruitless, so I decided to role play and let the patient be the doctor.“What do you think caused this problem Mr. DeVries?”“Hell if I know. But I sure didn’t have it before they started messing with my neck.All I can figure is that all that radiation must have done something to my brain.”“So you think your sleeplessness may be a side effect of the radiation treatments?”“Don’t know what else it could be.”It was clear that direct confrontation of the symptom only produced increasedresistance. I decided to gather the necessary background information.“Have you ever been hospitalized for psychiatric problems before?”“Of course not. Been in the dairy business fifty-five years. And as far as I’mconcerned, this isn’t a psychiatric problem. This is a sleep problem.”

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Mike added this note
good story...was waiting for the old man to be vindicated at the end..i wanted the doctor to be wrong for some reason--his arrogance bothered me...nice characters and development...
Daniel Essman added this note
thanks, cechaffing....a successful unpretentious non-smarmy story about compassion...bravo, an embodied mitzvah...
cheryl_snell liked this

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