WEDNESDAY, 11 JUNE 2008
Sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture, take my word, it works.
I have been sleep deprived several times in my life, sometimes self-inflicted, as in the forty darks days in the 1980s, a blur of coffee induced insomnia, and anxiety driven over-revision for what at the time seemed like the most important set of tests I would ever have to navigate. Oh the naivety of the time.
Another test of stamina was my first weekend on call in 1990s, I remember sitting on the desk staring at a chart trying to focus my mind on the task at hand. A simple prescription for medications, which I seemed unable to complete, my eyelids drooping 80 hours after I had started my shift, and a senior member of the team snatching the chart from my hands before I finished writing the wrong dosage that he would end up taking the flak for.
I recognise the various stages of sleep deprivation as I pass through them now.
That initial rush of adrenaline as my body prepares for what it assumes will be a brief period of need, the heightened awareness of everything that often arrives around two or three in the morning of the first sleepless night, during which all manner of boring and long neglected duties can be completed.
The first phase is replaced by a sluggish, muzzy head phase that reaches its peak by the second or third day without sleep. During this stage the world seems to be moving more slowly and people and events merge into each other, I sometimes find that the line of demarcation between reality and imagination becomes less clear.
Immediately after I had the children I had no sleep at all for four days, by the evening of the fifth day I had started talking to non-existent people in the room.
Eventually my mind starts to clear once more, and after the first week I reach the final phase.
I have been unable to sleep properly for the past three weeks.
It all started with an email, a request for help, an exchange of information followed by the arrival of the database.
A series of entries, numbers events and treatment outcomes, stark facts that need ordering, untangling and then weaving into a coherent tale, a tale of eight years of work, eight years of sweat and blood, eight years of pain and tears, eight years of battling the odds, eight years of unsuccessful attempts to retrieve breath from the claws of death.
In the sterile environment I have become accustomed to patient data is presented in anonymous format, people become “unique identifying numbers”, poisons become “courses of treatment”, symptoms and diseases are described in sanitised clinical terms, my mind has developed ways of re-classifying pain, bleeding, and a host of other forms of suffering into “events”, even death seems less shocking when described as “mortality”.
The raw information I have been sifting through is different, columns of names, columns of cities, columns of detailed descriptions, and a final column of stark words “dead / taken home to die”
Pouring over the information started out easy enough, but sleep deprivation made it more difficult to ignore the names, oddly more personal for their familiarity, and my mind starts to play tricks on me as I visualise the description, and wonder: Did he have anything for the pain? Did she have anything for the fever? Who was with him when he bled? Who carried her home? How did they travel? Did they have water to drink?
I have not had enough sleep, and when I have not slept everything seems different. I cannot concentrate as well, and I get irritated more easily, everything takes a sharper edge, and every encounter seems to be less simple.
It is the sleep deprivation that meant I had less patience with the third round of long-lost friends who have tried to rekindle youthful relationships, only to be disappointed by my exposed hair, and by the absence of any imminent or otherwise plans to wrap myself in a white sheet and get some much needed exercise in a hot climate.
It is the sleep deprivation that makes me read something sinister when the day after a panorama programme about the $23 billions dollars of Iraqi money that has been stolen over the past five years
Someone who recently returned from a “lighting” visit to the “beautifully organised” “green zone” and with whom I had previously maintained a polite professional relationship occasionally flavoured by nostalgic reminiscing about the good old days, shows me details of a $3 million dollors house he plans to buy before the end of the year.
Sleep deprivation is torture; forget the physical effects, without the escape of dreams, the world is so much more ugly when viewed through sleep-deprived eyes.
POSTED BY 3EERAQIMEDIC AT 21:28 5 COMMENTS
11 June 2008 22:54
We do need other realities than this one, other truths and other wells. I hope you are able to sleep and dream and replenish yourself in beauty and other truths and times soon. It is dangerous and painful only to be awake in a single reality....
May peace and goodness be always with you.
12 June 2008 03:50
I expect He is also getting no sleep, but thanks for your concern.
12 June 2008 18:11
Oh dear! I am sorry that you find me in this frame of mind on your first visit, but welcome to my black sometimes bleak blog.
From prior experience I expect to be sleeping a little more within a week or two, and I still live in hope that one day I may even have a pleasant dream.
Thanks for visiting, and for your wishes.
12 June 2008 18:15
Dear 3ee: Not my first visit, just the first time commenting. I've been appreciating your writing for several months. Thanks for the welcome. Sweet dreams!