Monday, January 7, 2013

A Letter to The Wilderness Concerning Hypersleep

Dear vast, untapped thicket of my near and distant future,

I'm 29.  Right now when I'm writing this, I'm 29.  I feel older, but then how the hell could someone know what they feel like when they've only ever felt younger?  So, I guess I DON'T feel younger than 29.  I can say that with confidence.

I want to talk to you about how I've been having to use a machine to breath at night for the last few months.

I'm not severely injured or even really sick.  I suffer from the "don't work rights" which plague so many hard working Americans.  When I go to sleep my "stuff" doesn't "work right" and I stop breathing.  Like, a lot.  Like, enough that when the doctor looked at the sleep study results she furrowed her brow and said, "I'm going to call the medical supply place myself.  Right now.  And, you need to go today."

It's interesting isn't it?  You're alive almost 30 years, thinking that you function more or less the way you should, and then someone in a lab coat, younger than you, says, oh yeah, you'll be needing a sleep robot right away!  Can't be trusting you to stay alive just with the use of your own body can we?

Suddenly.  A little computerized compressor, a water tank, a hose, a mask with neoprene straps and I look like I'm ready for a bacta-tank every night.  It's not as big of an ordeal as the sleep study setup was.  That was a bigger mask (it actually rubbed the skin off my nose), a larger unit, wires coming off of my head and chest, a two way com system, and the inability to stop what was happening.  No hopping up to take a leak or get a drink of water.  The study was like, well, being studied, I guess.  Also, my CPAP ebbs and flows with my breathing, while the one at the study just pushed constantly so I had to fight to breath out, which was not pleasant.

All in all the little CPAP unit is not that bad.  I even took it with me on a trip and it wasn't a huge pain in the ass to travel with.  They even have special rules about assisted breathing apparati at the airport to make it LESS of a hassle to have it with you.  It's easy to clean.  It's easy to use and adjust. The mask is relatively comfortable and everyone involved has been very helpful.  Most of it was even covered by insurance.

So, why am I unhappy with the change?  Don't I feel better?  I suppose I do.  I can feel myself a little less on edge lately and I don't nod off at bad times like I've done my whole life.  Aren't I glad that my heart isn't under stress?  Sure, that's good to know.  I've been a little more health conscious lately, so this is one less thing to worry about.  So, what's the big deal?

The big deal is that I need a robot to sleep!

Having a robot do something for you is great.  I delight in robotic things.  I even still enjoy using our electric can opener.  It evokes such deep, thought out quotes from me as, "isn't this thing nuts?  I opens cans!"  I love robots; I know this about myself.  Something else I know is that I get a kick out of robots, mostly, because the ones I deal with on a daily basis are not required for me to function.  They are a luxury or a novelty.  I do have an electric can opener, but 9 times out of 10 when I need to open a can in my kitchen I use my Leatherman.  It's there with me all the time and I don't have to hunt for the right thing or worry about where it goes.  It goes in my pocket.

That's how I like to live.  I have a few things I carry with me all the time that I consider needed and that frees me up to consider just about everything else a convenience.  Now, obviously this has a limit.  I need a place to live.  I need something to keep my food cold.  I need something to heat my water up.  These are not luxuries, and I can't put them in my pocket, but deep in the back of my mind I know that those items are so common that I'll surely make due along the way, and if need be, I could fashion what I needed from things I found.  Make a fire, build a bivy, what have you.  Making ice would be tricky, but if you walk far enough North it just falls from the sky.

Is this kind of an extreme way to look at the world?  Who's to say?  No, that's an expression.  It means nobody knows.  No, I know you think you know, but--OK it just means shut the hell up!  It's fine.  Anyway.

There's a part of me, a big part, that likes knowing that in the case that I lost everything, and was left with bare hands on bare earth, that I could still make it.  That I could fashion an existence out of what was around me.  It's a romantic day dream I like to get lost in from time to time, and also a mental toolbox I like to work on when the mood strikes.  Learning how to live with as little as possible, even going out and trying it, can be a deeply rewarding experience.  I also don't mind what it's done for my perspective on most things in life.

Remember Crocodile Dundee?  Remember how lame you thought he was?  Yeah, well I'm not you, and I friggin' loved that guy, and wanted to be him for a good part of my young life.  I'm sure you all know someone, or ARE someone, who shares the idea that if you needed to drop everything and go play Jeremiah Johnson, after a bit of fumbling around, you'd eventually be able to.


What an antithesis to the romance of the Undiscovered Country.  I'll be perfectly healthy out in the bush.  I just need distilled water.  Oh, and air filters.  Oh, and anti-bacterial soap.  Oh, and fucking electricity! Also, I need a flat bed that keeps my spine straight, and a pillow, but not like a big pillow because I have to be able to align my head right to allow my throat to open, but not like a super small one either otherwise--STOP!  Just, for the love of Jesus, stop.  I know.  I know I need all this bullshit.

It's an anchor, you see.  It's not fun, or novel, or convenient.  It's required.  Now, even taking a nap entails an equipment check.  When I fantasize about a life free of the unnecessary I never thought to leave a little space in my dream for the continuous positive airway pressure machine.  Rocking chairs and a wood pile, sure, but the Darth Vader mask never felt like it needed to be added to the dramatization.

I even tried to make a game out of it.  If it was ruining one fantasy I thought maybe it could enhance another.  Since I was a little boy I've wanted to travel the stars on a spaceship.  It's pretty standard procedure now to describe most of those flights through suspended animation.  Every sci-fi hero starts their story with a breathing mask on in a deep hypersleep.  So, I lay back and take in the cool, moist air and think about how when I wake up I'll be a trillion miles away.  Will I be awoken by a distress beacon?  Will the on board computer go insane?  Will a small asteroid pierce the hull in mid flight and cause the remaining, surviving crew to have to fight monsters on an uncharted planet?  What is that noise?

No, seriously.  What is that noise?  It sounds like scratching.  Is it scratching?  I sit up, throwing my blankets askew and creaking my twin bed (the sound of the machine and my constant fiddling with it at night was, ironically, destroying my wife's sleep rhythm).  I look over at the hole in the closet where a pipe burst last year and I haven't fixed the drywall yet.  Are there mice again?  God, it's going to be that nightmare all over again isn't it?  But, then I see a piece of wrapping paper from this Christmas.  Unused and forgotten it gently flutters from the breeze of the fan and lightly taps on the bookshelf.

I take in a deep breath of relief and my "hypersleep gear" overcompensates and jams a gulp of air down my throat causing me to cough, which jams more air, and I just have to rip the whole thing off to get my bearings so I can reattach it and start all over.

It really is an anchor.  As I let my imagination drift off, which I am especially want to do during the last few blinking moments before sleep, I can't slide too far down river before I have to make an adjustment to a strap or tinker with the humidifier settings and I feel the chain go taught and snap me back to the dock of my actual life.

A life full of complication and stress and hard decisions and consequences.  A life where you can't fix every problem with a multi-tool or a bit of cord.  A life out of reach of adventures in the stars.

I don't know.  Maybe it's all a good thing.  Maybe it's good to remember that you're not a wilderness man or a space marine.  Maybe it's good to be reminded that you have a mortgage and chores and you like to play video games and watch Netflix.  That's what I've been telling myself, lately.

That this machine isn't ruining who I want to be, but it's just bringing sharper definition to who I am already.  At want point does my legitimate fear just become incessant whining?  I hem and haw about the burden of it, but I don't even put it on sometimes.  I've snuck a few naps on the couch since I've gotten it.  I could go camping without it if I wanted.  It would be just like when I went before I even knew I needed it.  The only burden is the knowledge of why I have to have it.

I think what I might not like about it is how coldly honest owning the thing has turned out to be.  I didn't go out and get the newest iPhone.  I can't grow as a person and realize I don't need it.  I just need it.

I have severe sleep apnea and I need a CPAP device to make sure that my heart isn't overtaxed during sleep and to make sure that my brain goes through the proper sleep cycles to recover for the next day.  It's just...damn, that's a hell of a thing.  That belongs with sentences like "I am currently making under industry standard for my position and profession," or "My dog needs prescription food that is three times the cost of store bought because of a recurring bladder condition."  Just one of those very plain, unfun things that you have to say when you reach the ripe old age of, oh I don't know, say 29.

Now that I actually sit down and think about it, it makes a lot of sense for me to have it.  It didn't interrupt a playboy lifestyle.  Yesterday I wasn't feeling well so I went and used a bow saw to cut up tree limbs and burned them.  That's what I did as a pick-me-up.  After that I ate a subway sandwich and drank a hard cider while I watched Parks and Recreation.  An episode I had seen at least three times.  Even today I had two separate people ask how I was doing, and after listening to me say my piece, suggested I should start wearing suspenders.  The suggestions weren't given as a joke, and I took them to heart.

That's just who I am.  So, as much as I hate what this means for me becoming Sheriff Longmire in the future, it actually is probably right on track with exactly how my life is going.

I don't regret much.  I've had good friends.  I've caused my fair share of trouble, and when I got older I fixed my fair share of it too.  I've been to Paris with the woman I love.  I could have done a lot worse, and I probably won't do a lot worse in the future.  I guess a CPR computer isn't the end of the world.

Oh, hey.  Maybe it could run off of a solar panel.  And, I should learn what I need to distill my own water.  Just in case.

Chiggie Von Richthofen

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