You’re asleep. Dreaming. And you become aware that there is no air getting into your lungs. You try harder to decompress your chest but nothing works. You’re suffocating. You force yourself up, up, up through the layers of sleep, like a diver rising quickly too quickly toward the surface, aching for breath. Once awake enough to control your body again, you sit up quickly in bed, your chest heaving, forcing air into your lungs. Your heart hammers inside your chest. Perhaps a bit of vomit has begun to rise at the back of your throat. You sit on the edge of your bed, panting, confused as to when and where you are, peering into the dark room. Eventually you are able to breath regularly. The alarm clock tells you it’s still the middle of the night, that there are hours until morning. Adrenaline disapates and you feel the weariness of your body again. Do you go back to sleep and risk another terrifying incident of apnea, of premature burial, of nocturnal suffocation? Or do you choose to haunt your house yet another night, to surrender to insomnia and drift from room to room ’til dawn? Apnea seems more likely to strike following days when you’ve worked hard physically, on nights when you most need a deep rejuvenating sleep.
You’ve always snored but in recent years, you’ve been told it’s gotten worse. You find it hard to find a position to fall asleep in. You haven’t slept on your back in years; your throat closes off immediately. There’s one position, on your side, propped up with a pillow that allows sleep. All others are uncomfortable. Your body has become picky, peculiar about sleep, as finicky as an elderly cat that sniffs its bowl of food disdainfully before forcing down a couple mouthfuls.
Perhaps the treatments for apnea seem intrusive. Losing weight is recommended. Excess fat around the neck – that double chin – contribute to night time strangulation. But you’ve tried losing weight before and it keeps returning. There are also other treatments, masks that retain enough air pressure so that your passageways don’t collapse. But regardless of how much you read about them, the idea of wearing something on your face is sickening, terrifying. Yet another thing to get in the way of breath. An inanimate hand clamped around your face.
When you were younger, you joked with your friends about decadent rock stars who choked to death on their own vomit. Now, you think differently about those stories.
And this is the nightmare. It’s not one you wake from. It’s one you carry all day, every exhausted day, each horrified night. Sometimes it recedes, hides but the threat of night suffocation is always there.