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Robert A. Mills

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KNOCK, KNOCK! WHO’S THERE? DEATH!
7/16/2011 5:27:56 AM

It occurs to me that Prince William and his bride, Princess Kate, came to North America to help celebrate my birthday July 17. I abandoned that notion when I realized that to get from Ontario Province to Atlanta they would have to cross the Peace Bridge at Buffalo, and the customs’ lines are interminable.

Besides, I was supposed to have died in 2002. At least, that’s what my wife said.

“Your snoring has become,” she said, “well . . . snorastic. You start choking, then you stop breathing altogether. Sometimes you don’t start again for maybe an hour.”

“An hour!” I cried. “I’d be BRAIN dead!”

“Well . . . ”

It was decided I should see an ENT specialist, so my primary-care physician insisted I enlist the services of his good friend, a Dr. Sun Ambulii. The specialist took one look at me and sent me to the Quiet Sojourn Sleep Clinique in Marietta.

I arrived at 10:15 pm and, as directed by the svelte technician, Ms. Adele Crumpette, donned my jammies and hopped into bed. Ms. Crumpette, a demure and most charming nymphet, adorned my noggin with 20 thousand electronic attachments, which inspired me to suggest, “There’s no way I’ll ever fall asleep with these things stuck on my head!”

“We’ll see,” she smugly replied. “You want to watch a boring movie with Fred Allen or read a dull Henry James novel?”

“No,” I said, hungrily eyeing her twenty-five year old body in its crisp white uniform. “Come sit with me until I doze off?”

She giggled merrily, her ruby lips pressing into a tantalizing smile as she snapped off the lights and left the room. The next thing I knew, it was 6:30 am.

A week later I was back in Dr. Sun Ambulii’s office. “What’s wrong with me, Doc?” I anxiously inquired. “Worst case of sleep apnea I ever saw,” he said, stroking his glabrous chin.

“Any hope?” I hoped.

“Maybe,” he conceded. “I’m gonna fix you up with a CPAP.”

A few days later another even more svelte technician, Ms. Marion Posey, showed up at my door in a crisp white uniform. She was holding a big box containing my brand new CPAP. “What’s this?” I inquired, as if I didn’t know.

“Your brand new CPAP,” she merrily giggled, pressing her ruby lips into a tantalizing smile.

Refusing to accompany me to the bedroom to install the machine next to my bed (some sort of ridiculous OSHA restriction) she unboxed the device on the dining room table and showed me how to use it.

“Once the mask is properly placed over your nose and mouth, just turn it on. Your snoring days are over.”

“I’m not going to die after all?”

She giggled more merrily, assuring me: “Not from sleep apnea, anyway.”

That was in 2002. At first, I was certain I would never fall asleep again — not with the monstrous mask affixed to my face with its humungous harness, or the whoosh of humidity-controlled air inundating my unsuspecting nostrils. Surprisingly, however, since the second night, I have been unable to sleep without it.

In retrospect, I think it’s more therapeutic than a dozen svelte technicians in crisp white uniforms.

Although my spur-of-the-moment traveling days are long over, the CPAP has accompanied me to more hotels rooms than a peripatetic Gideon Bible. Even my children humor me when I bring it on visits. “How much does that thing increase my electric bill?” my sons-in-law often chide.

Actually, a well maintained CPAP probably costs less than $1.69 a year to operate. And compared to autopsies, flowers, the preacher, the casket and other funeral expenses, it’s a bargain. The original cost? I have no idea — thank God for Medicare.

Only once have I heard of a CPAP faux paux. A nephew-by-marriage, Desmond Kane, harbored a lifelong ambition to scale Mt. Everest. When he finally had the chance in 2009, he scurried off to Nepal with his entourage and his trusty CPAP. Dutifully, he packed his DC power converter, distilled water and all other accruements — all except the standard AC cord. When he arrived at Base Camp #1 and realized he’d forgotten the cord, rendering the contraption worthless, he screamed a profanity even his most illiterate Sherpa understood: “Daggone it!”

Fortunately, determined Desmond made it to the zenith of Everest and planted an American flag next to Edmund Hillary’s New Zealand Union Jack. Unfortunately, sleep apnea overcame him and he dropped dead on the spot, snoring rudely until there was no breath left. I believe there is a marker where he’s buried at the foot of Sagamāthā, which reads:

“Here lies Desmond Kane,
A devoted climber to the bitter end;
His CPAP intact, but juice was his bane—
His snoring will always offend.”

A bad rhyme, but in Nepali the meter makes sense, even if the words don’t.

A little known addendum is that Sir Edmund’s earlier remarkable feat had been announced to the British public in late May 1953, on the very eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Hillary, a genuine hero, became deeply involved in the welfare of Nepal and its people, and he is credited with building numerous clinics there and at least seventeen schools. He died at 88, at his home in New Zealand.

Unlike Desmond or me, he is believed never to have been afflicted with sleep apnea — despite the unconfirmed rumor that he contributed financially to the invention of the CPAP. Hmmm. Let’s hear it for good old Hillary!


Copyright© by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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Above and Below by Phyllis Jean Green

Themes range from poverty to the ephemeral beauty of a sun-dappled pond, settings from post-Katrina New Orleans, a freshman dorm at a Missouri college, a sleet-slick city street th..  
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