Tuesday, January 22, 2008

sleeping is good medicine?


OK, I admit it. One of the reasons I haven't been getting everything done lately is that I haven't been able to sleep more than three hours a night since I can't remember when. How can I be expected to be a tornado of energy on that schedule? Even Martha sleeps more than that.

Last week I finally met my doctor for the three and a half minutes that usually constitute my annual physical exam. Blood work results were already in, and since I'm generally healthy, I've resigned myself to having her whisk in and out, briskly rattling the paperwork and dismissing my uninformed plain-ole-English questions (somewhere along the way it seems it's become necessary for patients to speak like doctors-in-training to merit any helpful attention).

She, perfunctorily: "Anything new?"
Me, daring to venture six little layman words: "Just that I'm not sleeping well."
She, with a yawn: "For how long."
Me, mentally calculating: "Since I can't remember when."
She, artfully ending the suspense: "No surprise there. Your blood work shows you have an underactive thyroid -- you know, trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, weight gain, hair loss . . ."

Thank goodness the three and a half minutes were up. I don't think I could have walked out of there trailing a longer list of decrepitude.

What I did walk out with was a prescription for thyroid medication and some sample sleeping pills. Little tiny pills, in pretty pastel colors. Nothing like those huge horse pills into which they've crammed enough indigestible calcium to grind a chalky pearl-sized hole in your stomach lining. And a schedule. Thyroid pills in the morning, FIRST THING, no food, no iron, NO CALCIUM. Sleeping pills at night, just keep the colors straight. No sweat.

Except that I'm having trouble remembering lately, what with so little sleep and my hair about to fall out. So my iron-stomach full-head-of-hair healthy husband, who already handles the dispensation of our daily vitamins, has once again smothered his comments on the frailty of aging women and is monitoring me. With the sample sleeping pills, I slept. No waking, no dreams, no nothing. Kind of anticlimactic, actually. Then I ran out of the samples. As directed, I went to the pharmacy for the actual prescription phoned in by the doctor's office. Of course, nothing in life is that simple. It seems that these little pastel pretties cost an arm and a leg, and that the insurance company wants proof of the doctor nodding her head while writing the scrip, of the pharmacist carefully counting by twos as he fills the little bottle, and of me grinning like a ninny so I'll be recognizable if they need to come arrest me for racketeering. No pills without pain.

Which meant two days over the weekend without sleeping pills. And without sleep. Any. At. All. Talk about lost weekend. What kind of medicine is this? Assurances on all sides that these little cuties are not addictive, in spite of the drug patrol. No mention of the downside, that you can easily stop taking the pills if you don't mind not ever sleeping again. Maybe it's only until the under-achieving thyroid gets booted back into action. If I live that long.

Ok, I admit this, too. I'm a babe in the woods when it comes to modern medicine. During all these decades of my staying healthy and pill-free, I thought I had it figured out. Eat well, love well, plant your own garden, exercise at least from the other end of the parking lot, and add a little A&A (argument and agreement) to keep life spicy. Oh, and avoid self-help books as well as over-the-counter self-meds. My grandfather, the one who taught me how to count cards in my head so I could almost beat him, always dosed me with a shot of whiskey and a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses whenever I had a cold -- no dangerous cough medicines allowed in our medicine cabinet! Since I don't drink now (!), I prefer a daily dose of pineapple juice. Unfortunately, it turns out genetic disposition is a crap game in which you're playing against the house. My sister, six years younger than I, has been on ever-changing thyroid medication for 10 years already . . . with all the symptoms. As my doctor did take a second to point out, the timing of your wake-up call is the only wild card in this game.

Rambling is probably another symptom of my sleep-deprivation. Or maybe that's just an excuse. But did I mention that my ever-brisk doctor was yawning, too, during my check-up? Afterwards, I overheard her complaining to the nurses that she'd awakened twice in the night for the past several nights and was dead-tired. Ha! I know where she's heading! Crap game, indeed!