FRESH YARN presents:

Pap and Circumstance
By Anthony Del Broccolo

I didn't realize I had a problem until I woke up one afternoon in a Vons supermarket parking lot. My problem wasn't all that exciting; I hadn't been swallowed up by the underground rave scene, nor was I addicted to uppers, downers, or even over-the-counter nasal sprays.

I was just tired. All the time. And the only way I could cope was to nap. All the time. Even in supermarket parking lots on double coupon day.

What made this particular nap alarming, however, was the fact that Vons wasn't the worst place I had fallen asleep that afternoon. No, that honor would belong to the right lane of the westbound 10.

I was driving -- I stress, driving -- out to Venice when I dozed off somewhere west of the 405 Interchange. It wasn't a long nap -- maybe 8 seconds total -- but it was long enough for me to drift across 3 lanes before I was rudely awoken by the sound of my Saturn sideswiping the concrete divider.

After regaining control of the wheel -- and my bowels -- I promised myself I would see a doctor and determine the cause of my now potentially fatal fatigue… just as soon as I caught a few zzz's at Vons.

Upon waking up, I was frightened. Not so much for the fact that I had nearly committed vehicular manslaughter, but because I really don't like going to doctors. They tell me things I don't want to hear. Things like, "You're slightly overweight." Or "You have high cholesterol" or "You have a form of manic-depression called cyclothymia that will require you to take lithium. Forever."

Unwilling to add yet another disorder to an already full dance card, I waited a month before consulting a sleep clinic in the Valley. After I shared the details of my little freeway cat-nap, they demanded that I come in immediately for a "sleep study."

Two nights later I found myself sitting on a bed in Van Nuys, wearing only a t-shirt and boxers, and wishing I were anywhere else. Until my "sleep technician" walked in.

Her name was Felicia and she was hot. So so hot. For a brief moment, I entertained the idea of hitting on her. Then I remembered something important: I'm not hot. So not hot. Besides, I seriously doubted she was in the market for an out-of-work writer who falls asleep driving.

Felicia started by handing me a medical history form to fill out. While I detailed my numerous accomplishments in the fields of depression, anxiety, and general fucked-up-edness, she used green paste and medical tape to affix cold, metal, electrode-type clamps to my temples, chest, calves, and most enjoyably, my inner thighs. She explained that these devices would study my brain and muscle activity while I slept.

Felicia then suggested I watch TV. Ya see, the Clinic prefers you to follow your pre-sleep routine as closely as possible in order to extract the truest results. No problem. 'Cuz, y'know, I always fall asleep watching Designing Women reruns with eight fucking electrodes clamped to my body.

As soon as I lied down, my mind started racing. What if I did something humiliating in my sleep? What if I revealed some deep, dark secret or repressed memory? What if I had a wet dream? About Felicia? Or Delta Burke?!

Thankfully my neuroses served to exhaust me, and I drifted off. At 3 AM, Felicia woke me. The doctors had seen enough. I unclamped the electrodes, checked my sheets for nocturnal emissions, and got the hell out of Van Nuys as fast as I could.

I spent the next week trying to put the whole ordeal behind me by doing the one thing I do best -- sleep. This worked great until I was jolted awake one evening by a frantic phone call from my general physician. The clinic contacted him with the results of my study: I had been diagnosed with a sleeping disorder called Sleep Apnea.

Sleeping disorder?! Sleeping was the one thing I was good at! Frankly, I was insulted. But what annoyed me more was the name. Sleep Apnea. Apnea didn't sound like a sleeping disorder as much as it sounded like the name of a backup dancer Prince banged circa "Raspberry Beret."

With my dander sufficiently up, I marched down to my doctor's office. Before I could speak, he put a tape labeled "Del Broccolo Sleep Study" into his VCR and pressed play.

Now, I'll admit, past girlfriends and roommates had politely complained about my snoring before, but nothing could have possibly prepared me for what I heard coming from that television.

This wasn't your run-of-the-mill, fat-guy snore -- this was an atonal symphony of snorts, gasps and wheezes, punctuated by what can only be described as the sound of an asthmatic dragon trying to snort cocaine out of an uncooperative elephant's asshole.

While I silently apologized to anyone who ever had to sleep in the same room with me, my Doctor explained just what the hell Sleep Apnea was. To be brief, it's a condition that causes a sleeper's breathing to stop for more than 10 seconds at a time. During each of these episodes, blood oxygen levels drop, as the brain and heart both work harder than normal to keep the blood oxygenated.

During the 3 hours I was studied, I experienced one hundred and eighty-seven of these heart-pounding, brain-taxing, breathless episodes.

Holy shit.

No wonder I always felt so tired! I stop breathing more than once a minute every time I sleep! Maybe if I cured this Apnea thing, I'd stop sleeping so much and start living a productive life! I suddenly found myself experiencing an unfamiliar sensation -- I believe you normal people refer to it as "hope."

My doctor must have sensed that hope and I aren't very comfortable together, because I swore I saw a smile creep across his face as he revealed the two primary treatments for Sleep Apnea.

The first is to wear a contraption called a C-Pap. A C-Pap, short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is a machine that forces air into a person's throat through a mask while they sleep.

This was the better of the two options.

The second would have involved a surgeon literally carving out a hunk of my soft pallet to make nighttime breathing easier. I opted for the C-Pap.

Once I was in the privacy of my bathroom, I tried on the C-Pap for the first time. I started by strapping on the mask. It was a little tight, but not too uncomfortable. I then inserted the two "nasal pillows" into my nostrils. This felt a little strange, but I was glad to see my nose finally get the pampering it deserved.

Then I made a huge mistake: I looked in the mirror.

After my brain was able to make sense of the space-age scuba gear strapped to my skull, and the nasal pillows jutting angrily from my nostrils, I was actually able to see my chances of ever getting laid again evaporate right before my eyes.

I mean think about it, even if I was able to trick a girl into sleeping with me, what was I going to do afterwards? Is there anything that could possibly kill the afterglow more than inserting nasal pillows and strapping on a C-Pap mask?!

Sure, I could always take my chances without the Pap -- but then I ran the risk of subjecting my hypothetical lover to the disturbing sounds my giant trombone of a schnozz would produce while she tried to sleep.

Deciding between the C-Pap and my snoring wasn't the most difficult decision a human being ever faced, but for a self-absorbed, sex-starved dude like me, this was Sophie's Choice. As I continued to stare at my reflection, wearing that hideous mask and contemplating my sexless future, I actually started to hate myself. The mirror turned into a giant magnifying glass through which I could see all my flaws projected in very vivid detail.

I hated myself for having to wear a mask to help me sleep. I hated myself for being depressed. I hated my huge nose and my pale skin. I even hated my medicine cabinet for being stocked with Lithium and Lipitor and Effexor and Wellbutrin. Eventually, I started to hate myself for hating myself so much, and walked away from the mirror.

The first nights sleeping with the Pap were awful. The mask's unwieldy construction made it difficult to fall asleep. And when I was able to catch a few winks, I got bloody noses from the dry air being shot up my nostrils.

After about two weeks of struggling, however, I woke up one morning feeling something I hadn't felt in years -- refreshed. And soon, after about 10 similar nights, I literally felt like a new man. I was energized, and began attacking life with a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. One might even go so far as to say there was a new cut to my jib. If one was a douche bag.

Then one morning, I realized something. I had been looking into the mirror and hating myself long before I ever strapped on a C-Pap. That switch in my brain had been flipped years ago. I can't pinpoint the exact moment, but it was most likely around the time my Mom caught me practicing kissing on her favorite throw pillow from Ethan Allen.

This particular morning, however, I didn't see myself as a loser because of my depression, or how many pills I took, or any physical flaws. I was a loser because I let these problems define me, and an even bigger loser for simply trying to sleep these problems away. But mostly I was a loser because I still practiced kissing on pillows.

It is now three years later and I no longer use the C-Pap. Thanks to the discovery of yet another problem -- teeth grinding -- my dentist designed a retainer-like device that keeps my jaw from going slack and obstructing my airway while I sleep. It's smaller than the C-Pap, much less cumbersome, and let me tell you, ladies, it's hoooooottt.

Now that I no longer suffer from Sleep Apnea, I rarely take naps and I haven't fallen asleep driving again. But best of all, I've stopped hating myself. I now channel all my newfound energy into something much more productive and distinctly more American -- hating everyone else.


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