Feb 27, 2023 - These days, I go to bed with an air hose sticking out of the top of my head courtesy of my new best friend. Li’l Pappy is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine whose presence allows me to sleep somewhere within a social group (think campsite or hotel room or small principality) without meeting resentful stares and bleary-eyed companions the following morning.
Heavy snoring prompted family and friends to try a variety of means to make me tolerable after nighty-night-time, without success. I have been bedded down in a closet and a kitchen, had a backpack strapped to me at night to prevent me from rolling over on my back and propped up with a tower of cervical wedges and bolsters. I have been shamed and shunned. Yet, to no avail. I woke up with plenty of energy and sleep, but I was the only one who did.
While camping, I overheard total strangers at other campsites grumble about the snoring that kept them awake until near dawn (coincidentally, about the time that I woke up). And, groggy and grumpy, they were definitely NOT Happy Campers.
Li’l Pappy remedied my walrus breathing, and my daughter tells me that now the snoring disturbance is no longer an issue, we can start working on my screaming night terrors. Progress!
But here’s the thing…nothing reminds you more forcefully that you have turned the pages to the final chapters of your life book than reliance on a machine that is void of any sex appeal. The headgear and hose apparatus connected to Pappy gives me kind of an alien-insect quality that Kafka might have appreciated (you know, the story where the poor guy wakes up and has metamorphosized into a cockroach). I find myself hilarious but am also acutely aware that any industry or business whose purpose is to make you look appealing has surrendered before the CPAP mask. No amount of lingerie or cosmetics can overcome the raw and humbling truth: I am an older woman who puffs all night long wearing mismatched flannel.
Add to that, Pappy has needs and Pappy creates other needs. You know how older people tend to turn into ravens and make bedside nests of curios, trinkets and supplies? Where once I went to bed with nothing but a lamp and an alarm clock on my nightstand (if I had one), my bedside table is now a literal table. It’s not a charming small decorative accessory with a tiny drawer for sexy stuff. I need the enlarged surface to hold a reading lamp, clock, Bluetooth speaker, basket of hand lotions, nose spray (for Pappy), distilled water (for Pappy), ChapStick, scented candle and matches, Kleenexes, books, journal, notebook for lists, pens (see notebook and journal), magazines, scissors (see magazines), several pairs of glasses and glasses cleaner, knitting, water, tea cup, phones (both landline and mobile), TV remotes, dog treats, dog brush, melatonin gummies, nail file and clippers.
Why the clutter? Once I fill Pappy up with the distilled water and get the headgear on and adjusted, only a tsunami or urinary desperation will get me to detach. Everything must be within a hose-length of accessibility. If I wake up with any desire for comfort or activity at all, I want to reach out and snag the item without disturbing Pappy.
This is not based on my innate laziness, but the horrible gasping noise that Pappy makes when it’s not glued to my face. Once powered on, Pappy quietly pushes a prescribed amount of air into my nostrils. If I take the headgear temporarily off, it just puffs and writhes helplessly on my pillow like a beheaded snake. It’s a little disturbing in the wee hours when moving inanimate objects appear to indicate demonic possession.
Pappy’s recent arrival brought about a new way of thinking about my body and aging that go out beyond the little puffer. Pappy represents my first assistance…the first time I have been made aware that my bio-machinery is winding down incrementally and that a cluttered bedside table is just an early signpost of bigger changes to come.
So, I have been paying a little more attention to the aging landscape and how I might like to navigate my own journey. Many of us didn’t find youth all that compelling, and I count myself among those senior (or senior-adjacent) folks that didn’t enjoy the chaos and uncertainty of my twenties or early thirties. My life experience generally improved as I summited each decade, and with Pappy by my side (literally) I anticipate the same going forward.
There is so much to do and so much to explore in this new world. Some of it’s kind of a downer… during a medical appointment a couple of years ago, I heard the words “vaginal atrophy” for the first time, and it saddened me to learn that my best friend had just disappeared without much warning. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye or give it a farewell party. Li’l Pappy is fine, but it’s no substitute for Li’l Happy. She was (mostly) wildly joyful and we had extraordinary adventures together. Pappy just kind of sits there, quiet, predictable and reliable, but not ecstasy inducing.
But a lot of modern senior life is totally cool and I hope to capture my discoveries as I bumble along. Check back soon for further details (teaser… Senior Yoga or My Dog Won’t Go Downward!)