Sleep Deprivation And The 1918 Influenza Pandemic


Yellow flowers, green leaves growing out of purple ground; June 6, 2008 – Photo by Me.

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I’ve been exhausted all week. It feels almost like I assume a relapse would feel, like if I went a month without the Lithium. Or without the Seroquel. The physical and mental toll from the “relapse” has reminded me of a few things…

I still have crystal clear memories of how frustrating it was trying to sleep when I was working. Like how for every hour I lay in bed replaying the whole day in my head I’d get maybe forty-five minutes of sleep that felt like I was awake the whole time. Then the alarm would go off and I’d spend the next four hours banging on the snooze button and getting twenty minutes of sleep between hits.

This week I’ve woken every hour, nearly exactly on the hour. I’ve been falling to sleep just fine, but once I’m down and I start to dream something disturbing happens in the dream that wakes me up.

I know I have sleep apnea. I brought all of this up with my psychiatrist today so he’s referring me to a sleep clinic in Ottawa. But if it was the sleep apnea keeping me from sleeping this week, why just this week? The last few people to sleep in my bed mentioned the not-breathing thing. And, apparently, I’ll occasionally reach out while I’m sleeping. Like I’m grabbing for someone, or shaking someone’s hand.

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Actually, sleeping with me is something I’ve never recommended to anyone. When I was seventeen I broke my nose playing soccer so now it’s an amplification device. Ever since the break one nostril is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, the other side is narrow at bottom and wide at top.

So between me not breathing, reaching out for people who aren’t there, snoring like a diesel engine, popping out of bed every hour to get something to drink or use the toilet… then there are the rare times I’ll sleepwalk and mumble and laugh in my sleep.

A friend of mine and myself (I?) went on a road trip a few years ago. We ended up in a nice hotel and he started watching television. I tried to warn him about my snoring but he said something about living with his father’s snoring. When I woke up his bed was empty and the blankets were all missing. He had slept in the bathtub.

Most of the time when a woman sleeps over I’ll start setting up the couch for me to sleep on. Which weirds them out. So I’ll end up in the bed with them and because for the first couple of times I’m so self-conscious that I don’t really sleep they think I’m just being silly about the snoring thing.

But eventually I get comfortable, and I do fall asleep and snore for real and wake up to find them on the couch… at which point I’ll switch with them. There’s usually a slight “told you so” moment. Apparently I snore loudest on my back, but I also go like a chainsaw on my side and when I’m laying on my stomach.

I lived at the Youth Hostel in Ottawa for six weeks back in the winter of 1996. It’s one of the oldest jails in Canada and the “rooms” are actually four cells renovated into one. For the most part I had the place to myself. I was paying, but in winter they open it up for the homeless if they’re willing to clean up the place.

But, I think it was week four, a gaggle of Australians took over and suddenly I had two cellmates. I remember I had been sleeping okay until that point. But then, for two night, I was waking up every hour on the hour and I couldn’t figure out what the fuck was going on. I was repeating my second semester at College and suddenly I was showing up tired and pissed off and I couldn’t concentrate on the work.

Then on the third night I caught the bastard in the act. When I’d start snoring one of the Aussie’s would kick the bunkbed. As far as I can remember right now that was the only time I’ve ever threatened to kill someone.

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I’ve also started taking medication for the diabetes this week… 2.5mgs twice daily of Glyburide. The doctor wants to have me up to 20mgs per day by September. I have an appointment soon with a nurse to go over what I should be doing, and a dietitian who will teach me what I can and cannot eat.

He also strongly suggested I start taking Aspirin everyday. I’m a massive risk for heart problems… chronic depression leads to heart attack, diabetes of course, there’s my diet over the past twenty years, the extra 36lbs I’m carrying, then there’s the chronic lack of sleep.

And I’m getting a new prescription for my glasses later this month. I can almost feel myself going blind.

The other thing I was doing this past week was researching the effects of the Spanish Flu on the towns and villages in the region I live in. It’s a project for the local Historical Society. I spent a few days going through the archives of the local paper, starting in January of 1918 and I’ve managed to get to March.

It’s fascinating to read through newspapers like that… I’ve been able to follow these little stories as they becomes bigger and bigger. For example, the first account of the Flu was in an eight line brief in the “International Section” that talked about “an Influenza Plague” in China. According to the brief the government of China was ignoring “bodies piling up in the street”, while the Christian missionaries and local monks cared for the sick and dying.

But there’s no follow-up. The local paper is a weekly so every week for three months there are more and more announcements of people in bed with the flu or “grippe”… two people here, three people there, another over there. But there were so many cases of Typhoid, Scarlet Fever and Small Pox, then the local soldiers dying in Europe or coming back maimed, that the Spanish Flu just slipped right in there. Fascinating stuff.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have an 8-year old son, and a 4-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Ottawa. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Sleep Deprivation And The 1918 Influenza Pandemic

  1. bine says:

    heh. i’m sharing the bed with an “entertaining” sleeper like you. he snores. he mumbles. he kicks. he clings. plus, we have increasing freight plane traffic here between 12pm and 2:30am, and a kindergarden just outside our bedroom window in the morning. i have found the perfect remedy: earplugs. it’s heavenly.

    hope the glyburide works good for you. the aspirin sounds like a good idea too, as long as you don’t have problems with acidity. if you have, there are alternatives.
    the lack of sleep … that’s not good. any chance of getting your nasal septum straightened to help you breathe better? the weight also contributes to the snoring and the apneas, i have noticed. apneas can become dangerous, so i hope they figure something out at that sleep clinic!

  2. spakkeh says:

    Ouch, the sleep deprivation would really cane. And I have to admit, if I was you I would have thrown some death threats around too.

    Strangely enough I’ve been looking at the Spanish Influenza these last few weeks. It’d be good to look at your findings once you finish your research, so when you’re finished, gimme a shout if you don’t mind =)

  3. thordora says:

    oy vey-my brother, without his machine, can wake the dead. He was literally evicted from an apartment building because he kept the person below him awake. It’s insane.

    I have a few books on the 1918 outbreak around the house-I should send them to you if I ever find them.

    Did the doc do any tests on your heart function to confirm? Despite getting the “yo fatty” speech at my stress test, my ticker was perfect, along with my blood pressure and I’m a hell of a lot bigger than you are. I’d just hate for the fear mongering to start. Could the diabetes meds be messing with things?

    I miss anticonvulsants for their abilities to knock me out. I have nights like those, but it’s usually stress.

    Enjoy the heat!

  4. exactscience says:

    I second Thordora question about if you actually got any heart function tests done? Despite carrying way too much weight my heart is (maybe was after last weeks events) really healthy, low pulse rate and brilliant BP. If you do need to take aspirin make sure you get the 75mg and not the normal (well for headaches and such) 300mg.

    As for lack of sleep it truly is the suck. Had my fair share of it of late, started when I was in Toronto – maybe the time difference through me for a loop.

    Hope you feel better soon. S

  5. Lydia says:

    My wife went through the whole sleep test thing. She actually went through more than that. She needed some kind of therapy just to be able to accept the test due to claustrophobia. Then she got the machine. Then she got a different machine. Now she’s trying to lose weight and I don’t sleep very well or very much or very often. I think it’s a rare person who can actually sleep with the machine. She offers to leave the bed if I wake her up and tell her to, but usually I’m trying to sleep and hoping she’ll stop and it just isn’t at all good. I hope you have better luck with it than we did.

  6. giannakali says:

    I had sleep apnea too. I couldn’t tolerate the CPAP machine and ended up with surgery to remove my tonsils and uvula and some of my soft palate…

    I’m cured and my husband was finally willing to share a bed with me.

    I second the getting your nosed checked out…
    And if you’re lucky a CPAP machine will work for you.

    be well…

  7. Kitty says:

    I’m a rotten sleeper too. Not sure if I have sleep apnea, but I get up and sleepwalk about 10 times per night.

  8. whanderingdharma007 says:

    I so empathize with you on the sleep issue. I take Seroquel to help me sleep, but still I wake up every hour or so. I usually finally give up about 1 in the morning and just get up. At least it gives me plenty of time to write, when I don’t have writer’s block that is. But, it is so hard to function when you aren’t sleeping well. It makes everything else so much harder. And for me, it can trigger a manic episode.

    I hope that you are able to start sleeping well soon.

    All the best,

    WhanderingDharma

  9. Gabriel... says:

    Tag Bine… the more I think about this it’s not the women who haven’t been able to put up with me snoring that I’m worried about anymore, it’s the ones who slept through it all I’m becoming more concerned with. There’s a good chance some of my relationships have lasted longer than they were supposed to because the woman was too sleep deprived to know better…

    I can’t believe I’ve never even thought to ask my doctor or psychiatrist for a referral to have my nose fixed… I’ll do that the next time I see one of them. Thanks.

    Bonjour Spakkeh, it’s great to see you’re back. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I mentioned the “Australia” thing because it’s pretty much guaranteed that in any hostel around the world you’ll run into at least one group of Aussie’s. The entire time I lived at the hostel in Ottawa there were Aussie’s as well. They mostly stayed in a different section though.

    I’m continuing the research this week, I’ll let you know what I find. It’s mostly about the effects locally though. What I find interesting so far is that because of Scarlet Fever, Small Pox and Typhoid outbreaks there were quarantine procedures already in place. So once they (the people in this region) knew what was going on the precedents were already set.

    Hi Thor… thanks for the book offer, but if you send me the names and authors I could find them at the library. The only heart tests I’ve had so far have been blood pressure and stethoscope. And the last couple of blood tests show that my cholesterol levels are in the excellent to fair range. I don’t know about the “bigger than you are” thing. I weighed myself this past Friday and I’m sitting at 236lbs. Which means I’m down five pounds, which means I’ll put on six pounds this week. I’m buying a bike with the next disability cheque. There’s a sale on at Canadian Tire.

    Hallo ExSci. Next time you come over to visit PatAnon let me know. I still know some good restaurants. I’m definitely taking the low end Aspirin… when I remember. I hate having to introduce new pill schedules into my life. I have a very specific way of remembering my meds, and now I have to incorporate two more. Pain. In. The. Ass.

    Salut Lydia. The biggest problem I’m going to have when I see the Sleep People is I have a really hard time sleeping in new places. It usually takes two or three nights until I can really get into the REM stuff. If it’s “the machine” I’m thinking of I really, really don’t want it… I’m not sleeping with anyone right now

    Hei Gianna… I had the operation back in 1999, when the doctor was supposed to fix my nose as well. But he didn’t. And the removal of the soft tissue didn’t do anything except cause a whole lotta pain as I recovered.

    HELLO Kitty! Most of the time when I sleepwalk I wake up with the fridge door open and me looking for a jug of cold water. A… week ago I was dreaming about going to get some water, but I couldn’t get my bedroom door open. When I woke up my hand was trying to find the doorknob, but I was two feet away from the door frame.

    Asujutidli, Wandering Dharma… thanks for the best wishes, and thanks for the comment. Lack of sleep, more importantly lack of Good sleep, is definitely a trigger for a manic phase. I’ve never been able to write with any quality while under the effects of the Seroquel. Since I reduced the dose from 100mg to 75mgs I find I’m able to wake up without any lingering fuzziness. But at the 75 level I do find I wake up more often. Since Friday I’ve bumped it back to 100mgs and I’m actually getting four to five hours without waking up, but I’m still able to go right back to sleep a few minutes later for another three to four hours.

  10. I’ve had a CPAP machine for the Apnea for a few months. It seems to be doing a good job of helping me get sleep.

    Getting up, however, that’s still something I have to work on.

  11. bromac says:

    The only time I have real sleeping problems is when I get hypomanic. Those are long months when I wake up hours before my alarm every. single. morning. I really have a hard time being at all kind when I am not getting sleep. It really sucks for my students and my own child and husband.

    Speaking of students, did I tell you I teach history? Your research sounds like heaven to me. So cool! I would love to continue to hear about the info you find.

    “A friend of mine and myself (I?)” I do believe it is “I”.

    Good luck with the diabetes meds!

  12. thordora says:

    Tack 70 pounds onto that Gabe….and you’re in the ballpark. And still, my heart is just fine, and BP textbook. Pisses them off I think. 😛

  13. CARLA says:

    a hearing impaired hottie is your ticket, Gabriel!

  14. Gabriel... says:

    CARLA… I do believe you may have found a solution. If you’ve got any friends with hearing aids feel free to pass on my URL.

    bromac, I had no idea you were teaching history. It’s definitely one of my favourite subjects. When the article is published I’ll email you a copy, I think the target deadline is mid-July.

    I’m sorry Justin, when I first read your comment I was really tired and couldn’t figure out what a CRAP machine was. I’ll email you later on…

    Thor… is your new avatar Guardian from Alpha Flight, or Captain Canuck? Firefox’s frigging Canadian dictionary doesn’t even recognize “Canuck” as a word.

  15. thordora says:

    Captain canuck bebe!

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