Tic, toc, tic toc is all I could hear. Have you ever had one of those nights when all your energy is gone, yet you cannot go to sleep? Of course you have, we all have. But this one is different; this one was the 7th night in a row that I could not sleep. All the troubles of the world seemed to be on my shoulder and they just kept piling on, and on, and on.
Tic, toc, tic, toc was all around me. All I could do was try to drown out the noise in my ears, in my head, but nothing changed. Tic, toc, tic, toc. Time kept marching on, and still my family suffered because of my decisions. I could not sleep, I could not eat, and I could not feel anything except that infernal tic toc inside my head. Time just kept on moving and the night kept on slipping away from me, leading to the inevitable next morning and my trip to work.
“What’s wrong?” came the sleepy voice next to me.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I said trying to sound sleepy, but not pulling it off. Tic, toc, tic, toc is all that I kept hearing in my head.
“Are you having a problem sleeping?” she asked me.
“Yeah, it’s that damned noise inside my head. It just feels like it’s drowning me. I feel like I’m suffocating.” I told her
“You are so silly, try to get some sleep.” She leaned over and kissed me good night.
The relentless noise was still in my head. I thought about work, I thought about the problems of turning a start up company around and what it was going to take to make the difference I needed to make. Thoughts, random thoughts cruise through my head and fill the night with nothing but garbage and lack of sleep. The nonsense just fills the night and keeps me from sleeping yet another night. And I know that tomorrow will be just like yesterday, except worse, I’ll be more tired.
The alarm clock finally rang and it was time to go to work. A quick shower and a fast shave and I’ll be on the road to work. I started my morning routine by kissing my wife good morning – God she tastes so good in the mornings! She makes my day, my afternoon, and then my evenings. Except that lately, she has not been able to make me fall asleep. We tried alcohol from wine to martinis and nothing stopped the tic, toc, tic, toc in my head. I even went to my doctor who examined me from head to toe, never a pleasurable experience even under better circumstances, however all she found was my blood pressure a little high, but she said it was nothing more than my lack of sleep.
“Go home, and get some sleep!” she ordered, with a smile
“Yeah Doc, right away!” I barked back at her.
“ Is there any particular problem you can’t get resolved? Is that why you can’t sleep?” she asked me.
“No,” I said, “I’m just trying to rebuild a seriously screwed up distribution channel for a company that is quickly running out of cash, but we have secured the loans, we have the plans in place and we are well on our way. No, the time for me to be losing sleep was a few months ago – but back then I was sleeping like a log.” I added.
“You are one strange case. How about I make an appointment for you to go through a sleep disorder clinic. They’ll be able to see if there is anything I’m missing.” She said as she wrote notes on my chart, and called someone to set up an appointment for me.
“Thanks Doc,” I said and left.
Tic, toc, tic, toc it was so loud in my head. I’ve had ringing in my ears before but never a clock in my head. And that suffocation, I could not expand my chest, like I could not get my next life maintaining breath. It was starting to get a bit scary, but I had hope for the sleep disorder clinic.
“Hello” came a voice through my all-consuming thoughts. I looked down and noticed Denise sitting at her desk, looking up at me. I had no idea how I had driven from home, made it to the highway and then into the labyrinth we call a parking lot.
“Oh, hi Denise. Do I have any messages? Did corporate call for the shipping numbers yet?” I asked her out of routine
“No” she said, “they haven’t called yet but I have your numbers for you. And Kevin called saying he has a problem with the shipment from Venezuela being tied up at the port. Something about the wrong wood and that the pallets are going to have to be fumigated before they let them in to Brazil. He also said to point out to you that we only have a few days left to make that contract extension.”
Yeah, that’s right. Trust that if something could be screwed up we’d find a way to do it. I looked down at her, with what felt like thousand-year-old eyes, and that damned tic, toc in my head! “Is there any good news? Like, did you make me a fresh pot of coffee after you took the last cup this morning?” I added with all the sarcasm and sinicism I could muster. She looked up at me, with those big cheeks of hers, and raised her cup to her lips, and slurped coffee – God’s favorite creation, and the one I appreciate the most lately.
“Ah,” she said, adding “yes, your wife called to tell me you were on your zombie way here and that I should have double the caffeine in the coffee today – I obliged!” she pointed to the coffee pot, and like a mindless zombie walking to the tic, toc, tic, toc beat in my head I headed to the coffee pot. It seemed to get louder as I walked into the break room. TIC, TOC, TIC, TOC. Man, my head was going to explode!
I muddled through the day and made sure all shipments went out, that the Brazil crisis was handled and then I started on my merry way to the sleep clinic. Knowing that I would find a way to sleep there, and that all my problems with that TIC, TOCing in my head would be gone. I would regain a peace in my mind! I drove toward the clinic as fast as traffic would allow and for the first time in ten years I had to reach for my inhaler in the glove box. I shook it and exhaled so that I could get as full a breath as I possible, trying to clear up my lungs. I needed to breathe. The first one didn’t help much, but I was used to that. I took the second puff and held it in my lungs, willing myself into relaxing. Trying to get oxygen so that I would not pass out behind the wheel.
Everything started to spin. That’s not a good thing, I thought. I must be passing out so I tried to pull the car to the edge of the road. Tic, Toc was my last thought before it all went black.
A while later I woke up with my head on the steering wheel and my inhaler on my lap. I seemed to have pulled the car off the road and managed not to hit anything. Tic, toc, tic, toc was all I could hear. There were no noises from the cars, no noises from anywhere around me, it was all silent. I could not even hear thenoise from my mouth as I tired to scream. TIC, TOC, TIC, TOC.
“Don’t panic.” I said to myself, but I’m not sure the words came out. I tried to remain calm, not for any reason other than I didn’t want to bring on another asthma attack. I told myself that the lack of oxygen just kept me from hearing and that my hearing would come back momentarily.
I put the car in drive, and took off for the clinic. When I arrived I made a sign that said, “I can’t hear anything.” We communicated using the paper method and by around one in the morning my hearing returned, or perhaps it is better to say that the TIC, TOC, TIC, TOC subsided enough for me to hear around it. By four in the morning I had doctors all around me, looking at EKG, EEG’s and a dozen other charts showing what the alpha and beta waves in my brain were doing. Who knew, who cared, I just wanted the to “Stop all this NOISE!” I shouted involuntarily.
“I can’t breathe,” I said, then added “the noise is drowning out the signals to my lungs and to my diaphragm to cause me to breathe” They didn’t listen. I shouted but they didn’t hear me. I tired of trying to get their attention and tried to get up. That’s when I noticed that I was restrained in the bed, and that there was a tube going down my throat. That’s why they couldn’t hear me. I must have passed out during the night and they had to put in a breathing tube to make sure I could breathe.
“Relax…” came the sweetest voice next to me. My wife was there and I hadn’t noticed her next to me. I tried to look into her eyes, but I couldn’t. It was dark, so dark. Why was it so dark, why did I feel so alone and so cold? God, I was passing out again, and I knew that I needed to stay awake or I was going to die. Die?!? Why now? Why this way? I just didn’t understand what happened.
Relax; I kept hearing her voice in my head, almost drowned out by the TIC, TOC, TIC, TOC. Why was that clock still in my head? Why was it that I couldn’t breathe anymore? I had licked the asthma years ago. I had worked so hard to avoid the allergies and that’s why I took the job I did. You don’t get allergies in the caves, and the office was as deep in the old caves as you could get. The caves had been part of a limestone, and other minerals mine. The left over space had been converted into cheap building space, with a constant temperature so you didn’t have to worry about heating in the winter, or cooling in the summer. It stays always a cool 67 degrees, and not a single molecule of pollen.
I kept getting flashes; flashes of something deep in the recesses of my mind. I could see my wife kissing me goodbye one morning, and cooking me my favorite dish for supper the night before. I just could not remember when that was. I kept thinking that it was last night, but it could not have been, because I was here last night and the night before. It was so dark! I was scared now and the darkness just made it worse. All that I could hear was the TIC, TOC of the damned clock in my head. I needed to get it out, but no one could find it and remove it. It felt like a modern version of the Chinese water torture. I had tried the doctor, I had tried the clinic and no one could help me.
Now, I could not even think enough to force myself to breathe, to find that next breath that would keep me alive another sixty seconds. Relax; I still could hear my wife’s voice through the darkness keeping me calm and making sure I could breathe. Oh, how I loved her and how I needed her words keeping me calm to keep me alive, just a little longer. The darkness was all around me, and all that I could hear was that infernal Tic, Toc, Tic, Toc. The odious noise had started to become my only companion. It was the only thing around me now. The darkness was so scary. I never liked the darkness. I thought of the days when I was a kid and had dreams about black elevators, in open shafts going up and down and not one of them had lights inside. The darkness was so scary I would try to go down the stairs, but the stairs were dark, and I was sitting there, in the middle of the darkness having to choose between the shafts and the stairs: fear overwhelming me.
I kept trying to remember something, something that was so important that I had to know it. You know how that is, don’t you? When you have the face of the person but you cannot pull the name out of your memory? I hate when that happens. Tic, toc, lovely little tic, toc in my head. Marking the passing of time, keeping me awake, keeping me breathing, keeping me alive. What was it that I needed to remember? I could not think of it, yet it was right there on the other side of the oxygen-deprived mind.
It was so scary, but it was funny too. I started trying to laugh, but I could not breathe deep enough and it hurt my chest. Like I had tons, and tons of something pressing down on my chest. I could not breath, and I longed for the calming voice. Whose voice had it been that I kept hearing? I knew that voice, but it was so faint now, so far, far away and my chest hurt so badly from the days and days of struggle to breathe. I tried to move my hands to wipe the sweat that was forming on my brow, but I could not move it. I was so alone, and so afraid, but it was funny too. Just like that day when I was a kid and had the asthma attack so bad that I could not breathe, everything had started to be so funny, and today it was the same way.
Breathe, breathe, take a breath I kept telling myself. Listen to the tic toc, tic toc and time your breathing to it. I tried so hard to not be afraid. I wanted to let my wife know that I had tried so hard. But I couldn’t tell her. My fingers found something and started to rub out shapes. But I could not see them. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure of much after I passed out in the car.
Wait, when did I get out of the car? I thought I was still in the clinic. Did I ever make it to the clinic? What was it that I was trying to remember? What was so important that I remember? My fingers touched the smooth surface; it gave me comfort. It and the lovely and funny little tic, toc, tic, toc kept me going; for a while. That’s all I wanted, and to remember!
Then I regained clarity. I could remember what happened. The ground shook so violently. The car spun around and hit one of the pillars that held the cave’s roof in place. I remembered seeing the wave of the earthquake moving towards me and the only lights in the cave were the lights of my car. I was hundreds and hundreds of feet from what used to be the nearest exit, now it was all on top of me. It had to have been a terrible earthquake to shake the stone the way it did. Then there was nothing but darkness and the pain in my chest. The fear that engulfed me, and the panic that brought on the asthma attack. It was all so clear now, but why am I remembering now? Why did I want to remember it all so much? I had just spent the last seven sleep periods, maybe seven days down here trying to breathe, trying to stay alive. Why? What was the purpose of remembering if I was now going to die – and thus forget it all? My whole life would be nothing more than the sum total of the memories of those around me, yet no one person would hold the vessel of my memory. And therefore it was all going to be gone.
I was so scared earlier, but now I was so at peace. Letting the world slip away from me, letting the last breaths escape my lungs. Then there was this blinding flash of light. Brighter than the whitest white I had ever seen. I was ready to go to the light, but I knew I hadn’t died yet, but I would be soon.
“Hey! There is someone here” a voice said.
“Hey!!!” came a replying voice, so full of relief it was palpable, “I think he’s alive!”
“My God, he’s had the whole roof on him for the last week!”
“It’s a good thing the water run off is good, or he would have drowned with all the water coming through down here. He sure was lucky!” said the first voice I had heard.
“Wait, don’t move him yet. Get the backboard and an oxygen mask on him and let’s get him out of here.”
I was starting to see things now. There were shapes all around me, in what looked like fireman’s suits. They were working around me. The Oxygen mask was such a relief. I was starting to feel stronger, and able to breathe.
“The car held up the roof just enough for him to get pinned but not crushed.” Said a man with what looked like the Jaws of Life.
I felt myself being pulled out and loaded onto a backboard. I was being lifted into the light, and back into my life!