Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | June 16, 2015

Emotions and Memories

I couldn’t sleep last night.

I have no idea why. I played tennis for over an hour in the late afternoon’s sweltering heat, but it felt good. I had a good dinner; not too much, not too late. I even remembered to take some naproxen before I went to bed to combat the beginning stiffness.

But then I just couldn’t get to sleep.

My mind wasn’t racing exactly. I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. I just wasn’t the least bit sleepy. I thought I felt my heart pounding. Tachycardia? Afib? I checked my pulse; 72 and regular. No pain; breathing was fine. I did have a little tremor though. Not really enough to alarm me medically, but definitely not conducive to sleep.

I wondered if I had somehow gotten some caffeine into my system. As a slow metabolizer, caffeine will keep me awake without fail. But dinner had been chicken and rice, and I seriously doubted that DS had snuck some coffee into the barbecue sauce. I even went so far as to consider whether the naproxen had been contaminated or adulterated. It had been a new bottle. But that seemed unlikely. And I really couldn’t attribute any of it to the NSAID itself.

Eventually I took my own advice and got out of bed, turned on a soft light and read for a while. Finally, after another hour, I got back into bed, and eventually managed to get to sleep.

Not for long, though. Before I knew it, it was 5:30. I dragged myself out of bed and forced myself into the shower, then off to work a regular schedule. A heavy-lidded fatigue stuck with me all day. That draggy dullness with its insidious mental fog I recognized from decades ago. We called it PCPC: post-call pseudo catatonia.

I had a meeting beginning at 3:30 that dragged on til 5:00, when all I wanted to do was get home and pass out. Sleep deprivation is cumulative. Extra hours in bed following the night I’d had was just what the doctor ordered.

Then I noticed the date, and a wave of emotional deja vu washed over me.

29 years ago, more than half my life. It was a Monday instead of a Tuesday, and I was post call toward the end of my internship year. Only this day had begun with a 7:00 am phone call both dreaded and expected. Too bull-headed to ask for the day off, I soldiered through. Draggy; exhausted; brittle emotions firmly bottled up until I could get home — my ancestral home a two-and-a-half hour drive away, that is. At 3:30, my residency director insisted that I review the pathophysiology of congestive heart failure with a bunch of medical students. To this day, I don’t know how I got through it. But I did.

Two days later, I don’t know how I got through my mother’s funeral. But I did.

But the draggy, depressed foggy fatigue that clung to me today reminded me of that day far more viscerally than the mere realization of the date, the lighting of the candle, the ritual emails with so few words that say so much.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I couldn’t sleep last night.

Funny about that.


  1. Probably contributed. Sweet dreams tonight doc!


  2. My sister died while I was a third year Ob resident. I flew home just in time to be there when they turned off the ventilator. When my parents died in the last 3 years, I took 2 days off work. It’s a crazy life we choose. Why do we do this to ourselves and to those who’ve followed us?
    Now, get some sleep! Doctors orders.

  3. anniversary reaction. hit me like a ton of bricks one year after my father died, and didnt fade out until almost 30 years later. eventually i learned to anticipate it. completely normal, dont sweat it. tears are appropriate. so are small quantities of alcohol

  4. My brother was killed in Vietnam 44 years ago. I have noticed that I always have an emotional day, even when I’m not aware that it is February 23. I think my internal clock just remembers.

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