How I Remember 9/11

 

“This must be a joke,” I muttered.

My alarm clock has gone off at 6:30 a.m. virtually every morning for years now.  I follow my own clinical advice and do everything I can to keep my sleep schedules regular, including on weekends.  The morning of September 11, 2001 was no exception.

The alarm provoked my arousal at its usual appointed time.  As my waking cortex struggled to climb out of its sleepy haze, I listened lazily for a few moments to the muffled words on the NPR station to which I kept my clock radio dialed.  I could tell immediately something was different this morning, even prior to my comprehension of the words.  There was an urgency to the voices, staccato, quick and breathless, unscripted and frightened.  Whatever was the topic at hand, this clearly was not a normal news day.  Then the words started to register in my brain:  “planes,” “World Trade Center,” “attacks,” “explosions.”

My first coherent thought was that what I was hearing was a hoax, a modern-day War of the Worlds.  A couple minutes of listening and then the first images on television terminated any hopes I had that it was so.  I jostled my wife awake and the two of us stared at the TV in mute, open-mouthed horror.  At that moment, I knew our country would never be the same.

My brief drive to work–under beautiful cloudless blue Seattle skies eerily similar to those above Manhattan that same morning–was a blur.  I walked into my clinic.  Not a single person said a thing.  We all just looked at each other in disbelief, our eyes all saying to each other, what is happening to our world?  

Not surprisingly, few of my patients chose to show up to clinic that morning, so I had some extra time on my hands.  I and my co-worker, Lamont, found our old little rabbit-eared lab TV, and we spent most of the morning staring at the fuzzy images, still trying to comprehend it all.  Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well that night and for several nights thereafter.  Neither did my patients.  In the months to follow, I was bombarded by insomniacs filling my clinic.  The entire country suffered from collective insomnia as well as collective grief.

During my life there have been several events that I remember with clarity, defining moments in our country’s history.  I remember lying on the front bench of our family’s big ol’ sedan, watching my father stare at the AM car radio as Nixon’s resignation was announced.  I remember being in class hearing about John Lennon’s assassination and Ronald Reagan’s near-assassination.  In college I stood in a crowd in our student lounge after morning classes, watching images of Challenger exploding on television.  9/11 was one such moment, of course, and probably the most notable single historical event of my working adult life.  Twelve years later, it remains difficult for me to believe that such a thing even happened.

I must admit I grumble about some things from time to time:  the miserable state of our country’s health care administration and reform; traffic; the interminable meanness and passive aggression of some people; all the hassles and noise of modern life.  Each 9/11 brings me back to center, reminding me of how privileged I am to be alive now in this time and place, enjoying the family, friends, and prosperity with which I somehow, undeservingly, have been blessed.

As it is for millions of other Americans, 9/11 is and always will be a day of reflection for me.  As horrific as 9/11 was, it did crystallize in my mind some of my life’s most basic philosophies:  love fiercely, live boldly, and protect yourself and those you love from those who seek to harm you, whether they be silent or loud in their intent.

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Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Falls Asleep on Air

 

The other day, Fox correspondent and commentator Tucker Carlson was caught sleeping while taping the show Fox & Friends.  When he awoke he appeared not to be aware that he had been on air during his nap.  Take a look:

I understand that there were media references to narcolepsy (a sleep disorder associated with nocturnal sleep disruption, daytime sleep attacks, and other symptoms) pertaining to Carlson’s on-air snooze, and that he afterwards stated that he had found his nap refreshing.  However, if you listen to the above video carefully, you will hear him suggest that sleep deprivation may have been to blame:  “I sat in for Sean Hannity last night. It went late and all of a sudden I was sitting there and I was just having these happy thoughts and just dozed off.”

Alas, falling asleep on-air is a phenomenon not new to Fox News.  Just for fun, I present to you yet another incident, this time from the Fox affiliate in Austin, Texas:

This sort of thing shows up in the media from time to time:  someone in a televised program dozing on-air.  It also makes sense for morning reporters and anchors particularly to be prone to this problem, because they typically have to awaken so early to go to work.  Everybody’s having a great time with this latest episode with Carlson, too, as you can imagine:  “Tuckered Carlson!” “Fox Snooze!”  Though these incidents are kind of funny to watch, they also are an opportunity for people like me–who work in the realm of sleep medicine–to make some important points about daytime sleepiness.  Here goes:

1.  Daytime sleepiness is much more commonly caused by plain ol’ sleep deprivation than by narcolepsy.  Most adults require around 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night to feel fully rested, and in our American culture many of us do not make time for this much sleep, at least consistently.  How many people do you know that regularly get 7.5-8 hours of sleep each night?  Sleep deprivation may well be the single most common cause of daytime sleepiness in the U.S.  Narcolepsy, though not necessarily a rare disorder, is much less common than sleep deprivation.

2.  A tendency to fall asleep by accident during the day is not equal to or the same as having narcolepsy.  Narcolepsy is a central nervous system disease, of which daytime sleepiness is a cardinal symptom; however, it is a very complex sleep disorder that we in sleep medicine continue to strive to understand through research.  Many other things can cause daytime sleepiness:  sleep deprivation; irregular sleep schedules; insomnia; untreated sleep apnea; the list goes on and on.

3.  If you really DO have narcolepsy, a brief (15-20 minute) nap usually IS refreshing.  This is one of many potentially distinguishing clinical features of narcolepsy; a brief nap in the setting of sleep deprivation alone may or may not be refreshing, and can often cause the napper to feel worse, not better, upon awakening, because only a small amount of the “sleep debt” was “paid back” during that nap.  For my narcoleptic patients, I in fact typically recommend scheduled naps as part of their management regimen.  But just because you find your naps refreshing doesn’t necessarily mean you have narcolepsy either.

Have a great Labor Day, everyone!