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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ambien Haze


Other Bill has always, in the 17 years I’ve known him, had odd sleep habits. He used to go to bed at 2 am and wake up at 6 for days on end and not be any worse for it. But as he’s aged, he’s required more sleep. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that instead of organic things like yoga, listening to relaxation tapes, or reading, he has turned to pharmaceuticals. It’s what our generation does.

It is no secret in the world of drugs that Ambien, in rare cases, they say, causes some odd nocturnal behavior, including sleepwalking, sleep-driving (yes, you read that right), eating, and amnesia. One Ambien patient woke up in the middle of the night, only to find herself painting her front door.

Unfortunately, Other Bill is one of those rare cases. I would venture to say the worst rare case.

Case in point: one of the side effects of Ambien is aggressive behavior. He usually takes his pill about a half hour before going to bed. By bedtime he is totally dosed, and he gets annoyingly affectionate. Just as I am about to close my eyes and drift into peaceful slumber, Other Bill will jump on me, start pecking on me over and over, drenching my face in kissy-spit and say things like: “C’mon, babe. Gimme some stuff. Gimme some sugar.” Peck, peck peck. I literally have to fight him off of me. Initially I thought this was cute and funny. Now I just want to cut him.

Other Bill is 6 feet tall and weighs in the 220’s. I am 5-9 and weigh 160, so it is tough to get him off of me. Sometimes I have to resort to pinching, and just last week, I slapped his face. I felt horrible, but it was the only thing that would shut him up.

Then there’s the crying.

Almost anything will make him cry while he’s on Ambien. If by some chance he does drift off to sleep and is on his back, he snores like a wood chipper. I will whisper to him, “Bill, would you turn on your side, please? You’re snoring.”

He immediately starts to wail, in between apologies.

Did you ever see The Joy Luck Club? Remember the final scene where June Woo travels to China to meet her twin sisters that she has just recently learned about? Heart-wrenching scene, because the twins were expecting their mother, but they learn then from June that their mother has died. But everyone’s happy because they are a reunited family.

It doesn’t help that the music alone in that scene would make Donald Trump cry. Anyway, Other Bill and I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I wasn’t just shedding tears, I was wailing during that scene. Deep, from-the-abdomen, loud wailing. It was the kind of wailing where you completely drain yourself of oxygen, and when you inhale, it’s that machine-gun sound of dozens of little gasps. I cried so loud that people in the audience, although crying too, started to laugh. And Other Bill has never let me forget it. I was still machine-gun-gasping when the lights came up.

That is how he cries when I make the turn-over request. Not for very long, because I rub his back, and whisper, “It’s okay, everything is all right. Just go back to sleep.” And not long after, he does.

Sleepwalking is another “rare case” side effect. Other Bill once woke up in the back yard. He had been wandering around and only woke up after he stepped in dog poop. Fortunately, he didn’t come to bed with it on his feet.

Recently, he has put on a few pounds. The other day I went to get some ice cream, and it was gone.

“Did you finish off the Moose Tracks?” I asked him.

“No,” he told me.

I looked in the trash can, and there sat the empty carton, which was half full the day before. He then remembered that he got up and scooped out the rest of the carton and woke up just as he was throwing the carton away. He was mortified. Then I remembered that there have been several times I in the morning while making my lunch that I noticed the refrigerator looked damn near empty compared to the day before. I thought maybe Other Bill had just tossed out the expired stuff, the wilted lettuce, the limp carrots, the leftover pot roast and potatoes, the half-a-cake. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. Now I know that stuff was not tossed out. It was tossed into his digestive system. There is at least one “rare case” Ambien user who mysteriously gained over 100 pounds. Not such a mystery anymore.

Because I’m in my fifties and have a prostate the size of a honeydew melon, I get up once or twice a night to pee. And because of that honeydew, it takes me a long time to drain my bladder. It’s as slow as giving blood. So I sit down to pee. I would say that at least 80% of the time I go to the bathroom, Ambien Boy gets up in and, still sleeping, brings me a pillow to hold while I pee. I don’t know why. He doesn’t know why. I just thank him and accept it.

Unfortunately, this delivery is not just a drop-off. He waits, as if he were expecting a tip. And then he gets annoying. He starts tapping my shoulder. “C’mon, Bill,” he prods, “let’s go.”

“I’m not finished yet,” I tell him. This doesn’t make any difference. He starts shaking my shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s go. Let’s go back to bed.”

When he first started doing this, I yelled at him. It’s tough enough for me to keep the flow going without disturbing annoyances. Yelling at him was a big mistake, because he would lay down on the bathroom tile, start wailing and pounding his fists and kicking his feet, and crying, “Why do you have to be so mean to me?” He’s like a 3 year old in a grocery store whose mother refuses to let him have a box of animal crackers. It took forever to get him up off the floor and back to bed, where he cried himself back to sleep.

He remembers none of it. He thinks I’m making it up. He continues bringing me the pillow, and annoyingly urges me to go back to bed with him, and he gets more and more insistent that we leave the bathroom before the last trickle is complete.

“I’m not finished,” I sigh, after being shaken for a minute.

“I don’t hear anything,” he says, thinking that because there is no splashing sound echoing from the toilet that I am just intentionally holding him up. I ignore him.

“I don’t hear anything,” he repeats. I still ignore him.

“Bill…” he continues.

“WHAT?” I snap.

And off he runs to the bed, wailing and weeping and gnashing his teeth.

I put up with a lot, don’t you think?

So now when it happens, I just find my center, and as he pokes me and says, “Let’s go,” I just keep saying, “Not yet.” It’s just become part of the routine, although I am thinking about having a prophylactic prostatectomy so I can sleep the night through and just pee in a diaper.

So finally, when I’m finished, I stand up and pull up my shorts, and he takes my hand, very Winnie-the-Pooh-like, and walks me back to bed. Sometimes he tries to get in on my side of the bed, but I gently steer him to the other side.

There have been two instances where Other Bill has displayed odd behavior to the public sector: Once when my family stayed with us; the other time when his family stayed with us.

When my cousins and sisters came, we stayed up late and talked and talked about people Other Bill never knew. He put up with it and asked questions and pretended to be interested, but as it got late, he decided to go to bed, so he took his magic pill and went to the bedroom about a half hour later, while I was trying to play a DVD of old home movies. For some reason, it wouldn’t read in the living room DVD player, so I dragged everyone into the bedroom where Bill had just crawled into bed, and we watched the show.

And then the kissyface behavior started. All over my cousins and sister. It was so much like having an annoying alcoholic misbehaving in front of my family. Way too many, I love yous and chicken pecks on people’s faces.

And when his family was visiting, everyone was about to retire, so he popped his pill, but then everyone decided to stay up a little longer and chat some more.

I had gone to bed but got up again when I heard roars of laughter from the living room. Other Bill was in a lounge chair, holding his nephew captive in his lap, doing the kissyface thing and repeating over and over how much he loved him, and why. Other Bill had always participated in Matthew’s growing up, and always showed him acute affection when he was a youngster.

But at that time, Matthew was 26.

Other Bill has since been forbidden from taking his Ambien until all persons in the house are either gone or in bed for the night.

And then I had to take away his computer privileges.

It seems that for a while he was getting up and sending people, admittedly, humorous emails. Humorous, until you got to about the 39th paragraph, and then it just became monotonous. Rambling, far-fetched tales where he really stretched for the humor with nonsensical metaphors and interminable comparisons that made absolutely no sense.

And then he wrote an email to some family members, and totally trashed his aunt. This aunt has always been ripe for parody. She hen-pecked her husband to death, and even in her 80’s, dressed like That Girl, including the big sunglasses and the too-obvious flip wig. Sadly, Other Bill unintentionally sent this message to his cousins, That Girl’s children.

So now I disable the Internet connection before going to bed so he can’t do this.

Recently he has developed an even more bizarre affliction. And this is the last straw, I swear.

Other Bill wears an oversized football jersey and the underwear he wore all day to bed. The other morning, he said to me, “Are you taking my underwear off me in the middle of the night?”

“What?” I asked, with That Tone in my voice.

“Well for the last couple of weeks, I’ve woken up without my underwear on, and I don’t know why.”

I just stood there with my hand on my hip staring at him. You’d think by now he would be able to recognize his Ambien Haze, as we have come to call it.

He just stared back, shrugged and said, “What?”

You’re doing it. You’re taking them off. You just don’t remember because of the Ambien,” I told him.

The most interesting part of the morning is when I tell him about how many pillow delivery events there were the night before, or tell him of conversations we had. He remembers none of it. Not even the face-slapping incident. He is drowning in denial.

But in the last week, this new behavior has turned ugly. Four times in the last week I have woken up, uncomfortable. There is something I’m lying on that is wrinkly and bunched up and hurting my face. It’s his dirty underwear.

I’m sending him to the doctor next week. He’s switching to Lunesta. And if he doesn’t, I’m buying padlocks for the bedroom doors and am moving into the guest bedroom. We’re not waiting until the day comes when he is sleep-driving down the street, weeping uncontrollably while gorging himself on leftover beef and broccoli from a take-out carton, and I’m following him in my car, honking the horn, flashing the lights and trying to get him to pull over and wake up.

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