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Column

Wimbiscus: I'm either Homer Simpson or Darth Vader when I sleep

Bill Wimbiscus
Bill Wimbiscus

If the voice is the gateway to the soul, I’m in big trouble.

Awake, I’m a terrible bore.

I put people to sleep.

At least that’s what they tell me.

I tend to speak tediously – deep, dull and flat – with little or no modulation. Kind of like Ben Stein, the guy from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” but not as dynamic.

It’s a great voice for lulling young children to sleep, but for anything else, not so much.

At work, eyes would glaze over any time I spoke over an extended period.

Back when I was an adjunct instructor, my students would nod off anytime I spoke for more than 10 minutes. On my class review at the end of the year one of the kids wrote: “The class probably would have been better if he didn’t always talk in such a horrible monotone.”

But bad as I am awake, asleep I’m even worse: a terrible snore.

I keep people awake.

At least that’s what they tell me.

My kids have likened my snoring to the growling of a constipated bear in an echo chamber.

They say I snore like Homer Simpson, and so loud that you can hear it in the next room.

Since I’ve never actually heard myself snore – I’m always asleep at the time – I’ll have to take their word for it.

It’s been like this since I was in grade school. My older brother used to wake me up with the whisper “You’re snoring.” Followed a few minutes later with a louder “You’re snoring again!”

Followed a few minutes later with the yell of “QUIT SNORING!!!” And then sometimes a shoe.

As I got older, my log sawing only got worse, as my college roommates could testify. The only solutions were to sleep on my side, which usually stopped the noise, but only for a few minutes; sleep sitting up, which was difficult without a La-Z-Boy recliner; or wait to sleep until everyone else was asleep, which on college time could be sometime the next morning.

Things really got bad after I got married. Sara would put up with the snoring each night until she couldn’t take it any longer, and then elbow me in the ribs to roll over. I’d quiet down for a few minutes, but soon it would start up again and then the whole cycle would repeat itself.

The most alarming aspect was that several times each night I’d apparently quit breathing altogether. Sara would lie awake waiting for me to inhale until she couldn’t take it any longer, and then elbow me to see if I was still alive.

The end result was that, while I slept little, she slept even less. Finally, she gave me an ultimatum: you see a doctor or I see a lawyer. I broke down, went to the doctor and he ordered a sleep test.

The next morning, the guy who administered the test was kind of freaked out.

“You’re waking up an average of 60 times an hour,” he said. “It’s like you’re not even sleeping. Sometimes you’ve not even breathing.”

So, he gave me CPAP machine, cranked it up as high as it would go, and sent me home.

A CPAP, if you’ve never used one, works by forcing air up your nose through a Darth Vader-like mask, effectively blowing through whatever flesh, bone or gristle is impeding your airway. Said air is then exhaled back through mask, somewhat audibly, in the manner of Lord Vader.

And while sleeping with Lord Vader was a bit disconcerting for my wife, it was a vast improvement over sleeping with Homer Simpson.

That first machine lasted me 20 years, waiting until I was between jobs and out of insurance to crap out. Not eager to pay the non-insurance rate for a new sleep study and new equipment, I ended up bartering with a guy online for what he said was a brand new state-of-the-art machine, used only once. Remarkably, he was telling the truth.

But having a state-of-the-art CPAP does you no good unless you know how to program it.

And the only people who know how to program it are certified sleep technicians (seriously), and they won’t program it unless you have a current sleep study.

Fortunately, I was able to find an instruction manual on a shady Internet site and downloaded the highly detailed technical instructions, which basically required pushing both of the machine’s two buttons at the same time to access a program menu.

That was five years ago. And while the CPAP machine still works great, my current Darth Vader mask has crapped out, so I need a new one. Which my current insurance won’t authorize until I have a new sleep study.

Well, it’s only been 25 years, so I guess I’m due.

Plus a sleep study is still a lot cheaper than a divorce.

• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at news@theherald-news.com.

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