To Sleep, Perchance to Sleep

(750 words)

I looked in the mirror and laughed. Where was my phone? I had to take a picture. My hair and face were covered with sticking plasters, holding sensors in position. Just below my chest was a black box into which were plugged perhaps thirty wires, attached to my head, neck and other parts of my body which seemed to have no connection to sleep.
Lying in bed, it was hard to get comfortable, all the bulky connectors preventing me from lying in my usual foetal position. I lay, listening to the sounds of the hospital. There was a low hum from a fan somewhere, and outside, far off, a car door slammed in the quiet night.
Then I was awake. All was silent. I looked at my phone. 2.13 a.m. I needed to go to the toilet. Fortunately, I was free to do so. Other patients had additional wiring that meant they had to use a plastic container kept in a bedside cupboard, an NHS Economy Unisex Urinal Bottle. I wondered if they were ‘on camera’ whilst using it.
In the corridor, I could see lights on in the main lab and, through gaps in the blinds, white-coated technicians poring over screens of data. I wondered if they were tracking my toileting visit at that very moment.
“How did you sleep?” asked an attractive young woman the next morning. She still had wires attached to her head.
I gave a wry smile. “Awful, I kept waking up. From about 2.30 I worked on my computer for an hour.”
“You aren’t supposed to get out of bed!”
“Well, no one told me. What about you?”
She turned a heavy grey bracelet on her brown wrist. “Oh, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t sleep! And I look awful with all these wires sticking out of me.”
“Actually, you look lovely,” I said, feeling okay about it. There was something natural about her, no airs and graces.
She laughed with perfect white teeth. “Thank you!”
“What’s the bracelet?”
“It’s magnetic, for arthritis.” She told me her name was Maria and she was from Brazil. She’d worked as a weather presenter on a local TV channel there, but now she lived in London.
“This breakfast’s nice,” – or something like that – said a man with a speech impediment. I noticed his fingers were thick and stubby, the nails bitten short.
The toast was soggy, the butter hard, and everything pre-packed. “It’s OK,” I said.
He got up and left. Only Maria remained at the breakfast table. “You don’t have to wait for me,” I said.
She smiled. “It’s OK.”
“Well, you didn’t sleep well,” said the sleep doctor.
I was back in my room, a small, sparsely-furnished cubby hole, like a fourth-rate hotel.
“I know, I had to work on my computer for an hour.”
“Yes, we saw. You weren’t supposed to get out of bed.”
“No one told me.”
He was white, tall and thin, and spoke with a foreign accent. He told me my chronic fatigue was down to drinking cups of tea after 6 p.m., drinking alcohol and looking at my phone and computer within an hour of bedtime. And they paid this guy?!
Every hour a buzzer would sound. Maria and the others suffered from insomnia. They had to spend the morning trying to sleep every time the buzzer went and would be awoken twenty minutes later if they succeeded in getting the slumber they were so desperate for. Cruel.
I took a shower in a room full of warnings then lay down and crashed out for two hours.
My brother phoned to see how I’d got on. He told me how he’d signed up for a writing course. He was going to write a novel, probably be famous. Dave was hard to interrupt once he got going. When he rang off, I realised I hadn’t actually had a chance to tell him about my night.
Outside, the man with the speech impediment said something to me, I suppose it was goodbye. I smiled and wished him well. Then Maria appeared with a young man. “Hello, this is Mike, my husband.” I felt briefly jealous, but like her, he had a friendly, natural demeanour. Maria gave me a small, black book. “This is for you.”
It was a bible, destined to bring me the redemption that maybe she thought I needed. “Thank you.” I smiled at her, and then we turned and went back to our different lives.

Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories

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2 thoughts on “To Sleep, Perchance to Sleep

  1. Well, I don’t have a sleep disorder nor do I suffer from chronic fatigue but I can definitely relate to everything you wrote. Having spent time in hospitals for surgery I know all too well how difficult it is to get up and use the bathroom. In fact in some cases it was impossible and I had to call the nurse for a bed pan, then try to relieve myself while she stood there watching and waiting. BTW a hospital is the last place you want to be if you hope to get any rest so I suggest you avoid them if at all possible. Lights blinking, buzzers buzzing, patients crying out for help, nurses chatting it up in the hallway, etc. At home my Mac is probably the last thing I look at just before going to bed; God forbid I miss that latest Facebook post and probably the reason my vision seems to be changing daily! And why is it I can fall asleep in my recliner slumped over like a rag doll, lights and tv on, blanket tossed aside and forgotten, arms and legs exposed but when I get into bed I have to be in exactly the right position, my pillow placed just so and my security blanket tightly pulled up to my nose so the monsters don’t come for me in the night? I had to LOL at some of the lines in this story; they are so funny and relatable. Truly enjoyable, entertaining and familiar. PS – I, too, have worn a bracelet for arthritis; I found it was worthless! LOL

    1. A true story, Nancy, more-or-less. Yes, the whole idea of wiring you up to the eyeballs then expecting you to sleep properly in a strange room with people speaking to you through loudspeakers, and eyeballing you on cameras (though they didn’t tell us) is laughable.

      ‘ “Well, you didn’t sleep well,” said the sleep doctor. ‘ I wonder if he ever says anything else?! I think if one was to spend a couple of weeks there, then by the end of that they might be sleeping normally, whatever that means to the individual.

      An interesting experience, though, and I got a story out of it. And thank you to the lovely Maria for brightening the place up, if you happen to be reading this!

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