Helen Chappell - November 2008

The Sound in the Night


Helen Chappell

   “You snore!” a friend of mine teased me when I visited her house a few weekends ago.
   “You snore, too!” I replied. “I woke up in the middle of the night and I could hear you both down the hall, sawing wood like it was going out of style.”
   “That’s because your snoring woke you up,” she replied. Her husband just rolled his eyes. He knows you can’t win a fight with her, and so do I, but that’s part of the reason we love her.
    I don’t snore that much. Only when I sleep on my back, and only when I’ve had a couple or three glasses of wine. I’m not saying I can bring the house down, but if I snore, it’s because it’s in my genes.
    My father was a world-class snorer. He snored long, he snored loud, and he snored in several keys and styles.
    He was such a great snorer that if he were upstairs in his bed, and you were down in the cellar, you could hear his chorus of grunts, hums and snorts. He snored so much that my mother, in search of a good night’s sleep, had to move herself to a bedroom down the hall. But she could still hear him. We all could. And I think maybe our neighbors could too.
    Of course, it didn’t bother my brother and me too much. After all, since infancy, we’d fallen asleep to the old man’s buzz saw chorus, and it was just a part of the comforting soundtrack of the house at night, like the clanging of the old steam radiators and the sound of cars taking the curve down the street on two wheels.
    Yes, Dr. L. E. Chappell, M.D., F.A.C.S., could snore long, deep and loud. He was a regular concert of woofs, woodwind buzzes, rich rumbles and fine bass and tenor solos. If Haydn wrote a concert for snoring, my dad would have performed it every night.
    These days, of course, he’d pack himself off to Dr. Peter Whitesell’s sleep clinic, and no doubt would have had some kind of surgery or wear one of those suspiciously B&D masks they offer the afflicted these days. They make you look as if you’re visiting a dominatrix, but hey, if it means peace and slumber for all in your house, go for it.
    Sleep apnea, which is what snoring is, is apparently pretty unhealthy, as it prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep and makes you unfit for human company the next day.
    I once spent a night in the Sleep Clinic, and guess what? I snore. Noooo!
    I also have the jimmy legs, but they don’t interrupt my sleep the way my snoring used to before I started working out, but that’s a story for another time.
    The Sleep Clinic was kind of interesting, because they wire you up to all these machines, and videotape you while you sleep, then Dr. Whitesell interprets the results. Since it’s in the hospital, you get to sleep in one of those beds they’ve had since the Nixon administration, and you’re so wired up, you can’t turn and toss the way I like to when I’m settling in for a good night’s colorful dreams.
    Actually, I have trouble sleeping anywhere except my own bed, whose mattress gullies and hills are shaped to accommodate my tired old body, so I probably wasn’t a great sleep subject.
    Fifty years ago, people just snored, and snored and snored, like that silver-haired daddy of mine.
    His snoring was so much a part of our childhoods that my brother and I found ourselves waxing nostalgic over it recently while visiting a new grandbaby, who probably won’t snore. She’s too cute for that stuff.
    It’s hard to believe you could miss the sound of someone snoring like one of those old lumber mills, but we did, with great affection.
    I have also inherited my father’s sleep habits. If he wasn’t awakened in the middle of the night by a patient with an emergency, which happened a lot in those days, he’d wake himself up around 2 or 3 a.m., go downstairs and sit at the kitchen table eating a bowl of cereal and reading whatever he’d missed earlier in the newspapers. Then he’d go back to bed again and snore some more.
    As I get older, I find myself doing the same thing. I have no idea why. Is it nature or nurture? But there I am, eating cereal and reading a blog at 3 a.m. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
    I think Pop may have acquired these sleep habits when he was doing his internship, and was awake for 24 or 36 hours at a time. Or maybe he learned them in the Army, when he was a surgeon in a field hospital who had to wake up at any hour incoming wounded were brought in. I don’t know for sure.
    I’m glad modern medicine is treating snoring seriously. Unless you’re born hearing a basso profundo roiling, it can be pretty annoying.
    But I’ll tell you what: I’d give anything just to hear the old man snore once again, but he’s gone where I assume they don’t snore. Heaven has got to be heaven for everyone, right? Even snorers.