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Sleep 'R' Us

By Michael Barmak, Copyright 2003
December 31, 2006

In this delightfully funny article, Michael used the analogy of his wife's medical procedure to show that many people go though their day anesthetized against their feelings.

During my wife's pre-op consultation, her anesthesiologist mentions wanting to get out of the hospital "scene" and jokes about opening up his own anesthesia business out of his garage. He even has a name picked out: Sleep 'R' Us. This idea came to him after years of having his patients confide in him that they really enjoyed the experience of being numb and wouldn't mind feeling that way more often.

Hey, wait a minute here. Stop the surgery. Aren't doctors supposed to keep you alive? Doesn't this also include emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well as physically? I don't remember reading anything in the Hippocratic Oath about thou shalt disconnect thy patients from their feelings! Feelings can sometimes be painful, but they're not facts. There's so much to learn from our feelings. They tell us when we are acting in ways that are unloving to ourselves. Besides, feelings are all in the same box. We can't feel joy unless we're also willing to feel our pain.

I write off the anesthesiologist's comments as another example of poor bedside manner. Just to keep him on our side though, I add "and you're gonna need a drive thru too. I'm sure you have the space. What do you have, a two-car garage? You can use one space for pickups and one for those who don't know if they're coming or going!" I wonder why he's not laughing. At this point my wife throws me a look like shut the hell up or I'll be biting on a bullet during the procedure!

It's 10:00 am and her surgery should be over by now unless...I try meditating to let go of obsessing over the possibilities. Do they have to play "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan? The last thing I want to hear in the waiting room is a song about a man with a broken heart who always ends up alone. I'm temporarily comforted when I remind myself that Connie is having "minor" surgery. Then I remember Connie's definition of minor surgery: something that happens to other people.

I notice several couples in the waiting room. A nurse calls out, "Stephanie?" and the woman sitting next to me rises to kiss her boyfriend goodbye. Instead, he uses his cell phone to wave goodbye as he walks away from her kiss and says, "Call me when you're finished." Where's his compassion? What is he trying to avoid by distracting himself from his feelings? I'm rooting for Stephanie to hit him or at least hit him back with "you're the one who's finished!"

My wife's doctor comes out of the surgical area and sits down beside me. She shows me pictures of before and after surgery pointing out the graphic details and proceeds to give me a play by play description of the entire procedure. She's beginning to sound like Howard Cosell. The only thing I hear is "Your wife is doing well." Nothing else matters.

I place my hand on her shoulder as a natural expression of my gratitude. Her body stiffens and she quickly rises from her chair. What's this all about? I know doctors need to keep some emotional distance from their patients' pain so that they won't burn out, but this is a moment of joy! What is she so afraid of feeling? Is she another one of Dr. Anesthesia's frequent flyers?

As soon as she leaves, I run up to the receptionist and tell her that I want to see my wife. "Your wife isn't ready yet," she says looking at me with glassy eyes and a Botox smile. She's talking about my wife like she's a piece of meat that's not well done enough. "It usually takes an hour in post-op before they move her to the recovery room where you can be with her. Soon. Soon." Does she act this way with everyone? She doesn't seem to relate to my joy and my desire to be with the woman I love. Has she completely shut down her feelings? I reluctantly return to my chair.

An hour later I'm shortening her words "soon, soon" to "sue, sue" and that's what I'm going to do if I don't see my wife immediately. I visualize what Clint Eastwood would do. I eye my target and start swishing my tongue around in my mouth like I'm chewing a wad of Red Man. She must sense my gunslinger mentality because she drops a stack of papers and ducks behind her desk when she sees me coming towards her.

"Michael? Is there a Michael here?" A nurse appears to my left. I give the receptionist a you almost made my day face and follow the nurse.

In the recovery room, I follow the sound of teeth chattering and find my wife wrapped in blankets. Since my wife can't stop shivering long enough to tell me, I look for someone to explain why she sounds like a jackhammer. I see one nurse at the nursing station selling Avon products and another making what sounds like a personal phone call. Have they forgotten what it feels like to be helpless and dependent on the care of others? Don't they understand that they can't take care of others if they're not willing to feel their own feelings?

One of the other patients who is on her way out notices my concern and informs me that shivering is a side effect from the anesthesia and it will gradually wear off. I hear a nurse telling another nurse, "I'm gonna learn from my mistakes." What mistakes and with whom did you make these mistakes? At this point I'm starting to believe that Sleep 'R' Us is already up and running and offering professional discounts to all of the nurses here.

In the curtain-draped booth next to us, I overhear a nurse say "Spirit." Spirit? Now we're talking. Finally somebody who's connected! I feel comforted hearing about the presence of Guidance. I listen closely.

"Spirit...New Jersey...Around New York. You'll have a great time." Wait a minute. She's talking about the Spirit of New Jersey. That's a party boat! Is she making commission on this? I know they don't pay nurses enough but isn't this a conflict of interest?

Connie asks me to get her a glass of water with no ice. Remembering that patients can't leave until they've gone to the bathroom, I bring over the entire Poland Spring water cooler and look for a way I can position it so that Connie's mouth is under its faucet.

My wife is still having difficulty speaking and she summons only enough strength to tell me that she's sorry this is taking up so much of my day. I console her, "Honey, you are my day." Usually a "right" answer will warm her up. Right now I couldn't thaw her out with a blow torch. Did they give her too much anesthesia? Is the anesthesiologist hoping to recruit my wife as one of his clients? I was only kidding when I asked him to give her a special cocktail.

When I look for Connie's nurse to help my wife get up, I find out that she's been on lunch break for the past hour and didn't tell us, and also didn't tell anyone to cover for her. I'm beginning to wonder if she's over at Sleep 'R' Us right now getting take out!

By this point my imagination is beyond wild and I'm picturing Sleep 'R' Us franchises on every corner. I calm myself down by connecting to my Guidance. I ask Spirit for help in making sense of this clinic that I'm now referring to as "sedation central." My Guidance immediately fills me with truth:

The hospital clinic is doing God's work. They're giving, sustaining and improving the quality of life even if they're not fully living themselves. We're all on a path and we can still heal while we learn our lessons.

And what about Sleep 'R' Us? Does it have is a higher purpose?

Since everybody is numbing out in some way, Sleep 'R' Us will give them the opportunity to become conscious of what they are already doing unconsciously. We can't change something we're not aware we're doing.

As I pack my wife's belongings, her nurse reappears and says Connie can keep her gray booties. She provides us with a white garment bag to hang her jacket in and hands Connie a long stem pink rose. When I ask if I can have a copy of the menu from Sleep 'R' Us she pretends not to know what I'm talking about. I insist that most places usually put an extra menu in with your take out order. My wife starts pushing me towards the exit.

On the way home, I find myself slowing down every time I pass by a garage sale. I keep thinking that maybe I missed it but I'm sure I would have noticed a big sign that said "Sleep 'R' Us."

I haven't heard anything from my wife since we left the hospital clinic and I start to wonder if it's too late. Is she hooked on feeling numb? What if the special sedation cocktail she received did her in and I'm going to have to get the antidote?

I'm about to turn the car around and go back to the hospital when my wife hands me the long stem pink rose. She points to the passenger side window where she used her finger to draw a heart with "Thank You" inside.

Now that's loving.

Michael Barmak, CSW, LCSW is an Inner Bonding Facilitator in private practice. He works with individuals and couples in person and on the phone and can be reached at 908-276-8191 or


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