I have never really enjoyed sleeping in the afternoon. For one thing, waking up the second time is tougher. For another, the quality of sleep isn’t of a very good quality for me. But the main reason why I’m not a fan of afternoon naps is because of the hypnagogia phase of this type of sleep. This state always kind of bothered me because the imagery of dreams doesn’t tend to happen here and you get a raw stream of clear pictures and dialogue about EXACTLY what your brain is processing.
A couple of weeks ago, a Tuesday afternoon, I had a dream were I was telling someone that my uncle Kevin (oldest brother on my dad’s side) “had gotten it from exposure” in reference to his cancer. In the dream I was attempting to create a logical difference between my uncle and my father. As I drifted awake I became aware that I could hear my parents talking in the computer room. I wasn’t able to make out what they were saying, but the tones of their voices was causing me to come awake with a touch of anxiety. “Are you having a stroke?” I hear my mom say. “No” in a soft relaxed tone is my fathers reply. I’m now standing looking at my mom and dad. I ask my dad how he’s feeling, go through the stroke check list and there’s nothing alarming. He’s fine. His thinking is seems a little off, but not really. It’s tough to tell to be honest. A few days later, after returning from the doctor with my brother, there’s a change to his medication for his heart rate and a “there seems to be something I’m not getting” from the doctor. The next day he improves so the crisis ends.
Sunday my dad is thinking a lot more clearly but his stomach hurt. Monday he’s tired and not feeling so good. It looks like a stomach flu, a fair possibility. I take an afternoon nap. Out for a short while I wake-up hearing my mom say “we need to take your dad to emerge”. And off we go.
He gets a CT scan, there’s something in his brain that shouldn’t be there so he’s transferred to Trillium Health Sciences (Queensway / Hurontario) Mississauga’s neurosurgery department for an MRI to find out what it may be. It’s around 11:30 am Wednesday when he gets back from the MRI. He’s sleeping and his vitals are normal. I take a some time to research brain tumors on the internet.
Turns out brain cancer as a primary tumor is rare. Most brain cancers are a result of a cancer spreading from a different part of the body. Brain cancer as a primary tumor is rare in people above 70. There is a genetic link, but that accounts for 5% of it. My uncles bone cancer was the result of exposure at work. My dream from the week before was starting to settle very unpleasantly on what was suddenly become a new reality that was hard to understand and manage.
When the neurosurgeon gathered around the family at 5:40 pm and said glioma my heart sank.
Now what does this all mean? The hypnagogia phase is a possible gift of insight for a lot of people. What I did with the information that I was given the week before the cancer diagnosis is sort of a mystery. I didn’t say to anyone “my dad has cancer.” You don’t say that unless it’s true and I didn’t want to be right about what I had felt in the dream. I did pay more attention to his movement and the things he said, but other than the stomach pain he was improving. To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t considered the possibility of my father having cancer before that nap. But the thought had been present and working on my brain for 8 days before the doctor said it.
The family is stunned. My dad is 68, hasn’t been a smoker in years, rarely worked with PVC (the only chemical conclusively linked to glioma), is active and healthy, and has always had a fantastic brain – a natural problem finder and solver, an ongoing learner and an articulate communicator. It just strikes me as a little unfair that everything about him is still in great working order, that he’s taken care of himself, his body and his mind and now as he begins to enjoy his retirement his genetic code presents this new challenge.
I’m not sure when I’ll take another afternoon nap, I suppose when I need some more of that hard hitting unfiltered clarity that my conscious mind can’t seem to draw out.