In the small hours of the night, I wake suddenly, feverish and disoriented. I check the clock: two hours since the last episode. As my body temperature climbs nearly eight degrees, I wrench myself out of the heavy winter bedclothes as if they are strangling me. I sit up, tenting my bare legs on top of the jumble of covers, unable to bear even the thought of anything touching my prickly, slick skin. I reach for my water glass on the bedside table, relieved to hear the clink of the last shard of ice against the side. The water will still be cool. I drink, knowing that it will make me have to urinate during the next hot flash two hours from now. If I get up to pee then, it may be more difficult to fall back to sleep. But I am so hot now. I pant, frustrated and impatient. I have to get up in four hours and I expect to wake at least once more before then. All I can do is wait it out.
I am wide awake for now, but so tired. I lean forward over my legs, my open palms by my sides on the blankets. My mouth hangs open, slack, and my hair falls into my face. I might look like a stoned gymnast doing her warmup stretches. I stare into the darkness, seeing nothing except the dim glow of the boys' nightlight down the hall. I hear Beau, our five year old border collie mix, snoring lightly on his dog bed to my left. The sound is regular and comforting. How can he sleep so soundly when I can't? Bella, his sister, shifts on her own bed at the other side of the room. My husband's form is difficult to distinguish under a barrage of pillows and blankets to my right. He sleeps with a pillow over his head to drown out noise. I hope that I am not waking him with my silently feverish movements.
If I can hear them, then my family is safe around me. If they are safe, then I am too.
This flash is a bad one. Have your forearms ever sweated? Sometimes, when I run particularly far on a particularly hot day, mine do.
My forearms are sweating now, in the middle of the night, but I haven't even dreamed of anything strenuous.
I sweep my hand up the back of my neck. Slick sweat turns icy as the heat recedes. My hair is still wet at the roots, as is my nightshirt down my back and when I press it between my breasts. I imagine the sweat patterns look like I've just finished a workout.
I hear a far-away, tiny click-click and the heat pump turns on. The air from the ceiling vent chills, finally, and I feel behind my back for my pillow. I hope for a cool side but neither is satisfactory. The house is warm. I flip the pillow anyway, figuring that the side I haven't touched must be cooler than the one I have. Slowly, gingerly, I pull my legs up and slide my toes back under my side of the covers. I find the top edges of the blankets--the ones I tossed away so desperately a mere three minutes ago--and slide my body down and under them. In as few movements as possible, I pull the edges up over my now clammy shoulder and reach down to pull my nightshirt over my thighs. I stop and listen: Bryan's breathing remains regular. Oh good, I think, I haven't woken him.
I turn onto my left side, toward the red, boxy numbers of the clock. I have to get up in less than four hours and I expect to wake at least once more before then.
I have so much to do tomorrow--today--but I'm so tired. Do I really have to go to that late afternoon meeting? I have to remember to email Colleen about the schedule. Colleen. Schedule. Colleen. Schedule. Colleen. Schedule.
I wish I hadn't yelled at the boys today. They're such great kids--why can't they listen? I love them so much. I hope they don't think that I don't love them. I need to clean their bathroom. Maybe I should teach them to clean the bathroom.
I'm so tired, but so awake. I look at the ceiling as my mind whirrs. I sigh and turn back to the clock.
I've been awake for an hour and forty minutes.
In these dark, small hours, I admit my fears of being inadequate and unloveable. I catch myself and attempt to refocus. I breathe slowly and meditate on my blessings. I listen to my family breathe.
Some advise calling these episodes "power surges" and I do feel like I'm experiencing a circuit overload during hot flashes. But these episodes don't empower me. Often they sap my energy and my spirit. I weather some with nary a twinge, true, but then there are the humdingers like this one.
Regardless of what I call them, it's 2:56 a.m. right now and I'm awake. I feel like a flu's coming on: wave of nausea and tingly skin uneasy in clothes. In a pitch-dark house pulsing with snores, my body is like the Vegas strip, alight, impervious to circadian rhythm. I have to get up in three hours and I expect to wake at least once more before then.
I sit up. I drink. I pant.