The following column is not about comics, not about animation, not about Hollywood, not even about Vegas or Broadway, for Pete's
sake. It deals with some medical problems in my life, which I discuss here on the possibility that perhaps one person out there will benefit
from my experiences. If the topic seems self-indulgent or appallingly off-subject to you, accept my apologies and go directly to the next
article. (Do not pass Peter David, do not collect $200...)
Next week's column will be about something more appropriate to this publication, I promise. This just seemed too important to
Where should I begin? Well, I guess I should start in the fast lane of the Ventura Freeway, where you take your life in your
hands to slow to the legal limit. It was a bright afternoon and I was zooming along, cars all around me. I was just passing White Oak
when I fell asleep. That's right: I fell asleep.
It was only for a second. Still, when you're behind the wheel, falling asleep for a second is at least one second too long.
Fortunately, some tiny part of my brain was up and alert. It shouted, "WAKE UP, YOU IDIOT!" and I immediately jolted wide awake
and gripped the wheel tight. Then that same voice yelled, "DON'T PANIC! JUST DRIVE!" And I did a slight correction as I started to
swerve, keeping the car steady, heading directly for the next exit. There was a 7-Eleven store at the end of the off-ramp and I pulled in and
purchased a Big Gulp full o' caffeine and sugar.
As I sat there swilling cola, I was well aware what could have happened if I'd slept for another second or two. In morbid irony,
this happened as I was returning home from a wake. A fine gent and a talented artist, Peter Ledger, had lost his life in a jeep accident the
week before, and his friends had just gathered to share their grief and to celebrate his memory. I decided I wasn't eager for my chums to do
that for me.
This was not the first time I had fallen asleep at an inopportune moment. Increasingly, over the last few years, I'd dozed off at
the oddest times, often sitting at this here computer, sometimes in theater seats, once even in a very important network meeting.
It was over at CBS and we were discussing a script I'd been hired to write. The producer was talking about casting, and one of
the execs said, "Mark, what do you think about this?" To which Mark replied, "ZZZZZZZZZ!" I was not only snoring, I was making enough
noise to drown out a Price is Right taping that was going on downstairs.
The producer thought fast. "Mark has been up all night working hard on the script," he said, which was not true.
(Producers, you may be shocked to learn, do not always speak the truth.) I had not started on the script yet and, the night before, I'd logged
a full eight hours of sack time.
So why was I drifting off to dreamland in the oddest places? And why was I snoring so loudly that folks in Tijuana were calling
to complain about the noise? I kept telling myself it was just fatigue...working too hard...it would pass...
It was the shut-eye on the freeway that finally made me decide I had to do something about it or I would pass. Sitting there in
the parking lot that day, chug-a-lugging a Pepsi so large it could have used a diving board, I decided to go see a doctor — or someone who
could figure out why I was nodding off all the time.
But before I attended to what was putting me to sleep, I had to fix something that was keeping me awake.
Someplace deep in my lower right gum, something sharp was scraping the inside of my mouth and driving me nuts. It popped up every
now and then, skillfully eluding my dentist. He had a theory: It was right about where I'd had a wisdom teeth yanked when I was around
twelve. "It could be a small piece of bone or tooth," he ventured. "Something left over from the extraction, which has finally worked its
way to near the surface and pops up every now and then." His speculation was, it turned out, sound. But even after x-raying me so many
times I feared for my virility, he was unable to locate the offending bit of bone or molar.
My short freeway nap had been on a Friday. On Saturday, that thing in my gum was driving me to so much distraction that I phoned
up my dentist — or, rather, his service. He was outta town. Rather than go see the stranger to whom they referred me, I dialed up
my previous dentist, who worked Saturdays. He forgave me for leaving him and said, "Come on over."
I did. He took more x-rays and finally located the troublemaker. "You have a little piece of bone in your gums, left over
from an old extraction. You need an oral surgeon. The best one I know is Dr. Reynolds. I'll find his number for you."
I asked, "Is he still on San Vicente Boulevard?"
The dentist looked startled. "You know Dr. Reynolds?"
"Yes," I said. "I've been to Dr. Reynolds — most recently in 1964." Dr. Reynolds was the man who took out my wisdom
teeth, thirty-one years before.
Somehow, I made it through the weekend with that "thing" jabbing me in the mouth. Monday morning, I phoned up Dr. Reynolds'
office which was, yes, still on San Vicente Boulevard. The receptionist queried, "I don't have your name on file here. Are you a new
"Well, not really," I explained.
Dr. Reynolds was so flabbergasted at the coincidence — my being referred back to him among the dozens and dozens of oral surgeons
in the L.A. area — that he decided to treat my case as a "follow-up visit" and to bill accordingly. "Nothing says that you can't have a
follow-up visit thirty-one years later," he giggled. Doc Reynolds turned out to be one of the most delightful men I've ever met. I could
never conceive of oral surgery being made a pleasant experience, but Dr. Reynolds, with his engaging manner and hoary jokes, came a lot closer than
one might imagine.
He also turned out to be good at his job. In a very short time, and with no pain whatsoever on my part, he extracted two
minuscule bone chips — each so tiny that I could scarcely believe they'd caused me so much discomfort. But they had and, once they were
out, I felt like a lion who'd had a thorn removed from his paw. Months of intermittent pain suddenly ended. If I hadn't been full of
Novocain, I might have planted a big wet one right on his kisser.
One of my two health problems was solved. I decided to press my luck and go for the other.
I told Dr. Reynolds about my ill-timed snoozes, and also about my snoring — so loud that it had driven more than one girl friend
to the living room couch. "I have a feeling they're related but, either way, I was wondering if you could refer me to someone."
"I know just the man," he said, and he scribbled out a note for me with a name. I will always be grateful to Dr. Reynolds for so
skillfully removing the bone chips. But I am even more grateful to him for pointing me towards Dr. Haberman.
Three days later, I was examined by Dr. Haberman. I told him about the unwanted napping and about the snoring, and he knew
instantly what the problem probably was. The problem probably was Sleep Apnea. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so the
following explanation is plagiarized from a medical book I have here...
Sleep Apnea is a respiratory condition wherein the patient literally stops breathing at night and is therefore continually fighting
for air. This results in restless sleep, excessive snoring, and constant fatigue, as the patient is not receiving the full benefits of a
Dr. Haberman's description of Sleep Apnea sure sounded like what was sending me off to dreamland at odd times. To find out for
sure, I had to spend a night in...dramatic music sting goes here...the Sleep Lab!
The following Saturday evening, I packed an overnight bag and drove out to the hospital to spend the night in Dr. Haberman's Sleep
Lab. That's actually what they call it. Dr. Haberman wasn't there. He was home, presumably asleep. But I went in and a
friendly intern took about an hour to glue electrodes all over my body. Then he had me stretch out on a little cot about the size of a tongue
depressor and he said, "Try to sleep normally."
The intern went into the next room where a bank of computers would monitor my every brainwave, pulse beat, inhale, exhale and
twitch. With all the appliances affixed to me, I felt like a Christmas tree but owing to my condition, I had no trouble dozing off. After
a few hours, the intern woke me up, strapped a breathing device to my face and said, "Go back to sleep." I managed to do this.
Around 7 A.M. — well before my usual awakening time — I woke up. The monitors in the next room apparently told the
intern I was awake and he came right in. "You have all the data you need?" I inquired.
"Yep," he said. "You can split." He could not (or would not) tell me what any of it meant, but he did mention that the
brainwave/pulse monitors showed that I'd apparently had a very erotic dream around 5:37 AM. I wish I knew what it was about. (I have a
hunch who it was about but I'd love to know what we did...)
The intern disconnected all the electrodes, and I climbed back into my civvies and exited Dr. Haberman's Sleep Lab. I was going
to head home for a few hours of unobserved sleep in a real bed, but I suddenly felt hungry. I pulled into a McDonald's, hiked up to the counter
and ordered a Sausage Biscuit with Egg and a large O.J.
The lady at the counter gave me the oddest look. So did the other customers. I didn't know what it was all about until I
got home and walked past a mirror. My face had criss-cross lines drawn all over it, and little wart-like mounds of glue where the electrodes
had been attached. I looked like Pinhead in the "Hellraiser" movies.
A few afternoons later, Dr. Haberman went over the data with me and I nodded my head like I understood more than about a third of
it. He showed me a print-out of the entire night, noting where my breathing had changed, where my pulse had changed, etc. He pointed to
the data around 5:37 AM and remarked, "Boy, you had one great dream there."
He couldn't tell from the print-out what the dream was about but he could confirm that, yes, Mark has Sleep Apnea — a severe
case, in fact. The doctor guesstimated that when I thought I was sleeping for eight hours, I was actually logging more like 4-5 hours of real
shut-eye. No wonder I kept falling asleep all day.
There are a couple of different cures for Sleep Apnea, some involving messy bouts of surgery on the nose and/or throat. But the
intern in the Sleep Lab had also tested me with a breathing device called a C-PAP unit, and the data collected during those hours was
promising. It indicated that my problem could be arrested by sleeping with such a device.
A C-PAP Unit is a small fan, about the size of a shoebox, that puts out air at a carefully-prescribed pressure. The air comes out
through a length of tubing that leads to a mask that is strapped onto the face of the sleeper. The machine forces air into the person,
triggering a normal breathing pattern.
The first night I slept with my C-PAP Unit, my life changed. I didn't wake up tired. In fact, I haven't had so much energy
since I was a mere broth of a boy. I also didn't snore much. (The unit forces me to do all my breathing through my nose and not my
mouth.) I've been sleeping with one of these for a little over a year now and I haven't fallen asleep since in a meeting or a movie or in my
When I travel, my C-PAP Unit travels with me. (I also travel with my laptop computer. With all the tubes and cords and
adapters to run both, my suitcase looks like a danged Radio Shack. Twice in the last year, the little person who X-rays luggage at the airport
has made me open my bag and show them that all that electronics gear is Kosher.)
It probably looks weird. Lying there, with the mask strapped over my nose and the tube pumping air into me, I probably look like
Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet." But it sure beats being tired all day.
It's inconvenient, true. But it's not anywhere near as inconvenient as dozing off on the Ventura Freeway.
That's really all I have to say on the subject and again, I apologize if my straying so far from the subject matter of this publication
bothers anyone. But maybe, just maybe, there's one person out there who has the same problem...or even a different problem which can be
arrested as simply as was mine. I really think I was a chowderhead not to seek professional help sooner. Don't you go making the same
Next week, something more on-topic.