On other occasions I discovered that Auntie could actually hear and comprehend any conversation that was going on around her although she was profoundly asleep. We could be conversing and she would go to sleep. Some time into the conversation I would rouse her and ask her what I had been talking about and, sure enough, she would relate everything I or anyone else had said, almost word for word. This is when I knew that she was “conscious” throughout her narcoleptic “episodes” and she could reason.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “The cause of narcolepsy remains unknown. It is likely that narcolepsy involves multiple factors interacting to cause neurological dysfunction and sleep disturbances.” In my Auntie’s case, as I discovered many, many years later, the onset of the disease was seemingly triggered by a serious fall at the age of twelve, after which she began displaying symptoms of the disease. After the death of my grandfather, Joshua, in 1929 she left school and entered the domestic work force on the Canal Zone usually as a cook and, somehow, coped with her illness without the benefit of treatment or medication of any sort.
I can only imagine the difficulties my Auntie’s Sleeping Sickness generated for her, however, with just the ordinary routines of daily life like going to school, taking the bus to work, waiting in line, sitting down to chat with her friends, family and employers, not to mention the limitations her sickness must have placed on her more intimate relations.
Like the time she got married to Mr. Charles, a quiet and very amiable man. The man was a Jamaican who appeared in her life one day to become her husband and I remember how involved I became with their wedding. I was the one entrusted with going to the Canal Zone Greenhouse to order the bridal bouquet she would hold the morning of the event. Although I did not go to the church that morning, I was on hand to greet family and friends who gathered in our small living room to await the bridal couple. It was the first time Mr. Charles, my new uncle, would ask me to make an extemporaneous speech. That speech would be my first try at public speaking and I would also get to meet a girl who would fall madly in love with me.
The marriage didn’t last very long as I suspect it was some kind of arrangement between Auntie and this Mr. Charles to secure his Panamanian residency by marrying my Aunt. The two of them, however, seemed to continue to be the best of friends living separately, she by my grandmother’s house and he taking up residence in a room in the same neighborhood in Calidonia. Auntie kept her married name for the rest of her life although she never lived under the same roof with her husband and she would always smile whenever she recalled her marriage to Mr. Charles. I know for a fact that her sleep disorder must have played a large part in her inability to sustain a normal type of relationship with any man, but Auntie made the best of things at the time.
I would highly recommend the web site for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). It has an excellent fact sheet about narcolepsy.
This story continues.