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A Three Toothbrush Night

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:25am

It was a three toothbrush night last night. That’s a good thing. Considering I’m only in bed for about 6-7 hours each night, if I have to get up more than three times to throw another toothbrush to Ashley, sleep is an elusive guest. What, you ask, does Ashley do with toothbrushes during the night? Well, let me explain.

Ashley likes things that vibrate. Her lack of vision and hearing means she takes in very little environmental stimulation. She doesn’t see the neighbor’s porch light shining through her window. She doesn’t hear the furnace kick in with its unique rumble. She doesn’t hear Chip get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or Corey get up to get a drink of water. Most of us seem to be comforted by the little sights or sounds that pass through our night. But, Ashley doesn’t have that comfort. So, she seeks it with a vibrating, battery operated toothbrush.

She was very young when I first noticed that vibrating things would soothe and comfort her. Her occupational therapist gave her a ‘vibrating snake’, a long, flexible tube-like item, covered in neoprene and with a battery compartment on each end. Ashley loved holding it to her throat. She would immediately calm down whenever she had it. So, I purchased a couple of those ‘snakes’. Unfortunately, they were expensive ($40), used expensive ‘D’ batteries, and didn’t hold up well to kid use. I went in search of a substitute and found the battery operated toothbrushes.

If I can find them on sale, I can get a toothbrush for about $4. It uses one ‘AA’ battery, much cheaper than the ‘D’ batteries. Ashley was just as happy with the toothbrush as she was with the ‘snake’. So, I stocked up on toothbrushes, and for the last 8 years have made sure my supply didn’t dwindle to dangerously low levels.

About the only time Ashley will want the toothbrush is when she is in her room relaxing or when she is in bed for the night. She will roll her head from side to side, her Stevie Wonder move as I call it, with the vibrating toothbrush in her mouth, deeper in her throat than looks comfortable to me. The vibration will help her get to sleep, and if she wakes during the night, will help her get back to sleep. Unfortunately, some nights she wakes up a lot.

When Ashley falls asleep with the toothbrush running, the batteries will eventually die. If she rolls over or knocks it off her bed, when she wakes up, she will not be able to find it. Thus, that’s the reason I have to give her more toothbrushes during the night.

I keep a supply of about 15 toothbrushes in a small basket on my bedroom dresser. If I hear Ashley hitting her bed (her signal to me that she needs a toothbrush), I pull myself out of my warm, very comfortable bed, stumble in the dark to the basket of toothbrushes, grab one, walk down the hall to Ashley’s room, and then gently toss the new toothbrush in her vicinity on the bed. She can find it by feeling the vibration. All is then well – until the next time she wakes up and needs a toothbrush.

That is the reason the quality of my sleep is measured in toothbrushes. The worse nights are 8-10 toothbrush nights. If you do that math, that’s waking up more than once an hour. A good night is 2-3 toothbrushes. Ashley and I basically nap during the night. I don’t believe either of us really sleeps as most people would define sleep.

One of Ashley’s doctor’s described our sleep life as the ‘intern sleep cycle’, meaning doctor interns who are on call a lot and really only grab naps for the several years they are in medical training. Ashley’s doctor said that a person’s body adjusts to the sleep/wake cycle, but that it is not a good thing for the long term. I wonder if that doctor would consider 10 years and counting long term?
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