Almost immediately after Walter Sharpe was drafted, it was hard not to crack a joke about narcolepsy. On the surface, it seemed harmless, right? I mean, we're talking about people who sleep a lot, not someone with an actual life-threatening disease.
Not too long after, though, a handful of DBB readers suggested that maybe it wasn't actually funny. I appreciated their thoughtfulness but honestly didn't have much of an opinion. The more I learn about the disease, though, the more I tend to agree.
Here's a first-hand description about what it's like to live with narcolepsy from Todd Brakke, a Pistons fan inspired to share his story after watching the NBA draft:
It's not something I get into very much since it's usually viewed -thanks in large part to TV and movies- as that condition where you fall asleep in the middle of jogging or mowing the lawn or some such nonsense.
In reality, it's basically a condition where you don't go through the stages of sleep properly, the result being that your sleep isn't nearly as restorative as it should be. Eight hours of sleep to you feels like about four or five hours of sleep to me. Imagine feeling severely sleep deprived every single day, regardless of how much sleep you actually get. That, in a nutshell, is narcolepsy. It doesn't make you pass out while in the middle of being active, like bowling or feeding the cat. That's a myth as far as I'm concerned. There's a subsymptom that some narcoleptics have, called cataplexy, that causes the appearance of passing out. It's a temporary loss of muscle control that -in severe forms- can result in you dropping like a sack of bricks, concious but unable to move. I'm grateful not to suffer from cataplexy.
What narcolepsy does do is make you very susceptible to falling asleep while passive. Reading a book, watching TV, sitting in a meeting or presentation are all recipes for a ticket to sleepy town. [...]
For me the drowsiness while reading part is particularly intrusive, what with my occupation being an editor of extremely long and often boring tech books and all. On bad days I'll go into full bore head-bob mode in the hours following lunch, which is the second most difficult part of the day for me to get through. The worst is first thing in the morning. Just waking up and finding the will to move, let alone get out of bed is... difficult. I could wake up to find the house on fire and I'd have to talk myself out of sleeping for just five more minutes. That said, it's a condition you have to manage. You have accept the fact that you need more rest than the average bear and that sometimes it's necessary to find an out of the way place for a 20-minute nap. [...]
Pistons GM Joe Dumars says they talked to just about everybody connected to Sharpe and that he thinks, now that he's getting treatment for narcolepsy, that his struggles are behind him. I'm not gonna get into Sharpe's basketball skills -that's way out of my league- but if Sharpe thinks his newfound magic narco pills are going to completely change his life, he's got another thing coming. The pills you can take for narcolepsy do not knock the condition out of the park. They're masking agents. Your body and mind are still just as tired as they always were, you just don't feel it... as much. (At least, that's been my experience.)
When I was first diagnosed I was prescribed a drug called Modafinil (trade name Provigil). It felt like a whole new world. I was awake. I had energy. I could split the atom with a pair of tweesers. Didn't last. Your body adjusts and after a while (months, maybe a year) you have to adjust the dosage and keep adjusting it or move on to some other drug. [...] The point is, the drugs can help. But they're not gonna change your life for you. You have to do that yourself. So, it'll be interesting to see where Sharpe goes from here. I'm sure whatever drugs he's taking right now will help him out in the short term. But as his body adjusts to the meds and he starts really bouncing back and forth between time zones (assuming he makes the team) on NBA road trips, it's gonna be a whole new test. If the Pistons are smart they'll have a doctor watching him very closely, one that can help monitor what he's taking, how much he's taking and when he should be taking it.
I've already blockquoted more than I'm comfortable with -- I wish I could re-print the entire post, but instead I'll just link to it again. Seriously, read it, DBB isn't going anywhere.
Done? Good. It's one thing to read about narcolepsy on Wikipedia, and it's another altogether to hear someone describe their own personal experience. I don't know about you, but I'm just not that amused anymore.