There is a medical disorder in which involuntary control over breathing is impaired and voluntary control is intact. Meaning, when the person is awake, voluntary control will take care of breathing, but when the person falls asleep, the involuntary control being impaired, the person stops breathing. This is termed as sleep apnoea or Central Hypoventilation Syndrome. It can be congenital, meaning a baby could be born with it or it can be acquired later in life due to some brain injury. In normal people, increased carbon dioxide and decreased oxygen are the two main stimuli that increase the rate of breathing. But in these people, this response is impaired. Lifetime ventilation is the main treatment. Oxygen therapy and medicines to stimulate the respiratory system have also been tried. Another option is tracheostomy which literally means making a hole in the neck and inserting a tube to assist respiration. If untreated, it can be fatal.
Ondine’s Curse Tale
This disorder got its roots in the French and German mythology. Lots of plays, operas, and ballets have been based on this myth. There was a nymph named Ondine, who was breathtakingly beautiful. A nymph is a mythological spirit of nature imagined as a beautiful maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, etc. Her gaze fell upon a handsome young man named Palemon, who was out on one of his daily walks. He so smote her that she began to look out for him every day. When Palemon saw her, he was taken by her beauty and tried his best to get a glimpse of her. They talked, fell in love and eventually got married after he broke his engagement with the young noblewoman Bertha. On their wedding day, he vowed: “ My every waking breath shall be my pledge of love and faithfulness to you.”
Ondine gave birth to their son. Once a nymph falls in love and gives birth, she begins to age and loses her eternal youthfulness. Seeing her beauty fade away, Palemon cheated on her with his first love Bertha. One fine day Ondine caught them. Filled with rage, Ondine cursed him saying, “You pledged faithfulness to me with your every waking breath which I accepted. For as long as you are awake, you shall breathe, but as soon as you fall asleep, that breath shall desert you.”
The Ondine’s curse did come true, and Palemon could never sleep again, and the medical world got a new disorder.