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Next PagePrevious Page The Typhoon

Taft's behavior during a night typhoon in September 1900 is the earliest evidence of his sleep apnea. Taft, his wife Nellie, and their children then lived in Manila, The Philippines. Nellie's sister Maria was visiting.


Typhoon description, by Taft's Wife

This account is from Mrs. Taft's memoirs, written in 1913-1914 . At the time of the typhoon, her sister Maria was visiting.
I was awakened one night by what seemed to me to be the bombardment of heavy artillery. My bed was shaking under me, the house was swaying, and the noise was terrifying. I jumped up with an instant idea of insurrectos, and a feeling that I must meet the situation on my feet; then I realised, at once, that it was the typhoon. It was as if all the winds that had blown for two days had gathered themselves together and were hurling themselves in one blast upon us. I reached for the electric switch, but there were no lights; I turned the button time and again; nothing happened. I fumbled for matches all over my room and could find none. My nerves were just at the crying out point when my door was thrown open and in rushed Maria, holding aloft a glimmering candle.

She was shaking with fright.

"Nellie," she exclaimed, "I just can't stand it any longer! Do let's find everything there is to light and call Will and sit out in the sala [sitting room]. Heaven only knows what's going to happen!"

We searched around and found some more candles; then I went to call my husband. He was sleeping as soundly as if nothing at all were happening. I shook him and called him and shook him again. I thought he never would wake up, but finally he did, and just then I heard the crash of a tree blowing down in the garden, while the floor seemed to heave under my feet.

"What's the matter?" asked my sleepy husband.

"Will, there's an awful storm. Please come out in the sala and sit with Maria and me."

"All right," he said, and slowly got himself into an all-enveloping dressing gown.

We huddled ourselves in chairs in the big hallway and sat listening. Rain always comes with the wind in typhoons and the dash of water against the windows and the sides of the house was deafening. But the noise was suddenly punctuated by a gentle snore. Mr. Taft had settled himself back in his chair and gone quietly to sleep. Maria's nerves were on edge; without a word she jumped up and shook her tired-out brother-in-law most vigorously, crying above the roar of the storm:

"Will Taft, what do you think we waked you up for? You can't go back to sleep. We want you to stay awake and comfort us!"

"All right, Maria," said he, with the utmost good nature; whereupon he sat up, changed his position to one more comfortable, and proceeded to lapse again into peaceful slumber.

Typhoon description, by Taft
Shortly after the typhoon, Taft wrote his brother in Cincinnati:
Since writing we have had one of the worst typhoons they have had in Manila since 1882. Our house, though as much exposed as any house in the city, stood up against the wind with great sturdiness. One of our large trees was uprooted, and some branches from a very pretty Rubber tree, which is immediately in front of the house, were broken off. ...

We went to bed early that night, and after we had lain there awhile, Nellie said to me: "Is there any objection to my getting up and lighting a light?" The electricity had gone out. I said there was not and so she got up and lighted it. When lighted, Maria appeared and suggested we go into the front room, and so in our kimonos we went to the front room and there sat listening to the awful wind and feeling the house shake every little while.

I was pretty tired and fell asleep in the chair, and after a time we went again to bed. Though the barometer which we had in the room was rising rapidly, as it rose the wind grew stronger. ... Roofs were torn off in the city, nipa thach houses blown down, two or three vessels were sunk in the harbor, and one sailing vessel was carried clear up onto the beach. ... We do not care for any more of this kind of amusement.

Mrs. Taft was still upset 10 years later

The memoirs of a White House housekeeper include the following scene :
Sometimes, when they were alone, she would scold him for this bad habit [of falling asleep], and would bring up the fact that in Manila, when she needed him most during a typhoon, he had gone to sleep in a chair, leaving her alone to cope with the terrified family and staff. "The chair was shaking -- how could you sleep?" she would ask him. "Now, Nellie, you know it is just my way," he would reply. "I knew you could handle it."

Context

Several of Taft's letters, written about this time, show that the night of the typhoon was not an isolated night of tiredness.

Three months after the typhoon Taft wrote his brother:

It was a theory which we all had before coming here that one ought not to eat a great deal in this climate. That is a great mistake. The drain upon ones [sic] vital energy due to the tropical conditions is such that one's appetite, if one is in good health, is very great, and physicians say that the natural conditions induce hearty eating and a great deal of sleep. The danger about sleep is that one may become nervously exhausted and lie awake nights a good deal. If sufficient exercise is taken however insomnia can usually be avoided. [Lettter to Charles P. Taft 12/13/1900]
Twice more, in January 1901, Taft discussed sleep in the tropics:
The truth is that in this climates ones [sic] vital forces are drawn upon by work so much that one's appetite is very strong at meals, and one's desire to sleep is also great. ... One of the troubles out here is said to be inability to sleep, due to the nervousness this climate frequently produces. We have not yet suffered much in this respect. [Letter to Harriet C. Herron 1/19/1901]

The drain on one's vital forces gives one a very healthy appetite and makes one very sleepy. One eats three meals a day with gusto. I had supposed when I came out here that in order to be healthy one ought to be exceedingly careful and moderate in eating and drinking and eschew a great many things that one eats and drinks at home. But I find that this is not the case. Those are in best condition here who live well, eat heartily, without going to excess, and who drink in moderation. Excess of drinking here, of course, is very bad, but I do not discover that that the little drinking I do affects me injuriously. ... Physicians say that a good appetite and a desire for sleep are both natural effects of the climate and that both ought to be reasonably gratified. [Letter to Henry Taft 1/28/1901]



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