Let me tell you about my night at the sleep center.
This was one freaky-deaky experience.
Since sleep apnea can be a contributing factor to anesthesia going awry in some patients, and since I exhibit some symptoms of apnea, my doctor arranged for me to undergo a sleep study. My appointment was scheduled for 9:30 pm, at a sleep center in the same city as my doctor. Fellow Traveler and I, already angsted up by late-night driving through deer-intensive countryside, arrived at the given address to find ourselves in the parking lot of a rather conventional professional building housing everything from insurance agents to electrolysis practitioners. The building was mostly dark; but when we buzzed the intercom a light came on in the hallway, and when we identified ourselves we were directed by intercom down a winding stairs to the ground floor.
About 5 seconds into this descent I had the sudden urge to run, run like the wind back to the Jeep -- it seemed like the setup for a local film student's horror movie ("This 'sleep clinc's' patients are just dying to get out!") -- but when we finally reached the bottom of the stairs we found a mild-mannered technician who introduced herself and led me into my room -- which, other than lacking windows, could have been in any decent business-traveler motel; roomy bed with a pleasant duvet in restful colors, wardrobe, flat-screen TV. My angst level ratcheted down a few notches.
I had a few minutes alone to get into my jammies, and then the tech reappeared and we got down to business -- a business involving a myriad of leads and electrodes which the apologetic young woman glued and wove on my face, into my hair and down my shirt and legs. A shock of wire led down from my head like a horse's mane, gradually merging into a lighted panel on the bedstand. The tech snapped a pair of belts around my torso, over other wires, and pulled another band around my head. I then had a breathing tube added to the mix. If I'd been in a more jovial mood I might have feigned The Robot, but that frisson of anxiety I'd felt at the top of the stairwell shivered through me again; especially after I got a good look at the closed-circuit camera aimed at me, that would be recording my movements all night.
FT and I said our goodbyes, and then the tech left. "You can watch TV until you're ready to go to sleep," she explained. "When you turn out the light you'll hear my voice on the intercom, and I'll have you do a few exercises for me to make sure that everything is attached correctly."
So that's what I did; watched part of a depressing Tigers-Rangers game, decided I didn't want to see it through to the end, clicked off the television and turned off the light. And, on cue, the tech came on over the intercom, giving me instructions like "Move your eyes from left to right, and then repeat," and "Flex your right leg," and "Count slowly from one to five."
Then -- darkness; mostly, except for the flashing lights next to the bed and the camera and sensor pointed at the bed. And I lay there, feeling all the hardware attached to me, unable to get comfortable and afraid to move too much lest I mess up the wiring, and feeling very sorry for myself. This has got to be the most miserable, most expensive sleepover ever, I thought glumly.
I'd like to tell you that at some point I relaxed and fell into a lovely sleep; but I didn't. I tossed and turned -- on at least two occasions forcing the tech to come in and reattach the leg wiring -- self-conscious in the knowledge that every movement, every breath, was being monitored and evaluated. I finally did drift off to sleep, a few times, enough to engage in some very bizarre dreams with complicated storylines...and then a voice came over the intercom again: "Good morning! It's time to get up!" It was 6:00 am.
I was surprised to find FT already back at the office; she'd only gotten a couple of hours' sleep at home before packing the dogs in the Jeep and returning. After being slowly, methodically detached from my wiring I shuffled off to the bathroom down the hall -- unlike the nicely composed sleep lab, this room had obviously begun life as a janitorial area, with a walk-in shower and foofier faucet fixtures added but the deep utility sink retained; and to add to the thrown-together ambience, I couldn't get the warm water going in the shower, and emerged cold and cranky.) We said our goodbyes, then made our way across town to one of the few local diners open at 6:30 before finally heading home -- where we both promptly crawled into bed and fell asleep for the better part of the day.
The tech had told me that a surprising percentage of the population suffers from sleep apnea; that it's most commonly obstructive apnea aggravated by things like weight, poor sleeping posture and adult tonsil issues but can also have its roots in a neurological problem, the brain periodically failing to send the proper "breathe" message. Fixes may include everything from diet and exercise to tonsillectomy to a C-PAP machine that helps maintain constant airflow at night. The tech also told me that she loves her job, and that, unlike my night there, the clinic is usually booked up with two patients per evening. I would be horrible at any shift work, but I have a hard time imagining myself sitting in a room all night watching strangers writhe around in bed (although I suspect some of their nighttime dream conversations provide a good laugh for the staff).
Geez. I remember back in the day when old folks just seemed more snorey, and no one questioned that. Now I have become a snorey old folk myself -- one who might have to spend more nights attached to a machine. During asthma season FT often needs to give herself breathing treatments, and I have visions of us in the evening, hooked up to our respective breathing apparati, in a scene that's not nearly as appealing to the two-rocking-chairs-on-the-porch-in-the-sunset scenario I'd prefer.
Oh, well -- it was quite a night, anyway. And I'll get my results next week.