Several years ago I was diagnosed with a condition called “sleep apnea.” According to the world-famous Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org), “Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly, and you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep.” (It’s good to point out here that the phrase “breathing repeatedly stops” is not a good thing.)
Mayo goes on to add, “Complications may include: daytime fatigue, high blood pressure or heart problems, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, high blood sugar, liver problems,” and really pissed off bed partners. (“Pissed off bed partners” isn’t really a quote from the Mayo Clinic; I was paraphrasing.)
The real fun of having sleep apnea is hearing horror stories from your friends, family, and significant others about how freaked out they became when you suddenly stopped breathing, then, after a long pause, started gasping for air. (Oh, the looks on their precious faces when they recount how they thought you were almost dead, and were about to call 911. It’s a riot, really.)
It’s tons of fun for a while, but when you are constantly exhausted, falling asleep at work, while driving, on the toilet, and everywhere else, and realizing how short your life will be, the joy of terrorizing your loved ones wears off.
So, a few years ago I was prescribed a “sleep study,” to diagnose whether or not I had sleep apnea. The treatment options are:
1.) having surgery to remove your tonsils, your uvula (the little “bean” in the back of your throat), part of your palate, and maybe some other incidental cutting in your mouth, throat, and nose, or,
2.) using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine during sleep, which makes you look like a space-age elephant with a hissing trunk. (I do love the looks when a new girlfriend spots the CPAP machine on my night table, and is almost afraid to ask, thinking it might be an extremely kinky device she might be invited to experience.)
Lots of people who want to live shorter, painful lives bitch, piss, and moan (again, not Mayo clinic descriptions) about using a CPAP machine, but I find it works well, and actually delivers cool air to my face, which is kind of refreshing. (I also enjoy the peace of mind that although I might still get hit by a rogue asteroid or a runaway school bus, I won’t choke in my sleep.)
So all was okay until a couple of months ago when I felt I wasn’t sleeping well, waking up with headaches (yes, sometimes two headaches at once), a dry mouth, and several other unpleasant symptoms.
It took only two months to strong-arm my way into a sleep clinic for a near-emergency sleep study so I could put an end to the symptoms. Before 10:30 last night, I arrived at an office building in a mostly commercial part of town, like I was pulling some kind of “bank job.” I rode the elevator up to the laboratory, where I met a twenty-something female respiratory therapist who told me to put on my pajamas and sit on the bed. (I knew that the fact that I don’t usually wear pajamas in 100 degree plus weather was irrelevant, so, of course, I played along.)
The young therapist approached me slowly, putting her hands around my neck. (“Now THIS is service!” I thought.) Before I could even savor the experience, she stuck an electrode behind my right ear with a wet glob of a putty-like substance. She then pulled at the collar of my T-shirt (“Oh, you like it rough, I see!”) and shoved down a cluster of wires. She pulled up the bottom of my T-shirt (exposing my 6-pack abs) and pulled out the wires, telling me, “Stick these down your pants until they come out at the bottoms.” (She was relentless with her sweet-talking charm.)
I’m not a choirboy, nor am I a prude, but electrical wires running along some of my sensitive body parts, especially while I was beginning to perspire in my “pjs” was giving me a cause for concern. Before I knew it, I was covered in yak spit and tape, with wires running everywhere. The wires converged in a black box, which she handed to me like it was a dirty diaper.
She escorted me into the laboratory bedroom, told me to get in bed, and connected the black box to some machinery attached to the wall. “Sleep well,” she said, without even a goodnight kiss.
I find it amazing that in order to prove that I have trouble sleeping, I was basically wrapped in electrical wire, plugged into a transformer (right beneath a sprinkler head), all in front of a camera, and, under pressure, expected to sleep. Each time I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night (my bladder IS older than thirty!) I had to buzz her, ask permission, and wait until she unhooked me from the power grid. (There’s nothing like being a fifty-six-year-old man having to ask a twenty-five-year-old gal if you can pee to make you feel like life is a blast!)
When she rousted me at 5:30 in the morning, I got the sense that with all my trips to the bathroom I might not have slept well enough to show how poorly I sleep.
It will probably be only seven to ten more days of headaches and fatigue until I receive the results of the sleep study, only to learn I might have to repeat the entire test, but next time without the bathroom trips.
Maybe choking to death in my sleep isn’t as bad as it sounds.
By Keith Douglas Kramer
Photo by: Adrienne B.