My doctor sent me to the sleep clinic. I needed a sleep study she said. I didn’t believe her. Sleep is easy for me.
“It may be hard on your heart,” she said. “That’s the problem.”
So, I bundled up and went off to sleep in a strange bed. I had no idea how strange can be.
First, I think this sleep study business happens to just about everyone over the age of 60, some when they turn 50 and a few when they hit the big 4-0. When we start snoring, someone says “you need some help.” Usually it’s whoever sleeps in the same room.
I get there late at night. The lady asks if I have my pajamas. I haven’t had a pair of pajamas since junior high. Well, I do have some of those flannel pants that pass as pajama bottoms.
“Get ready for bed and then I’ll come hook you up.” She said.
I had no idea.
She returns with a grocery cart full of wires, stickers, scotch tape, belts, radio-techno receivers and transmitters, suction cups, broken parts from an old television and a jar of superglue.
“Sit here, this won’t take a minute or two.” She said.
A half hour later, I have electrodes glued to my scalp. Sticky things with wires stuck to my legs. A band around my chest, another band around my waist. There’s a clip on my finger with a wire leading to a small television set. It’s red light is blinking off and on. I got more of those little sticky things on my chest and back. They’re connected to a cable about the size of a firehose.
Two things are stuck in my nose, one pushes air in and another measures the air coming out.
I try to tell her I breathe through my mouth. She’s not listening.
I’m glad she ran out of things to stick in or on me. I was fearful where she planned to go next.
She turned out the light and said “Good night.” I nodded. Then she said “If you need to get up and use the bathroom, just wave. I’ll be watching you sleep. We record everything.”
I’m an old man. I get up in the middle of the night. We all do.
I turn on the TV. It’s either a Hallmark Christmas show or a Rambo movie. I figure a good shoot’em up will push my brain into overdrive. Besides, who in the world can sleep when you are all trussed up and hog-tied.
I did fall asleep. Eventually.
Sure enough, at three am, I have to go.
I try to get up. Impossible. I am wired, connected, plugged in and wrapped up.
My bladder doesn’t care at all. I turn on the lights. I sit up in bed. I wave at the camera. I’m taking deep breaths, trying not to relax.
I’m seventy years old, asking permission to pee.
Finally, she shows up. Of course she’s in no hurry. She can’t hear my bladder screaming at me.
She starts the process. Unhook this. Unplug that. Disconnect. Be careful. Don’t trip.
I have to go down the hall to the bathroom. Bright lights everywhere.
I get back to the bedroom. She comes in, starts the hook up stuff all over again. It’s been a half hour from “I need to get up and go.” until “Now, Mr. Windham, you can go back to sleep.”
I never did.
A month later, I go see the doctor. Sure enough, I came close to dying 18 times an hour. Well, I’m not so sure about the “close to dying” part, but he swears I stopped breathing 18 times an hour. If you stop more than 5 times an hour you’ve got sleep apnea.
I tell her I slept right through all that.
He says “That’s the problem.”
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