Studying the Sleep Deprived

cpap-machineLooks like I’m about to enter a new world. I’ve had two sleep studies done, and I have sleep apnea. Next week, I go to the VA to pick up my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine to help that.

Hopefully, that means the worst is behind me. And by “the worst,” I mean the sleep studies. A friend of mine who’s had both a sleep study and a colonoscopy done says they’re just about comparable, though the colonoscopy might be a bit worse.

It’s not that a sleep study is painful or even all that embarrassing. It’s just that, when you’re going through it, you wonder how in the hell they can get any useful data out of it. Especially if you’re like me and have trouble sleeping in strange places.

Dave Barry wrote a darkly humorous piece about undergoing a colonoscopy, so many of you might be familiar with that procedure, at least from his point of view. But as far as I know, no one’s written a similar piece about having a sleep study, so you might not know what goes on.

I went into the lab around 8:00 p.m. for my first study, 9:00 p.m. for my second. The time really isn’t that important, in a way, except that I’m used to going to bed anywhere between 10:00 and 11:00 (except on my weekend guard stint nights when it’s closer to 1:00 a.m.). That means I had to sit there for a bit and try to relax as much as possible.

Both times the staff were very nice and accommodating (we have one of the better VA centers here in Fayetteville), but it’s still hard to think nice thoughts when they start wiring you up like the Frankenstein monster.

Man, there are wires everywhere. One on each leg (to check for restless leg syndrome), two on your upper chest, just a bit below the collarbone, and who knows how manysleep_study on your head. Plus one on the end of your right index finger.

Now, the one on your finger isn’t too bad. It’s a bit like wearing the end of a tight glove. And, if it’s done right, the ones on your legs are tolerable, and you’ll barely be aware of the ones on your chest.

It’s the leads on your head that end up being the most bothersome. Sleeping with them isn’t bad, but when you finally get up the next morning (more on that in a minute) and they take the stuff off—a process that takes much less time than putting it all on—you’re left with these gooey blobs in your hair that have the appearance and feel of snot. Only much thicker.

The first time, I took a shower before leaving, attempting to wash the stuff out of my hair with the combination shampoo/body wash they provided. I hate those combination products because they end up not providing the full benefits of either ingredient. They’re just a poor excuse for either one. I thought I took care of the blobs, but as I was walking out, I realized I’d missed one just over my left ear, as well as most of one right on top of my head. And since I saw no reason to take yet another shower as soon as I got home, they stayed there until that night. No big deal, really, except they’d occasionally itch, and I’d forget why they were itching. It’s not a pleasant sensation to put your finger in something that, while you know it’s not nasty, still feels like someone blew their nose in your hair.

For the second study, I just stuck my head under the sink faucet after I brushed my teeth. Believe it or not, that did a better job than a full shower did the first time. Go figure.

So, here you are, in a strange place, wired for lights and sound, and…they expect you to actually sleep!

Fat chance.

The first time, I finally got used to everything and was sleeping when they woke me up to put me on a CPAP machine because I’d stopped breathing enough times to warrant it. So, now, I’m in a strange place, wired for lights and sound, and I have something resembling a jet pilot’s mask on my face, and sound a bit like Darth Vader.

The first mask they tried just covered my nose. I thought that would be all right, but it turned out it wasn’t. For some reason, it didn’t feel like I was getting enough air, so eventually we changed that one out for a full mask covering mouth and nose. That seemed to work a bit better.

Having all this in place, I finally settled in and drifted off—only to have him wake me and ask me if I was ready to go home.

It was around 6:00 a.m. At a guess, I’d say I got a good, solid three hours’ worth of sleep that night, but the technician (or whatever they’re called) said they had enough data to prove I have sleep apnea.

Good, I thought as I wove through the all-but-deserted streets, feeling like a zombie, or perhaps a vampire trying to beat the sun, that’s over with. Now all I gotta do is wait for the machine.

As Wayne once famously said, “Sha! And monkeys might fly out of my butt!”

A week or so later, they called me, said they had the results in, that I had sleep apnea—and that they’d like to schedule me for a second study to see how I reacted to the CPAP machine.

Oh, God.

I reluctantly agreed. I have a family I’d like to spend time with, which means taking care of a potentially dangerous condition. Otherwise, I think I would have begged off. The same friend who’s undergone both a sleep study and a colonoscopy related to me recently that his wife wondered if, after ten years on a CPAP, he might need to undergo another sleep study.

His reply was: “You don’t understand! You’ve never went through one of those things!”

I entirely agree. Once is enough. Twice adds insult to injury.

I have to admit, it wasn’t quite as bad the second time. They still hooked me up to all the wires, but, like the condemned criminal, I’d been preparing myself mentally for the ordeal. Of course, unlike the condemned criminal, I’d been through the procedure once and survived. I’m not sure if that’s a plus or not. I think I’d rather go through eight weeks of Basic Training again than undergo another sleep study.

I had different technicians this time, and one of the things they did differently that helped a lot was running the wires for my leg up under the gym shorts I wore to sleep in, rather than leaving them loose. That made rolling over less of an ordeal. The worst one to deal with then was the one of my finger, because it never seems to be long enough. It’s okay when you’re lying on your right side, but when you roll over to your left, it tugs at your hand.

Oh, and did I forget to tell you they watch you the entire time? Small point to remember.

Anyway, I’m really hoping that it’s over for good this time. Next Thursday, I go in to pick up my machine and get instructions on how to use it.

cpapSo if you happen to walk by my room and think Darth Vader is in there, don’t worry. It’s just me and my machine.



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