Friday, December 29, 2006

Counting Electrodes Instead Of Sheep

How many?

One on my chin. I think two or three in my hair. The rest come in pairs, one for the right, one for the left: legs, behind my ears, right next to my eyes. No wonder I have all sorts of color-coded wires running from my body into the wall.

There are also wired belts wrapped around my chest and stomach. A strap encircles my head to keep my mouth closed. Additional straps keep the nose mask in place. Increased pressure is being pumped into me to keep my airways open. A technician is the next room is monitoring me, not just through the electrodes glued all over my body, but also with an infra-red camera looking down at me. The system is a hi-tech Argus.

I did sleep, maybe for three hours, despite being plugged in and spied on. But now I can’t sleep.

I hear a disembodied voice – not God – from the ceiling say: “You’ve been awake for an hour and a half. Do you want to end the study now?”

I force the chin strap open. Air rushes out. “Another half-hour,” I manage to say.

I lie there, trying to relax. My sleep pattern has never been normal. The diagnosis is sleep apnea. This sleep lab study #4.

I try to relax, almost becoming drowsy. But I can’t fall asleep. Thirty minutes are soon up.

Following the directions of the disembodied voice, I end the study the way it ended: checking out all the connections.

“Close your eyes. Open your eyes. Blink fives times. Raise your left foot. Now put a big smile on your face…”

* * *

So that’s how my visit to the sleep lab went the other evening, the night right after Xmas. I won’t bore you with the other details, like washing globs of glue out of my hair. You never saw anyone on Star Trek have to do that after a medical sensor scan, did you?

I see the doctor on January 2nd. Another post-holiday event, all part of what I call fun with sleep apnea.

I tried using a C-PAP machine before but was having problems. Apparently, from the way the first doctor yelled at me, those problems were my fault.

But I’m seeing another specialist who treats me like a person. I don’t know if the technician gathered enough data from my last visit. The readings are used to determine the pressure level for the C-PAP. At the right setting my breathing won’t be interrupted by constricted airways while I sleep. I will go into a deep, restful sleep.

Some people can never adjust to a C-PAP. And then there’s what I call the Star Trek Syndrome. You watch shows set in the future and see how things could be, like being monitored by sensors that don’t have touch your body. Glue? Forget it. You also wonder if what is considered a medical breakthrough today might be regarded as a nostrum tomorrow.

I have a 1928 issue of the “Scientifiction” pulp magazine, Amazing Stories. Ads litter the back pages, some promoting dubious products. One shows an illustration of a man with a device attached to his nose, held firmly in place by rubber bands running behind his head. This device was called “Anita’s Nose Straightener.” Embarrassed by your crooked nose? Anita has the answer!

No, I’m not saying that my doctor is a quack. He’s a good man, doing his best. But sometimes discoveries are made that up-end established facts in health care. Remember the controversy when a researcher stated that a certain type of bacteria caused most ulcers? Even though the medical establishment said it was impossible - “Bacteria can’t live in stomach acid!” - antibiotics are now used in treating ulcers.

I just hope my C-PAP doesn’t prove to be as effective as Anita’s Nose Straightener.

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