Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sleep Study

I was convinced recently to submit to an overnight sleep study because of suspected sleep apnea and confirmed snoring. Two months later after a flurry of referrals and co-pays and screenings the night arrived. At 8PM I arrived at a medical building in Amherst, pressed the after hours buzzer, and was escorted  by lab-coated 30-something Walt to a chilly mock-hotel room and left alone to strip to my "night clothes."

After filling out some forms I sized up the room. A queen sized bed had a grandmotherly quilt already turned down for my convenience.  Several machines with dials and wires glowed and hummed on the night table next to a box of kleenex. A television was mounted on the wall. Just one painting hung on the wall with a Picasso-esque nude woman floating in abstract space, or maybe lying in a field, apparently sleeping, though the aerial perspective and her fetal yet sprawled position actually gave the impression that she had been gunned down from above by a helicopter. Pulling open the curtains on the window and raising the venetian blinds revealed bare wall. Was I already asleep and dreaming? Was this the Magritte Suite? I recalled the scene in Jim Jarmusch's film "Down By Law" in which Italian speaking Bob played by Roberto Benigni is in a jail cell with Zak and Jack (Tom Waits, John Lurie) and after drawing the outline of a window on the cell wall with chalk asks Zak, in his continuing effort to learn English, "Do you say in America you look out the window or at the window?'" Zak says, "Well Bob, in this case I guess you'd have to say you look at the window."
Somehow I would have preferred honesty in decor. I felt lied to. What else couldn't I trust them with?

Walt returned. I stood before him, tropical floral be-boxered and otherwise bare. There was an awkward silence as he sized me up. As if to respond for me, my body tingled in the cold air and goosebumps swept  up my legs to my chest. Nipples stiffened. Scalp tightened. "So...," I said.

"It'll take about 45 minutes to wire you up. We like the bald guys. Goes quicker," he said, drawing lines and dots on my head with a marker and attaching cold sticky things. 

I couldn't tell if he was a tech trained purely in the implementation of the overnight studies or if he was a degreed sleep scholar. I wondered, if you fell asleep in class at sleep school,  could you just claim you were doing research?

There was a camera trained on the bed and a two way speaker so I could shout out, hands free, and be unplugged in case I had to use the bathroom. Walt implied that this was a hassle so I should go for all I was worth now. He explained what all the equipment was and what it would measure. They would monitor my heart, my breathing, my motion and position. I imagined asking "will you tally my erections?" I chuckled as I listened to how the words sounded in my head and he eyed me quizzically.

"So how long have you been doing this?" I asked. "Is this your passion? Your chosen field?"

"It is now I guess. I used to restore classic late '60s muscle cars but I got arthritis and a bad back and had to give it up."
I told him I used to drive a 1967 Firebird and a 1962 Mercury Monterey. As he attached electrodes with tape and glue, the time passed quickly peppered with chatter about Dusters and Chargers and Challengers and Camaros and Stingrays and Novas and Malibus and Mustangs and and Mavericks and Barracudas and even Javelins. He really missed working on cars.

"Well," I said, "now you're working on a 1963 Jim Neill. Truly a classic. A one of a kind production model. All original parts. No restoration. Actual miles."

"Okay then," he said, "Let's get you up on the lift."

I climbed into the bed and a microphone was taped to my throat to capture any speech or snoring. Walt left and a minute later his voice came over the speaker and we did a soundcheck. "Jim, give me a few snores."   I did. I wondered if they were accurate. Convincing.  "Okay, now say 'monk' five times." I did. "No," he said, 'MILK'." I thought he was joking but an expectant silence followed. I complied. "Okay. We're good," he said. "Go to sleep. We'll be in at 6 to wake you up. If you have more than 48 incidents in an hour, we will come in sooner. Sleep tight."

I lay there feeling like Dave in the bedroom scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Jason Robards in Magnolia. I hoped that this would be the only time I would ever be connected to wires and tubes in a bed.

I wondered about lightning strikes.

To be continued.