Part of the lengthy diagnosis process for me involved a visit to the sleep clinic to check for Sleep Apnea, which (as it turns out) I was able to add to my list of maladies that had been aggravating my condition. I was diagnosed with a condition called Cheyne-Stokes Apnea which they tell me can kill you in your sleep if not treated – especially if you’re a heart patient. So off I go to the Sleep Clinic for evaluation. Sleep Clinic is a misnomer. It should be called the “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO GET ANY SLEEP CLINIC.”
My first visit started around 9 p.m. when I was met by a heavily muscled technician I’ll call Brutus. They start off by putting you in a very nice bedroom with cameras suitable for making unsuitable home movies. The lights were so bright I had to rub a little SPF 75 on my face to prevent sunburn. At this point, I’m pretty sure they only make the video as a way to threaten a worldwide Youtube broadcast of you snoring just in case you don’t pay your bill on time.
Next, you proceed to fill out forms as long as the Federal Tax Code that are essentially seeking information they should already possess. Perhaps reading these 67,000 pages will help you fall asleep. But that’s not going to happen because Brutus has arrived with a cart filled with enough wires to redo the electrical system in the Empire State Building (see picture on back cover). After an hour of placing and testing electrodes on my head and upper chest, I now resemble Lady Gaga on a bad day. I’m completely exhausted and ready to pass out. But that’s not going to happen because it’s time to get fitted for the CPAP mask – think of a bulkier, more obtrusive, Darth Vader set up – that shoves air in your nose and mouth in a manner unlike the way any human breathes. Six mask-fitting attempts and many minutes later, Brutus finally found a mask not leaking any air from it.
I’m now beyond exhaustion and can’t wait to sleep. But that’s not going to happen because it’s time to do an in-bed version of the P90X fitness program and play the Sleep Clinic edition of Jeopardy so they can check all their equipment. Finally, Brutus gives the good-to-go sign, and the interrogation lamps are turned off. Despite the lamps, the room up to this point has been arctic cold and the heat is now turned on to avoid the inevitable frostbite. Brutus now has the audacity to tell me it’s time to sleep. But that’s not going to happen because I’m covered in wires, wearing a fighter pilot mask and completely awake from the recent interview and pseudo-Jazzercise routine. It feels more like time to grab some OJ and the morning paper. I tell Brutus (viewing me on camera from another room) that I’m not tired. He offered me this piece of sound, professional advice: “You really need to go to sleep.” Unimpressed and aggravated, I thought to myself, “You really need to go to …”.
I have no idea what time it was, but I’ve probably dozed off for less time than a fraternity pledge gets to sleep in his burlap underwear during initiation week. Brutus suddenly barges in, turns on the light, and says my mask is leaking and needs adjusting. Despite my orders for him to turn off the light and leave, Brutus tightens my facial apparatus to the point where my eyes are bugging out and I can’t feel my ears. Fifteen minutes later, I summon Brutus back to unhook me, so I can take the typical-for-most-men-over-50 middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom. Semi-conscious and unfamiliar with the surroundings, I stumble toward the pitch-black relief room covered in wires and incoherently pee on the trash can next to the toilet.
The next thing I know, Brutus is waking me. He says it’s 5 a.m. and the test is over. I tell him to get out and come back at 8. Again, he is not amused and tells me to shower and wash my hair to clean out the gunk used to attach the electrodes. Problem: this appears to be the same epoxy-like stuff also used to hold together the space shuttle and it does not come out easily. Cleaned up, dressed and now bald, I see Brutus once again. He asks if I have any questions. Silly me: I posed four different queries about the test. He replied with exactly the same response each time, “I can’t answer that, as the doctor has to interpret the results.” After my fourth attempt, he actually had the nerve to ask, “Did you have any other questions?” Astonished, I used my best smartass voice to ask: “Perhaps you can tell me what time the IHOP down the street opens for breakfast, or do I need to ask my doctor?” With a dirty look, Brutus sent me on my way.
Authors Note: About 1/2 of the book is meant to take a humorous look at the situations one finds him/herself in as they go through diagnosis, testing, rehab, recovery, ambiguous medical conversations, and a myriad of other things that happen to us as we attempt to get better. Each story contains a lesson learned about coping with one’s situation and the healing process in general. My hope is that both patients and families can laugh together about some of the things that happened to me…and maybe make light of some of the things that happened or maybe happening to you. Furthermore, take away some specific ideas you might be able to use for Getting Better.