It is a bi-decadal ritual, the sleep test. Five years ago, tests over two nights showed I had severe sleep apnea - something Dr. Ghuge diagnosed in our first meeting after peering down my throat. At the time, I was suffering from out-of-control hypertension - the kind that lands you in the hospital with probes inserted at a place even thong underwear conceals to dash about looking for blockages. Eureka. Not enough of a strike for surgical drilling, but ample geological evidence to treat with a cornucopia of meds.
After working through the paperwork to own stock in the local pharmacy and a few weeks of nocturnal breathing like Darth Vader, things leveled out. Dr. Gugay commented my apnea, which I probably have had since my youth, was severe enough that should the power go out, I should stay awake. Severe apnea causes periodic breathing and heart stoppages — much like when I first saw Mary, my wife-to-be. I use the unit religiously and crave the humidified air it pumps up my nostrils.
They learn about personal sleep by affixing various electronic mini-gadgets on one’s legs, chest, finger, neck, face, and scalp. I would guess 30 multi-colored wire leads sprouted from my person to collect in a black box hanging from my neck that was later plugged into a nightstand unit connected to a supercomputer.
I sent an early selfie to Mary. “Weird,” she replied. I admit, the cyborg meets intro harness wiring class look is an acquired taste. Ginger, the gentle and quiet nurse who ran the cable, pasted the termination points, connected the ends, and Velcroed the pasta salad together, needed no blueprint — she has been doing this for 20 years.
When it was time for lights out, well before my usual schedule, Ginger spoke to me from parts unknown in the metallic voice of an intercom. She put me through a series of tests - blink five times, look left and right with your eyes three times, raise and lower your left foot three times, read me the lowest line you can see clearly -oops, wrong test - to be sure all settings were Go; sort of like a sound check before a gig but without beer. I imagine her job was to observe the participants, each in a private room, all night - sort of like Alfred surveying 30 monitors from the Bat Cave. It’s a little unnerving. I’m glad Ginger reminded me of my kind late cousin - also named Ginger. I might have bolted if she looked like Vincent Price.
I finally fell asleep, and though I seldom remember my dreams, I have a faint recollection of going on a date with Nancy Pelosi to view the winter lights in her hometown. No comment other than to say I am not responsible for my brain's choices when it is off the clock.
Click. “You’re breathing a lot through your mouth.” Click. Ginger’s disembodied voice woke me with a start. I apologized profusely, turned on my side, and clenched my teeth. Mouth-breathing and CPAPs are not compatible yet I cannot abide being trussed up with a chin strap. The prescribed Ambien helped me fall back into slumber. Was it a deep REM sleep?
I’ll know every detail in a couple of weeks at the follow-up with Dr. Ghuge. I hope we don’t have to discuss too many embarrassing things. I feel confident I didn’t wet the bed, but I will feel relieved when AI confirms it.
All kidding aside, untreated sleep apnea can cause serious health issues from high blood pressure to heart disease to stroke, down to acid reflux. If your spouse starts talking about how smart Rob and Laura Petri were for having separate bedrooms on the Dick Van Dike Show because you snore like a hibernating freight train, talk to your healthcare provider. (Actually, it was twin beds in the same room.) Oh, and don’t fear the Darth Vader mask. There are compact, comfortable solutions available.
Using a CPAP machine improved my health, and somebody should give me a royalty for saying so.