Last night was sleep study number two. If you’re just tuning in, you can read about night one and the morning after here and here, respectively. The point of last night’s study was to test my breathing on the CPAP machine. For you laymen out there, CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Essentially, when the wearer inhales, the CPAP machine assists by forcing an amount of pressure and air into the airway, thereby preventing apnea-or more specifically in my case Obstructive Sleep Apnea. When a patient experiences OSA, his/her airway collapses, preventing oxygen from traveling to its natural habitat inside the human body, the lungs-and ultimately the blood and other organs. Hypoxemia (lack of oxygen) can effect the human body in numerous ways, including but not limited to sleep deprivation, fatigue, weight gain, seizures, heart disease, organ failure, and death. To name a few.
I went to the hospital last night expecting the same as before, electrodes and wires and sticky things stuck all over and around my body. I was fitted with these contrivances by an all too giddy therapist, taking a shot in the dark here by assuming she’s with respiratory. While attaching all these wires and whatnot, she explained the benefits and importance of using a CPAP machine when one has OSA. She described the mask to me, how it works (of this I was already vaguely familiar as my son Robot Boy is ventilator dependent). The CPAP machine I’ll use is much smaller and less complex than his vent, and I will only require it during sleep. RB is on CPAP mode during the day, but he is on the rate at night, meaning the ventilator is giving him breaths instead of simply giving him a small amount of pressure support.
After being fitted with all these niceties (used with extreme sarcasm) and taking my sleepy time medicine, I lay on my back -per the instructions of the overly giddy Paula Dean-esque therapist. It wasn’t long before I fell asleep. First there were some exercises to perform. “Turn your eyes to the left and the right,” Paula Dean said over a monitor. “Leave your eyes open for thirty seconds.” This is more difficult than it seems. “Open your mouth for ten seconds.” Breathing (and talking) while wearing the CPAP mask with the machine on is quite strenuous. Imagine having extra air pushed into your lungs while you inhale to say, ” Yes”, “That’s comfortable enough”, and “I have to go to the bathroom.” That is what’s happening.
I know I was in REM sleep for a while before I started to drown. I was underwater, a whale-shark with its gaping maw inhaling seawater instead of oxygen. My mouth was open, and I was gasping for air, but with the CPAP machine administering positive pressure, breathing through my mouth became arduous. I was suffocating. My brain told me to remove the pulse/ox on my finger to call the therapist. I did, or rather dreamed I did. Twice. Before finally waking up, chugging air down my partially collapsed airway against the positive pressure that was, at the time, less of a help and more of a hindrance.
I tore the pulse/ox from my left index finger as the therapist was coming in the door. She explained she should increase the pressure. I agreed. The thought of having more air in my lungs was splendid. Paula Dean adjusted the machine, and I lay back down, trying to recover and relax. As a lifelong insomniac, it’s not a simple task for me to wake and fall back to sleep on a dime. So for about an hour I lay there with my eyes closed trying to sleep and trying not to concentrate on the air being forced up my nose.
My back was hurting. I turned my legs to the left with my torso straight. Paula Dean came back in. “What’s the matter, darling? You’ve been awake a while.” “My back hurts.” “I thought it was your back. Do you want to lay on your side?” I said yes, and turned onto my left side with my legs pulled up. I had to pee, but I didn’t want to with all those attachments. Hoping I could ignore the need, and everything else involved, I closed my eyes hoping for more sleep.
The new position meant the mask shifted, and I had a strange farting noise resonating off my cheek and into my right ear. I adjusted my face, and the farting stopped, but it was followed by a leak of cold air that, when blowing across my face, aggravated an old cheek bone injury I’d incurred several years ago when I fell flat on my face, knocking myself unconscious. This went on for another length of time before I decided to try to adjust the mask. I did finally and closed my eyes trying to sleep again.
The sound of the machine, with its pressure forcing air into the mask, sounded like ambient ocean background noise. I imagined waves coming onto the beach and sweeping back out again. I imagined torrents crashing into high rock walls. Nothing made a difference. After however long, Paula Dean came back into the room and asked what was going on again. I admitted I had to pee. She obliged, but all the wires had to come with. After taking one of the most careful pees of my life, I returned to bed. I decided to lie on my back, assuming the corpse pose.
It worked. After just a few minutes, I fell back to sleep. I dreamed odd and vibrant dreams for about three hours before Paula Dean came in to wake me. “I let you sleep an hour later than usual since you were finally sleeping so good.” I stayed in a deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep for over an hour. “That’s a really long time!” exclaimed Paula Dean.
After brushing my teeth, using the bathroom yet again, and filling out some paperwork, I was escorted outside to the parking lot. I said goodbye to Paula Dean and went to my car. I rolled down the windows and turned on the windshield wipers to remove the overnight condensation. I plugged my cell phone into the charger and checked Facebook (priorities!), and then I turned on the radio. Low Rider was playing. I raised the volume to an unacceptable decibal level, put on my eye patch, and drove home.
Low Rider written by Charles Miller and the band War and appearing on their 1975 album Why Can’t We Be Friends? (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_Rider)