A STATE OF MIND: Sweet Dreams?

by Larry Floersch

Someone in my household suggested I see a doctor about my sleep “problem.” The “problem” for this person was not that I have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. In this person’s eyes, that is wholly my problem. No, it was that in those few hours I was asleep, I made a lot of noise, and that made it a problem of “conjugal” proportions.

I was incredulous about this report. I had never noticed I made noise when asleep. Nevertheless, I presented myself to my doctor, who suggested a sleep study.

A sleep study, if you’ve never had one, is a form of torture devised by the same people who brought you waterboarding and extraordinary rendition, but it comes in the guise of a medical test. I am told that mammograms also fall into this same category of torture as  a medical test.

A sleep study is supposed to gather information on your normal sleeping habits. To do this, everything possible is done to make your slumber not normal. For example, on the appointed evening, I had to present myself to a large hotel 45 miles from my bedroom, where I would get to spend the night alone in a strange bed under the surveillance of — you guessed it — STRANGERS!

Once at the hotel, I was directed to a suite in which several sleep study technicians sat gazing at monitors. They welcomed me, showed me into one of the hotel’s rooms through a connecting door, and asked me to change for bed. A technician then reappeared carrying a large bundle of colorful wires with electrodes attached to the ends and asked me to drop two of the wires down the front of my pajama bottoms. I told the technician that would not be necessary, as I am a person of weak character and just the notion of having electrical wires down the front of my pants would get me to talk. But he insisted. He glued the electrodes from the wires to the front of my legs just above the ankles and threaded the other ends behind my back.

That took care of two of the 49,000 electrodes and wires to be placed on my body. After the exact locations were marked with a permanent purple magic marker, electrodes were glued at numerous spots on my chest, head and face.

In some places the electrodes were glued to me with collodian, an ether-based substance that is familiar to thespians as a component in theatrical makeup kits, where it is often used to create scar-like effects. It did so here too. The fumes of the collodian also required the use of a fan to keep both me and the technician from passing out. (Later in the evening the thought of being passed out was quite attractive.)

The wires from all these electrodes were pulled behind me and woven into a Rastafarian-like pony tail. In addition to the electrodes and wires, straps to measure my breathing were placed around my chest, and one of those devices, I believe the technical term is “finger thingy,” that glows red and measures the oxygen in your blood was taped to my finger so it wouldn’t fall off should I attempt to jump out a window. I was then asked to get into bed. The pony tail was plugged into a connector on the bed table.

The technician turned off the lights and went into the control room and via an intercom told me do various things, such as move my legs, take deep breaths, and look up, down, left, and right with my eyes both open and closed. He also assured me that if I needed to get up during the night I only had to call out and someone would come in and unplug me. He then said, “Have a good night,” which apparently is some kind of inside joke among sleep study technicians.

I lay there in the dark on my back, which is not my normal sleeping position, out of fear of moving and shorting out. I tried counting sheep, but I would lose count every now and then because of the noise of the servomotors in the camera. Did I mention the video camera mounted to the ceiling? While I do not mind watching TV in bed, the idea of being asleep and ON TV all night long was disconcerting, especially since they could zoom in. What if I drooled?

I am not sure how long I lay there, but I did finally begin to doze. Just then, I was shocked awake by a voice from the speaker above, “Uhh, . . . could you roll onto your right side?” I gingerly complied while trying not to strangle myself with the wires. It went on like that for hours. I would just begin to doze off and a new commandment would boom down from heaven, accompanied by the sound of the camera’s servomotors as it searched for signs of drool.

I’ve heard that dreams often do not last as long as they seem because time is one of the most distorted elements during dreaming. Regardless, it seemed to me my first dream had just barely begun when a cheerful voice from the speaker broke through, “Good morning! It’s time to get up.” The clock showed 6 a.m. on the dot. The wires and electrodes were removed. I tried to scrub the purple marks off my face and head, then dressed and blearily drove home.

Based on the findings, the sleep doctor prescribed a positive airway pressure device, or CPAP machine, but I don’t think that made the other person in my household entirely happy. My “problem” noise has now been replaced by the noise of mechanical breathing. I’ve been told it’s like sleeping next to Darth Vader.

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