I’ve had problems sleeping for years and I’ve finally gotten irritated enough with this that I’ve started doing something about it. The process of tracking down the source of my insomnia is not as linear as you might think and I’ve just been through one of the stranger steps in the process, which is a so-called “sleep study” to see if I have sleep apnea. I went in for the initial consultation and to get the instructions for how to collect the data in the comfort of my own home. I have to confess that I’m probably not the best patient in the world but this process is not designed by any thinking human being.
Upon arrival I’m informed that the test is free and the cost of the follow-up to get results is paid for by our Socialistic public health care system but the “rental of the equipment” to gather the data is NOT covered and costs $190. I know a money-grab when I see one and this one is already making me a bit skeptical of my eventual test results because the walls are covered with the various pieces of hardware that they sell to cure your sleep apnea should they happen to diagnose it. Their interests seem a bit conflicted, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
After taking some basic measurements we’re put in a room with other folks being tested (I started to type “testees” but that just sounds wrong) so they only have to give the instructions once per batch. They start innocently enough with a box that sits next to your bed and a small device you wear on your finger to monitor heart rate and blood oxygen. It makes the tip of your finger glow and lets you make really lame “E. T. phone home” jokes in the middle of the night when it’s harder to get punched for them. The device plugs into the front of the box and they show you how to wrap the cord around your thumb and tape it to your wrist so that if you turn the wrong way during the night your thumb will be sliced off before the sensor gets dislodged.
The next sensor they show you is a chest strap that goes all the way around your torso and gets strapped down “tight but not too tight” just below your sternum with the cable plugged into the front of the machine. It’s supposed to measure your breathing effort. It seems more designed to actually hinder your breathing effort, but hey, they’re the experts, right?
Next we add the combination microphone and position sensor which gets attached midway between your Adam’s apple and the gap between you collarbones. This will record your snoring, and presumably any state secrets you may happen to mumble during the night. I can only imagine what kind of pillow talk they hear when they review the data, but on further consideration I think you probably end up so trussed up that romance is just not an option. This device comes with its own small adhesive pad which they already know isn’t up to the task so they include more tape so that you can “put an X of tape over the sensor and across your neck”. Well, I’m here to tell you, their tape wasn’t up to the task either. Plus, putting an X of tape across your own neck isn’t something you just DO without practice, so I enlisted my long-suffering wife and, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, ended up with roughly 10 pieces of tape covering the entire lower portion of my neck. I’m sure … well, I’m pretty sure they were necessary.
Finally you add the piece de resistance (which is French for “the piece you most want to resist putting on”) the nasal cannula, which runs up the front of your neck, over your ears from back to front, and then sticks up your nose. This will detect your breathing patterns should you actually choose to continue breathing with all this crap on. It has a handy little slider device that allows you to tighten it under your chin, but this isn’t up to the task either and again the solution is more tape, this time from just below your eye near your nose out across your cheek on either side.
The woman giving us the instructions was one of the sweetest, perkiest women that I’ve ever wanted to punch in the nose. After going through all of this and showing us how to test each of the individual sensors and start the data recording, she tells us to go through our regular routine and sleep normally. Without thinking, I blurt out the obvious reply.
“Lady, if I could sleep normally, I wouldn’t BE here.” Poor girl, she doesn’t deserve this, but she’s heard it before.
“I mean just do the things you usually do and let yourself fall asleep.”
“Okay, forget the ‘normally’, part then. How’m I supposed to sleep at all with all this stuff on me?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not all that invasive. You’ll get used to it very quickly.”
“NOT?…” I splutter, “Not invasive?!? Listen, sweetheart, the only way to make the phrase ‘it sticks up your nose” any MORE invasive is to start replacing ‘nose’ with other body locations.” This does nothing more than create an awkward pause, so I fill it with my next question. “Where is the extension cord?”
“What extension cord?” she asks.
“The one that will reach from my bedside table to the bathroom so I can drag all this stuff to the can with me in the middle of the night.”
“Oh! Yes, I forgot that part. If you have to go to the washroom, you just unplug the power cord, coil up the cables in one hand, put the recorder in the same hand, and then plug it back in and restart the recording when you get back in bed.”
The rest of the session is uneventful and the fun doesn’t get going again until later that night as I get myself connected up. I realize that I turn from side to side frequently in the night, but I’m not sure whether I go back and forth or round and round. I’m certainly about to find out because if it’s round and round the best possible outcome is that I’ll wake up screaming with wires pinning my arms to my sides or wrapped around my neck. I don’t want to think about worse outcomes. With the patient help of Mrs. Feingarden I get wired up, get everything tested, start the recording and turn out the light. Surprisingly, I do manage to sleep but it’s more fitful than usual. Around 2am I get up, put the cables in one hand, unplug the box, put it in the same hand, and shuffle off to the bathroom. <what happens in there is of no importance to the story and has been removed by the editor> I sit back on the bed, plug the machine back in and…. the button flashes 3 times, goes out, and an error message appears on the screen. No, I’m not kidding. I repeat the process: unplug, plug back in, 3 flashes, error message. I can’t believe it. Not after all this. No. Please. I try again. I try 3 more times. I try 3 MORE times.
Long story short, I slept much better that night after I’d taken all the sensors off, but I had to go through the whole thing again a week later. The second experience was… well, I got to skip the instruction session but still had tape everywhere, still had things up my nose, and still slept badly, so it was pretty much the same as the first time around. And yes, still had to go to the bathroom, but this time the device worked as planned and they got the data they needed.
The last thing you do when you return the equipment is to fill out a “sleep survey”. When did you start the recording? When did you stop it? How much of that time did you sleep? Was it good? The last question really tells the story. “Did you consume alcohol before going to bed?” The only advice I can offer you if you ever have to take a sleep study is to do yourself a favor and make sure you can check the “Yes” box on that question.