It was him and me. Him in a white lab coat and latex gloves; me in a loose T-shirt and leggings and flip flops. He approached, this man named Johnny something, holding a long wire. At one end was an electrode, at the other, a plug. Seventeen more wires hung on hooks on the wall. On a cart, someone had lined up a roll of gauze tape and a pot of paste to make sure all eighteen wires stayed glued to my skin. I was sitting on a rolling chair at the foot of a double bed in a small windowless room in a nondescript building that housed a laboratory for analyzing sleep problems. This is where my insomnia had driven me.
And it’s where the hour-long process of wiring began.
Johnny went back and forth between me and the wall of wires. I took two on the chin, one on the throat, two on the outer corners of my eyes and one in the center of my forehead. He ripped sections of tape from the roll to hold them all down, and then pressed two more electrodes under my collarbone. He handed me another to press “right over the heart,” resting a gloved hand over his own.
As if I didn’t know my own heart.
As if the heavy pounding wouldn’t lead me to the right spot.
Then came the belts, two of them, thick and webbed and designed to measure respiration. One for my chest, the other around my abdomen. He cinched both tight. Then came the paste. He scooped a dollop on his finger and globbed it on my scalp. Pressed an electrode into the mess and did it four more times until all five were in place. He fished a coiled wire from a plastic bag and unfurled it, revealing two plastic prongs. “These go up your nose,” he said, and slid the prongs into place, chomping on his cinnamon gum, his breath moist against my face. “Most people don’t like these,” he said.
Hardly noticeable, I told myself.
He fished another wire from a bag, and twanged a plastic filament clipped on the center. “This goes under your nose.” He pressed it into position and ripped off more tape. He gathered all of the wires into a huge ponytail that would cascade over my shoulder as I slept, and plugged the ends into a black box that would hang on the carved wooden headboard. He tossed aside the two pillows on the bed, pulled the covers down, and asked me to get in.
I got in.
But Johnny wasn’t done. As soon as I settled back he stuck four electrodes to my shins, plugged them into the black box, clamped a white plastic gizmo to my index finger to monitor oxygen levels, and plugged the black box into the wall. Finally, he stepped back to admire his work.
“That’s the whole kit and caboodle,” he said, almost smiling. “You could wear that getup on Halloween.”
I looked at him for several beats.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.
I expected some change in his face, some shift of that almost-smile, but he wasn’t about to cave. He wedged himself between the bed and the night stand and unplugged the black box. He unclamped the white gizmo from my finger and watched as I hauled the box and all eighteen wires—four of them trailing behind—down the hall to the bathroom.
I locked the door.
I turned toward the mirror…and froze.
Imagine a horror film.
A low-budget horror film.
Imagine the creature in this hypothetical low-budget horror film: a walking, mummified medical experiment gone awry with wires exploding from its scalp of matted hair. But the costumer ran out of gauze, so patches of human skin still showed through.
That’s what stared back at me from the mirror.
And he expects me to sleep in all this hardware.
Piece of cake.