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Posts Tagged ‘sleep apnea’

  1. Another Night in the Sleep Clinic, Part 2

    September 27, 2013 by Diane

    Wide Open Mouth

    It was just another night in another sleep clinic. This one on a tree-lined street in an upscale neighborhood in an office masquerading as a hotel. Except the guests didn’t sleep; they lay in the dark on firm mattresses with electrodes taped to their scalps and faces and chests and legs with adhesive. I was one of those guests, alone in one of those dark rooms. As a bonus, I had a plastic mouthguard cemented to my teeth with purple goo.

    Olga the sleep technician had plugged the guard into a machine that motored my jaw forward by increments throughout the night. I was mindful of the motoring. It made a zinging sound like a dentist buzzing his drill every half hour. Olga controlled the device from a room down the hall, and when she wasn’t giggling with her sidekick Bruno, she pushed a button that jutted my lower teeth past my upper teeth until by morning my jaw was brushing the ceiling.

    “Hey!” I hollered, as well as one can holler with a jutted jaw. “Hey!”

    Olga swept into the room. She loomed over my bed in her blue scrubs. I tried to talk but it was impossible with all that plastic cemented to my teeth. She bent forward and worked the device off and held it in one hand while I explained that my jaw was beginning to hurt.

    “We’re almost done,” she said. “We only have one more position to move it to.”

    Where, Saturn? The woman was a masochist.

    I grumbled. I waited for her to show some compassion. She waited for me to stop grumbling. I took a deep breath and calmly accepted that it was futile to disagree with Olga.  So I agreed, the way you agree to let someone tug on your earlobe until it reaches your knees. She handed me the mouth guard and I tried to press it back into place but the configuration of the pieces was so screwy that my teeth wouldn’t fit. Olga calmly accepted that it was futile to continue; the information she had acquired through the night would have to do. “Would you like to try to nap for an hour?” she asked. “It’s five o’clock. I’ll wake you at six.”

    I agreed to that, too, but had serious doubts about the napping part.

    She closed the door behind her and I stared at the back of my eyelids until six o’clock when she returned, snapping on the lights. I rolled to an upright position and slung my legs over the side of the bed, my head hanging. Her toenails, previously bare, were now painted bright pink. Efficient. Between giggling with Bruno and motoring my jaw, Olga had squeezed in time for a pedicure. She unscrambled the wires and hung them back on the hooks on the wall, and by the time I had staggered upright and gathered my belongings she was whipping clean sheets onto the bed.

    The parking lot was empty except for my Corolla and a vehicle the size of a small cruise ship. I scurried to my car, grateful that no one was around to witness my escape. I buckled up behind the wheel, catching a glimpse of my hair in the mirror. It looked like a tumbleweed had landed on my head. I pulled out of the lot. Suddenly the streets were alive with joggers and dog-walkers and stroller-pushers and bikers, and as I waited at a stoplight the BMW-driving executive in the next lane over did a double take.

    It took two shampoos to remove the gobs of paste from my hair.

    It took one minute to pull on my fluffy robe and fall into bed.

    It took two seconds to fall asleep. And dream. And dream. And dream. A month’s worth of dreams, packed into two solid hours of sleep.

  2. Another Night in the Sleep Clinic, Part 1

    September 23, 2013 by Diane

    Wide Open Mouth

    Anyone could see it was an office building. It loomed over the houses on a peaceful tree-lined street in an upscale neighborhood.  But there were non-office activities going on in the back of the building on the ground floor behind tinted windows. A place were people arrived at odd hours of the night, and escaped at dawn looking like they’d been dragged through a wind tunnel.

    A place known as the sleep clinic.

    I strode into the waiting area at nine p.m. on a Thursday night. It was empty except for a couple of straight-backed chairs and a display of mannikin heads lined up in a bookcase like trophies from a hunt, wearing what appeared to be gas masks. I wasn’t there for the masks. I was there to be fitted for a mouthguard. I was there to have my jaw jutted forward via remote control while I attempted to sleep.

    There were six doors leading to six rooms, and a woman swung out of one. “I’m Olga,” she said, and loping along behind was a man named Bruno. Olga looked like one of the mannikins, but without the mask, and a lot more alive. She had straight blonde hair that swung down her back, and a face full of makeup. She wore blue scrubs and leather sandals, and her toenails were unpolished. Bruno was hefty and his scrubs were rumpled and his face was peeling off in white and brown curls, revealing swatches of pink underneath.

    Olga herded me into a faux hotel room decorated with walls the color of a Butterfinger candy bar. There was a double bed fitted with sheets the shade of bullets, and someone had nailed an abstract painting above the headboard that screamed red and orange. There was a handful of fake flowers shoved into a white tin bucket on the low bureau, and near the door on plastic hooks hung the same collection of electrodes that I’d been wired to at the other clinic. But underneath it all anyone could see it was just an office space with ceiling tiles.

    I knew the routine: change into leggings and a T-shirt and sit on a chair to get wired up.  But when Olga reappeared she fiddled around at the bureau, unboxing a couple of plastic molds that looked like miniature horseshoes, while Bruno pressed himself into one corner of the room keeping watch. Olga squeezed purple goo from a long white tube into one of the horseshoes, told me to open wide, and squashed it onto my bottom teeth.

    “Bite down,” she said, and I did.

    It was like sinking my teeth into wet clay.

    The tasteless goo squished out the sides and after thirty seconds she worked the suction off.  Bruno stepped close and the two of them examined the impressions and decided they passed muster. Olga set the mold aside, and Bruno went back to pressing the corner.

    We repeated the whole sequence with my upper teeth. But this time upon examination they both frowned. The impressions weren’t deep enough. Olga peeled the goo from the mold and started over. Bite, ooze, dislodge, examine. Still no go. One more round and they decided it was good enough. They weren’t about to spend the whole night making teeth molds.

    “We won’t torture you,” she said.

    And then the wiring began.

    It was the same wires as last time, with three more pasted to my scalp. She marked the spots in red ink. “It will look like blood in the morning when you shampoo,” she said, “but it isn’t.”

    Her reassurance made me squirm.

    “The guy at the other clinic only used five wires on my head,” I pointed out.

    “Impossible,” she said in her efficient voice. “You wouldn’t get an accurate reading with five. You need eight.”

    I wondered if the other technician, Johnny-something, was an impostor. Or maybe he had said he had used five but had really used eight, like the phlebotomist who says he’ll stick the needle into your arm on the count of three, and before you start counting he’s already jabbed it into the vein.

    The wiring completed, “Are you ready for bed?” Olga asked. I looked up at the television on the wall but she didn’t offer any remote controls. She stood by the bed waiting. So I got in. I settled back against the headboard. Olga plugged the wires into the wall, stuck the white gizmo on my finger to measure oxygen levels, fetched the two goopy horseshoes, fit them together back to back and told me to open wide.

    “Bite down,” she said, and I did. I suspected that everyone who came to this clinic did exactly what Olga told them to do while from the corner Bruno mentally cracked his knuckles. She hooked a wire to the gizmo protruding from the front of the mouthpiece, plugged the other end into a machine, told me goodnight, flicked off the lights, ushered Bruno out the door and left me alone in the dark, drooling.

    …to be continued

  3. A Night in the Sleep Clinic, Epilogue

    September 20, 2013 by Diane

    Doctor Stethoscope Standing Retro

    Doctor Rex from the sleep center called with my test results. “Do you know what you have?” he asked. Either he needed my help or he was playing twenty questions.

    “Sleep apena?” I suggested.

    “Mild sleep apnea.”

    Over the measly 40% of the time that I was sleeping, there were nine times out of every hour when I stopped breathing for over ten seconds. Seven of those times I woke up. The other two times I had a drop in oxygen. This sounded like one of those complicated word problems from fourth grade math class.

    I wondered aloud, “Could it be that I hang out on my exhale because I’m so relaxed, and that’s what you’re picking up on?”

    He rattled off some explanation about obstructed breathing and ended with, “I don’t doubt our study!”  I imagined him puffing his neck out like one of those exotic birds defending their territory.

    “What are my options?” I asked.

    “I’m leaning toward a mouthpiece, “ he said. “They’re easier to tolerate, but they don’t always work.”

    They don’t always work.  I could see why he’d lean that way.

    “Okay, so what’s involved with getting a mouthpiece?”

    Here’s what’s involved: I check myself back  into the sleep clinic and get eighteen wires hooked to my body and scalp, two prongs shoved up my nose, two belts cinched around my chest and abdomen, and a white plastic gizmo clamped to my index finger. And then…and then…they make a mold of my teeth, some kind of device hooked to a motorized machine that moves my jaw into ideal positions while I sleep.

    “Hold on. You expect me to sleep while I’m hooked up to eighteen wires, two belts, a gizmo on my finger and a machine that motors my jaw forward?”


    “Book the appointment,”  I said.