I dragged my tired snoring butt to the sleep lab yesterday for a sleep study. It was an interesting experience to say the least More on that in a minute though.
But why a sleep study? You’re studly bike-riding dude, healthy, in the prime of your life, right? Err, wrong. I’ve been off the bike for more that 2 months due to a confluence of a nasty URI that set off my asthma, really crappy weather and the acquisition of a new car. Healthy? Right. I could almost be one of my patients some days. Prime of my life? Getting there.
The biggest reason was that in spite of sleeping what seemed to be an adequate period of time, I was still sleepy. I’d sleep for 8-10 hours, get up, putter around doing household-type stuff, sit down on the couch, turn on the tube and within a half-hour, be snoozing. After meals became a constant effort to stave off the head-dropping and need to snooze. But what really drove me was the near constant refrain from the wife, “Roll over and snore somewhere else!” A nag she is truly not, more than anything she is straight up worried about me. In that, I’m a lucky man. Studies have shown that men whose wives push them to seek medical and preventive care tend to live longer, but I digress.
I talked to my PCP and he agreed that my symptoms sounded suspiciously like sleep apnea and did what all good PCPs do: refer me out. Off I went to the sleep medicine clinic where the doc there after asking me a ton of questions and subjecting me to a mind-numbing video that I struggled to stay awake for agreed as well that my symptoms sounded like sleep apnea. Sleep study pending insurance approval on the way.
The closer I got, the more acutely aware of the issue I was. Snorting myself awake from a nap? Check. Snoozing on the couch more than normal? Check. Fighting the urge to close my eyes for a second at stoplights on my way home? Check. Still I was worried more about a negative answer. Sleep apnea I could deal with, not having it, not so much.
It’s not that I want to have sleep apnea. I don’t want to be just like my Dad, or lug a CPAP machine with me everywhere I go, not to mention the extreme sexiness of wearing CPAP in bed with the wife. Getting a negative answer meant that there was something else going on that would require more tests and trips to more doctors.
Since I work nights the sleep doc and I decided it might be advisable to do a day study for me, to better mimic my typical sleeping conditions. I just knew that the night before the study I would get canceled or put on stand-by and have to try to stay awake at home instead of trying to stay awake at work. Luckily we stayed busy so I worked. And was totally fried at the end of the shift. I would sleep.
I go to check in at “Patient Access’ (formerly known as Admitting…) and the lady looks at me quizzically, “Sleep study? But it’s morning”
“It’s what I get for working nights, y’know?” I reply.
I head up to the sleep lab area and I’m tired. I just want to get this going so I can go to sleep. As I was overlapping with the night studies there was a little wait as things got cleaned. Luckily for the techs, I was able to shower and get the floor funk off of me. Then came the process of getting me wired up.
Wired up? I had more monitoring on me than an astronaut. EEG leads, EKG leads, eye movement sensors, a snoring mike, bands that had sensors to see if I was breathing and the funky thing that stuck in my nose that would tell them I was still breathing, even when the chest straps said I wasn’t. I felt almost like Pinhead. But how was I going to sleep with all of this crap attached to me? Uncomfortably.
It’s a weird and annoying issue that I have, if I don’t crash right away, I tend to stay awake longer than I need. So between getting wired up and all the paperwork, I was nearly wide awake. Couple that with being in a strange place, with strange noises and the myriad monitoring equipment I felt I would never fall asleep. After some time, no thanks to Housekeeping as they kept banging shut the door of the room next to me, I drifted off.
I woke with a start as the tech came in and said, “OK, we’re going to put you on CPAP now.” I looked at my watch, 12:40, I’d been asleep for maybe 2.5 hours, tops. Maybe this was a “good” sign. Falling back asleep with a hose blowing air into my nose was not the worst way to rest as it took some getting used to, but eventually I did.
Then the air shut off. After you’ve been sleeping with air blowing in your nose, a disruption like that wakes you abruptly. It’s like suffocating, made al the worse by the odd situation. The tech came in to tell me it was 5pm and the study of over. 4 hours had gone by and I didn’t even realize it. A little disconcerting. Getting me unhooked a much simpler, just pull. A little karmic retribution for all the patients I have taken tele leads off of was inflicted as he pulled the EKG leads off, taking hair with them. Unhooked, cleaned up and ready to go I pressed the tech for a least a glimmer of understanding to what I did during the study.
He says, “Well, I can’t tell you anything. Y’know how it is.” A pause, “But you’ll live until you get your CPAP…”
And live I did. When you’re waiting for answers, even a couple of days seems interminable. I just want to know. Even though everything seemed to point to the obvious fact that I have sleep apnea, I needed to hear from the guy in the white coat. So I waited. Patiently waited. Then the magic phone call. SUre enough, like we though, sleep apnea. My AHI? 38.3/hour. That’s 38 awakenings an hour. The typical minimum for treatment of sleep apnea is 5. That puts me in the “severe” category. Any wonder why I’ve felt like shit for as long as I have. I used to chalk it up to the effects of working nights, but now I realize this has been going on for a long time.
Now that I have a diagnosis, treatment can start. CPAP it is. According to the wife there is nothing sexier than sliding into bed with a guy wearing a CPAP mask. In the immortal words of Fat Bastard, “I’m dead sexy!” Not.
I’ll be honest, it’s taking a little bit of getting used to. Today was the first time I wore the mask for the entire time I was asleep. It’s still too early to tell a difference, although I did feel little more awake when I got up. The truer test will be down the road after I’ve been wearing it for weeks/months to see if there is a measurable change to my life. I hoping there is.