Sleepin’ It Off: A Visit to the Apnea Ward


Not long back, I began experiencing some sleep disorders, mainly trying to get up and walk while in a deep sleep. This usually ended in one of two outcomes: (a) I stumbled with a loud thump to the floor or (b), with the more successful forays, I reached the opened closet across the room, where the clamor of clattering hangers as I tried to advance soon awakened both me and my wife.

After several of these evening promenades, my wife insisted that I do something about it or at least find out what was causing them.

So, I visited a nice lady neurologist who took my vitals, asked some medical questions, made a lame joke about my cowboy boots (“Where’s your horse?”), and scheduled a brain scan.

After that came back fine my doctor then suggested I get tested for sleep apnea. This, she explained, would mean spending the night at a sleep disorder clinic, where they would closely monitor my nighttime, conscious and unconscious, activities.

From the sleep apnea testing literature:

Sleep apnea is a condition where you actually stop breathing during your sleep. These episodes can last for a minute or two and can happen just a few times or hundreds of times during the night… This condition can also be the result of the brain not sending signals to the muscles to breathe. It can cause serious medical conditions.

There are two main types of tests that will be run: the polysomnogram multiple sleep latency test and maintenance of wakefulness test. Sensors are placed on your scalp, face, chest, limbs and a finger.

Elastic belts are placed around your chest and abdomen. You will be made to feel as comfortable as possible.[My emphasis.]

What this means in medical terms is that an electroencephalogram will measure brain waves, and an electroculogram will measure eye and chin movement to show how much time you spend in various sleep cycles.

In addition, an electrocardiogram monitors your heart’s rate and rhythm, and the chest belts measure breathing movements.

Finally, other devices determine levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and record leg movement to check for restlessness and disturbed sleep patterns.

Remember, this multilateral technological onslaught is supposed to take place “as you sleep.”


I arrived at the clinic around 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night. The facilities reflected subdued institution ambiance, not a hotel but not a barracks. Friendly staff greeted me and showed me to my room, where, they promised, my technician would join me.

Within five minutes, a pleasant, uniformed young man arrived pushing a cart full of more spaghetti wires and plugs than I had ever seen. I knew then that a long night lay ahead.

After a short introduction, Emmanuel, my technician, turned his attention to his cart of wires—and where on my body they would end up.

I expected monitoring, but there was no inkling of the crisscrossing of connections that, over the next 35 minutes, Emmanuel would string across my form. By the time he finished, I  resembled Neo’s awakening in the slimy, oozing umbilical cords of the real world Matrix.

Worse, Emmanuel must have judged me as 12 inches shorter than I am because his wiring scheme didn’t allow enough slack for me to straighten out, binding me into in a semi-fetal position. It took another 15 minutes to rewire so that I could at least lie on my back.

Not that it mattered much since, even on my back, any turning or sideways movement would tangle me further in the cables. So, realistically, my only option was to lie straight facing the ceiling.

With me thus strapped down, Emmanuel turned off the lights and bid me pleasant dreams.

I didn’t doze off. And as the night wore on, the real trials began.

First, the nose tube that monitored breathing came undone, not once but three times during the night. This meant that three times during the night, usually when I had just settled down, a technician had to knock, enter, turn on the light, and reattach the tube. (Even if I knew where to reattach it, I couldn’t move my arms far up enough without creating more mesh.)

But the real bother was yet to come.

When I checked in I had delicately raised the question of nighttime visits to the gent’s room. Just in case, you know. Staff assured me that it wasn’t a problem, and I only needed a quick unhooking to be good to go. I even supposed that I could take care of it myself.

Of course, at the first sight of Emmanuel’s overflowing cable cart, I knew this was a lie, and so hoped for a dry evening.

No such luck, and after about three hours of lying there nature called, which meant I had to call Emmanuel. He came, spent about 10 minutes unhooking me, waited for me to go there, and then took another 10 minutes to re-hook. You bet I was good and pissed off by now.

After that I became obsessed with “going”—hogtied, afraid to move, waiting for the next annoying urge, which is not long in coming if you’re lying awake thinking of only that. They could have at least offered me a chamber pot.

From then on I just crossed my legs tightly and prayed for the dawn, which, when it did come, found me buzzing the front desk and howling to be set free. It’s no surprise that no useful data was collected.

I don’t know. I have an ex-colleague who went to the same clinic and had a restful and productive evening, which led to a new CPAP mask and machine. He claims he’s never slept better.

But me, I think I’d rather sleepwalk into a bus lane than ever wear one of those masks or, especially, spend another hour in a sleep clinic.

By the way, my nighttime meanderings? They stopped when, on the advice of a friend, I stopped taking a couple of herbal supplements. Beats me why… but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.


5 thoughts on “Sleepin’ It Off: A Visit to the Apnea Ward

  1. I had the same procedure about five years ago and the results have been fantastic. Use of a CPAP has led to restful nights and alert days. Cheers.

    • Yeah… there doesn’t seem to be any neutral ground on this. I’ve heard from people who love their CPAP and others who hate it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even get past the test. Thanks—L

  2. Funny-I had a similar experience but in my case, they started reprimanding me for NOT falling asleep as planned. I was awake all night and was then told that I had sleep apnea and prescribed a breathing machine which was even more uncomfortable than the wires stuck to my head. It was like trying to sleep with a vacuum cleaner stuck to my mouth. My solution was to leave my wife and now I have no idea where I go or what I do at night because my dog doesn’t seem to care. So far, nothing terrible has happened.

    • Original approach to your dilemma. And, come to think of it, I once had a dog with apnea. While sleeping, she’d snort, move her legs like she was running, and flap her tail against the floor. She seemed very, very happy, so I never dragged her off to the clinic. Your dog, I’m glad to say, seems well adjusted. Cheers–L


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