Place: A Sleep Clinic
Time: 7:30 PM
Everything about the sleep clinic has a sort of after work look to it, as though it's always sometime after five o'clock. There's a folded newspaper on the floor beside the couch in the waiting room. Even the receptionist's office is darkened and unoccupied when I arrive. I ring the bell and then take a seat in the dimly-lit room. Maybe everyone’s asleep, including the people who work here, I think.
I expect my night at the sleep clinic to be like all the management clinics and conferences I've attended: a lot of talk but not much productivity. Maybe they will pass out free T-shirts for all, maybe some potato chips and then show a movie.
7:50 p.m. (according to the clock in the clinic)
Instead, a young lady tells me to follow her and to change into "whatever I usually wear to bed." Her demeanor is a bit abrupt. If they want to get me into bed, they need to schmooze me a little. I'm the customer. I'm paying for all this. I go to my room (which looks a lot like an inexpensive motel bedroom). I change not into “whatever I usually wear to bed” but a pair of pajamas which bought earlier in the afternoon.
I check out the bed. It feels okay. In a few minutes I am summoned to a cubicle where I am hidden by a thin striped drape. As I sit in a very sturdily-built straight-backed oak chair, two young sleep technicians wire my head in at least twenty places, then defoliate several places on my chest and attach round foam plastic electrodes. These pretty young technicians tell me several times how much they admire my Batman pajamas. It could have been worse, I tell myself. I might have worn the Pinocchio PJs my wife wanted me to we
The two sleep technicians busy themselves writing on my head with a blue china marker, and another one comes to borrow a handful of electrodes for her own patient.
I've seen this girl somewhere.
Weren't you in Dr. Reebtoor's class a few semesters ago- she asks.
Yes, I reply, unsure if I should return the look of friendly recognition. I am, after all, a man in a relatively vulnerable position, about to be put to bed for the evening.
Wow, she says, I never thought I'd see you in here, she says and stares at me oddly. I feel a combination of shame and indignation roil in my stomach.
At least not wearing Batman pajamas, she says and turns to return to cementing more electrodes to her own patient's head (who, by the way, is not dressed nearly as stylishly as I am).
Women can be so cruel, I think. Maybe the myth of Pinocchio and his leering sexuality might have been a better theme for my sleep attire. That snippy sleep technician might be singing a different tune now.
I am feeling guilty for not having called my wife and for not even promising to call her once I arrived at the clinic. I was instructed to leave my cell phone at home and to wear no watch or any other time keeping device. I just assumed that I could not make calls once I got here.
My wife was a bit suspicious of my story about the sleep clinic to begin with. Secretly, she believes that I have gone to play cards all night or carouse with unsavory characters in some dive on South Boulevard.
My heart, my legs and arms, and my head have been wired to record all of my movements as I sleep. To ensure that the electrodes remain in place, everything has been cemented to my skin.
The sleep technicians have put elastic straps around my chest and a microphone has been attached to my throat to record my breathing sounds. The entire harness of wires has been pulled behind my head like a pony tail. The wires from below my waist are gathered together and attached to the other harness with plastic cable straps. The entire assembly has been connected to a cold, gray metal console the size of a box of Kleenex.
The sleep technicians show me to the room which looks a lot like cheap motel accommodations, only without the blood stains on the carpet. (There are marks on the bathroom door which look as though they may have been made by an axe, but I make no comment about them).
I count eight patients but only six rooms with beds. My bed is a double and I am worried that my econo-health plan (Bob's Health Maintenance Club) intends for me to be tested in a semi-private bed.
I miss my wife.
When do you usually go to sleep- the shorter and craftier-looking technician asks me. This is a trick question. They're looking for a reason to send me home to make room. They want to find out if I am really an insomniac.
There's no telling, I answer vaguely.
I'll shut the door while you do what you usually do at night before you go to sleep, and then I'll come back in and finish hooking you up. I cannot imagine what she thinks I might want to do before I go to sleep or what she might hook me up to afterward. I already look like something the phone company might throw into a deep pit and cover with a tractor. Isn't the metal Kleenex box some sort of terminal or computer that transmits all the information to Ground Control- I wonder.
Unless you have trash for me to take out or a dog for me to walk, I think I'll just read for awhile, I tell her.
10:45 p.m. (I think)
I read an article in Sleep Digest about the dangers of sleep apnea, another name for when you quit breathing in your sleep. The headline of the article reads "Forty Percent of Apnea Sufferers at Risk of Dying in Their Sleep." Now, there's bedtime literature if I've ever seen it.
Fifteen minutes later (approximately)
The time has arrived. The technicians can wait no longer for me to put out the light out and go beddy-bye. They show me a breathing apparatus shaped like an athletic cup, put it to my mouth, and then strap it to my head. They tell me that if I stop breathing in my sleep, they will come into the room and put the athletic cup on my face and hook me up to the gurgling machine which sits atop the night stand.
They say that they are telling me this so I won't be alarmed in the event that they do come bursting into the room to put the athletic cup over my nose and mouth. They remove the harness and tell me that I will be watched via a surveillance camera on the ceiling.
Great. I will be watched. What if they find out that the root of my problem is that I do unspeakable things in my sleep- (I don't know this to be true, of course, but what if…)
I'm feeling less and less sleepy as the night wears on. I wish I had called my wife before they hung all this hardware from me.
Sometime later… maybe an hour.
I am still awake. My scalp crawls from all the wires and electrodes. The machine on the night table beside my bed makes a glubglub noise as I try to sleep. The Kleenex console is cold and hard and a very poor bedmate.
The intercom comes on. It’s Ground Control.
Could you roll over onto your back, please- Now blink your eyes. Wiggle your toes. Thank you, the voice says and then is silent. Apparently, they're checking their hardware to determine if it is working. Or maybe the commands from the intercom is really the sleep test and all the wires are just a ruse to make it all appear scientific....
I know my wife thinks I'm out running the streets. The whole idea of a sleep clinic did not sit well with her. When I told her that I'd be gone for the evening so they could study me as I sleep, she said, why don't they come to the house to do that?
She doesn't believe that there are such things as sleep clinics. She thinks I'm having an affair and making this whole thing up.
I hear the squeaking of the technicians' sneakers as they walk up and down the hall. Who can sleep with all this racket?
I have slept for awhile and now I am awake. I had a dream that I died and went to heaven. Heaven, I learn, is a small mountain resort somewhere near Brevard, NC. I learn that God looks and sounds a lot like Jimmy Dean, the country singer/ comedian/ sausage entrepreneur.
While God is not a forty-seven year-old black woman (as reported in some books), His dietitian is. She tells me that no sausage is served on the premises. Is she implying that somewhere beyond the white picket fence of heaven, someone does serve sausage- And how would she know- I thought that once people get into heaven, they don't leave.
It is lunch time in Heaven and there is a long banquet table near the porch of the large ranch-style house where God sits in a rocking chair, his legs crossed at the ankles. God wears armadillo cowboy boots.
I ask why there's no food in any of the silver dishes or paper chinette bowls. The Dietitian informs me that this is the diabetic section of heaven. The diet allows us only to gulp air. Everything else raises the blood sugar to unmanageable levels, she says.
Now I am awake. I wonder if they realize that yet. I hold my breath momentarily to see if I can get that snippy technician to come rushing in. Nothing happens.
The intercom comes on once more. Could you blink your eyes, grit your teeth, and then wiggle your toes- Thank you, Ground Control says and is then quiet.
My wife is probably worried sick by now. She doesn't believe in sleep clinics. She thinks I'm having an affair somewhere.
My mind drifts to many things: school work, getting new tires for the car, an upcoming anniversary. I think of the time Frank LeBlanc put a dead lizard on Jeffrey Schmidt's hotdog bun while he was washing his hands in the cafeteria washroom. I think of my high school prom and try to remember my date's last name. All I can remember is that her name was Denise and that my tuxedo was five sizes too large for me.
I don't know how much time has elapsed, but the two sleep technicians come bursting into the room and turn on the overhead fluorescent lights. I sit up, startled.
Have I stopped breathing- Where's the athletic cup- I ask.
It's time to go home, they say. It's over.
We march out to the hall where I sit on a chair and the two technicians remove the electrodes from my body. It all seems like some sort of execution ritual, only in reverse. They have taken me from my bed to actually remove the electrodes which carries God-only-knows how many volts of electricity. Soon I will be a free, living and breathing man with no athletic cup over his face.
The handiwork which took over an hour to create is removed in less than four minutes. The electrodes on my head are pried from my scalp in seconds. The foam adhesive pad which held the microphone to my throat is pulled off quickly, as are the electrodes which were attached to my chest with the same adhesive devices. The ones on my legs are yanked off right through my Batman PJs.
I am free to get dressed and then go home, they say. It is six o'clock in the morning. There is no coffee served and no continental breakfast. I may not really expect this, but this is a detail which my wife will expect me to relate.
I go to the bathroom to pick the rest of the cement from my head over the sink. I notice that the adhesive electrode patches on my neck and chest have left bright red marks about the size of half-dollar coins. I appear to have been assaulted by a giant octopus.
As I step closer to the mirror, I see the dark circles under my bloodshot eyes. I look as if I have been up all night drinking beer and playing cards. Closer inspection of the red marks on my body debunks the octopus attack story, but it could support accusations of extramarital activity.
As I drive home to awaken my wife from her usually restful sleep, I test the plausibility of the octopus attack
I know she'll never buy the sleep clinic story.