One experience led to the next.
First, there was a warm feeling gently permeating my face as I seemingly walked out of some foggy realm. Gradually, and from some distant place, and wherever it is that anesthesia takes you, I returned to the conscious world gradually opening my eyes to blinding, bright surgical lights that caused me to wonder if I was walking into the afterlife. My dreaded “procedure” apparently complete, there was some sense of urgency in the voice now directed toward me. It was no angel.
“Dude, we’ve got to get you into a sleep study,” the nurse implored. “You stopped breathing on us three times and your heart rate went down to 30. We didn’t know what was going on.”
Okay. But where even am I?
Full comprehension of a comment like that just doesn’t happen immediately after experiencing drugs powerful enough to obliterate any memory of what they just did to me. Oh, the humanity.
And it surely wasn’t what I expected to hear.
In medical terminology it’s called bradycardia. The Greek translation is “slow heart.” It’s a term commonly associated with sleep apnea when a person’s heart rate slows to fewer than 50 beats per minute, and is too slow for their medical well-being.
It’s a great excuse around my house not to do certain things. The wife wants the trash taken out?
“My bradycardia is acting up today. I don’t think I’m feeling up to it!”
“I need you to calm down,” she says during the course of a conversation where I’m explaining some dramatic event from the workday.
“I have bradycardia! What do you expect?”
But alas, the day of reckoning came last week.
At 7:30 p.m., and on the prescription of my new family doctor here in Mountain View, I walked into the Stone County Medical Center Sleep Study Center for a night of people watching me sleep. I knocked on the locked door at the appointed hour, carrying my favorite pillow, the one with the silky pillowcase, and feeling like a junior high student headed for a sleepover.
And so the night began.
After completing multiple pages of paperwork requiring my address, social security number, and other basic information repeated on EACH of the 27 pages, the assistant asked for my next of kin. That sounded bad.
“Next of kin?” I inquired.
With 20 electrodes streaming from various parts of your body, I suppose anything could go wrong. A bad thought passed through my mind as I was getting “wired up.” It is less complicated sitting in the electric chair. I’ve been a sarcastic newspaper reporter for too many years.
Sitting in a chair at the end of the bed this “hookup” process lasted 15 minutes. The many wires’ combined length surpassed that of the White River. The lab technician walked me to bed carrying equipment now hooked to my body that must have weighed 25 pounds.
I turned on the TV, knowing sleep would come soon from what was already a long day.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It may be considered obstructive (when throat muscles relax); central (when the brain doesn’t send the right messages to the throat muscles,) or; complex (which is a combination of the two). For a person with sleep apnea, it’s not uncommon to wake up gasping for breath several times throughout the night. The result is a poor quality of sleep that causes a person to never feel quite rested.
Partly because I am a very early riser, partly because of sleep apnea, I find myself nodding off frequently by mid-afternoon.
To qualify for the sleep aids that correct apnea (mostly this is a bulky machine with tubes much in the style of a 1970s hair dryer at the end of which is a Darth Vader-type mask that you wear through the night and for the rest of your life) the assemblage of wires and monitors and electrodes that have been attached to your various appendages must indicate that you wake up several dozen times within two hours of sleep.
I qualified in record time.
At 10 p.m. the nice professional monitoring my sleep patterns said it was time to get hooked up. It looks like something a traveling vacuum salesman would have sold decades ago. This process took another 15 minutes, and for the first 10 minutes it felt like I was suffocating, not breathing better. This thing literally pushes air through your nose and into your lungs. It breathes for you. It’s weird.
Six hours later a light came on in the room. A monitor had slipped off my finger and needed re-attaching. I’d just slept six hours straight without a single blink. That never happens. In fact, I’d slept so hard I was nauseated for a good part of the day, but once it subsided, I felt like a million bucks. It looks as though there’s a machine in my future.
Until then, next time I catch Leader Editor Lori Freeze in a good mood, I’m asking for a nap time around 2 p.m. each day. After all, I have bradycardia, and I’m sure she’ll be sympathetic!
See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins writes for the Stone County Leader. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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