Hah, click bait worked again! Except it’s not really click bait. I did spend last night at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Sometimes called the Royal (mostly by them, it’s their brand). Sometimes called Royal Ottawa. Sometimes called the nuthouse by insensitive twits.
I was there for overnight observation, which will generate curious thoughts from some readers, worried thoughts from some close friends, and relief from some of my relatives. Like my brother Mike, who’s probably thinking, “Finally! I’ve said it for YEARS!”.
When they find out I left in the morning as scheduled, everyone will be confused. Sorry to disappoint, but I wasn’t there for anything “psych” related, at least not really. Instead, it is one of the centres in Ottawa that does sleep tests, making use of the beds overnight and hooking you up to innumerable electrodes. And heaven knows I need a sleep test — it was on my tracking list for this year. I sleep like crud regularly, often waking up multiple times in the night, often having insomnia in the middle of the night, only to hit a perfect deep sleep about 20 minutes before I have to get up in the morning. So I went and got hooked up.
I shouldn’t say innumerable electrodes, because there were seventeen to be precise. Two on my shins to see if I have restless leg syndrome and kick a lot at night. Two more on my shoulders. About five more on your chin and under your throat to see if you grind your teeth in the night (I do, but they didn’t detect it last night). About five to seven across your forehead and beside your eyes to tell if you’re in REM, when your eyes are open, etc. (they basically monitor eye movement by measuring the muscles around the eye twitching and convulsing when you move your eyes). And three to five more in your hair, although I have no idea what they were doing.
Most of the test though is to see if I have apnea — which is the lovely condition where you stop breathing and your body fights to overcome it, thus waking you up. It’s quite common with pregnant women (tied to weight gain), although oddly enough, Andrea’s sleep apnea was improved by pregnancy, not worsened. I told them up front I didn’t have it, because I never wake up gasping for air nor jerk awake.
For those who have never done a sleep test, here’s the deal — if you didn’t have trouble sleeping BEFORE the sleep test, you’re guaranteed to have it during the test.
First, no caffeine after 4:00 p.m. Not a big deal for me (well, I was thirsty a bit right at 4:00 by coincidence, but not after that).
Second, there were restrictions on smoking and alcohol which didn’t apply to me, so easily ignored, but hard on some.
Third, you have to arrive between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m., and get hooked up to all the probes/electrodes. The list of 17 above? They all come with wires too. So it takes time and you’re not the only patient. They have six beds, and two technicians doing the monitoring. You can stay up and read or something after they hook you up, but you’re not going to be doing very much else, so I decided it was easier to go to bed.
Most people who have trouble sleeping have compensated by going to bed later than average — making sure they’re actually tired so that they don’t fight for as long falling asleep. Falling asleep has never been my problem, it’s staying asleep, so I thought, “Might as well turn in early.” So I was in bed by 10:05 p.m. First time in a LONG time. They test the equipment, turn out the light, and then monitor your sensors plus your body position through an infrared camera. Oh, and you have an oxygen nose plug in, taped to your face and looped over your ears. With the 17 electrodes all having wires, plus the nose plug, plus four other wires running off straps around your chest and abdomen, it’s not exactly “comfortable”.
But you’re in bed, ready to go. As I was. Then at one point I was REALLY warm, so I wanted to take my socks off. Which meant I had to press the call button, she had to come in, make sure I didn’t disconnect anything, and good to go again. That was around midnight I think. Oh yeah, no clock in the room, and more importantly for me, no radio to fall asleep to. Plus you can’t take your own pillow. Did I mention they basically remove any of the existing coping techniques you have been using so that you’re guaranteed to have bad sleep? The bed wasn’t made of nails, but maybe they haven’t thought of that yet.
Then at 2:00 a.m., she came in and told me that I apparently do have sleep apnea. Bad from her perspective. So she wanted to try the CPAP — no, it’s not a gynecological exam. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and it is basically a nose plug on steroids. Did you see Star Wars Episode 5 / The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is brought back to the Hoth snow base and is in a big tube of water wearing a breathing mask? Well that’s basically what a CPAP mask looks like.
There are two kinds. First, one that goes just over your nose, and made me feel like I was suffocating. You can’t open your mouth at all while wearing it or it suddenly vapour locks to your cheeks and nose. Very disturbing feeling — air pressure to lightly force the air into your lungs so you don’t have to work as hard, but also air pressure that fights against it when you breathe out so that your lungs don’t stop working (I guess, not really sure). The second kind is like the Star Wars mask, it’s a long hose with a breathing mask that fits over your nose and mouth — just like them giving you oxygen in an ambulance, but instead of a thin 8 mm tube for air, this is a garden hose coming at you. Heavy. Needs a full harness to go around top of your head, wrap around to the back, drop down and then back under your chin, up to your mouth, straps on with velcro and seals shut. Kind of like a catcher’s mask.
Sure, that won’t be distracting or hard to get used to wearing while sleeping, will it? Of course not.
Some 45 minutes later, I was still counting sheep and wondering what time it was. I did eventually drift off to sleep, only waking one more time before the 6:30 wake up call. Oh yeah, I forgot that part too. They wake you up around 6:00 and kick you to the curb so they have the space back. Great, very restful. Oddly enough, I actually DID sleep okay in that last 3 hours or so. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be wearing the mask, I think it was more the other things that were distracting (it’s hard to move around and get comfortable in a strange bed and no favorite pillow when you’re connected to 17 wired thingies).
The end result is that the very evangelical technician thinks me (and everybody on the planet, incidentally) should rush to the nearest medical centre and get a machine. But this is no small decision. It’s meant to be worn EVERY night. It also makes mostly white noise while you sleep, not very loud, but I don’t know what Jacob would think the first time he saw me in it. It’s not a simple “grab and go”, or drift off. This is very much sleeping with intent.
On the positive side, cost isn’t really a factor. While the machine is about $900 for the base model, 75% is covered by the government, and my work coverage would cover 80% of the rest, leaving me about 5% normally but we have double-coverage with Andrea, so hers would pick up the remaining 5%. I might have to buy some accessories, like a case and some cleaning cloths, but that’s about it.
I just did the test last night, so I still have some thinking to do. It is intrusive, it is disruptive, it is a bit claustrophobic. It also might make very little difference to my sleep. Lots of people rave as the technician did, but Andrea’s sleep wasn’t much better even with hers on, as others have said too, so it isn’t a slam dunk for everyone.
Plus there’s a psychological element. About 70% of overweight people have apnea, and that is the most likely cause for me. The extra weight basically leads to an enlarged tongue, narrower pathways, and/or extra skin at the back of the throat, and those three possible “blockages” screw up your breathing. To fully accept that I have sleep apnea requiring a serious mechanical intervention rather than an occasional challenge sleeping is to more broadly acknowledge that it is simply because I’m fat. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a whole host of other reasons, and triggers no end of self-defense psych reactions.
In the past, that would be enough to seal the outcome, no deal. But this is PolyWogg 4.0 who said death to squirrels just 16 days ago. I have a follow-up appointment in two weeks to review the results, and if I already have my machine, for the doctor to authorize the government funding, etc. And they will likely invite me back in the future to do another test where I just use my machine plus all their little electrodes again.
Decisions, decisions. While the cost is basically $0 to try, I don’t like wasting anyone’s resources, including the government’s if I’m not fully committed to doing it long-term. I can however try it and see if it makes an amazing difference, generally with 30 days free trial. I could do that this month, next month, next October, whenever. Stay tuned…
And sorry to my brother Mike who got excited no doubt with my being in the mental hospital, even if it was only for a night. He was probably hoping I could entice some other siblings to join me.