Last week I had a sleepover at the hospital. My wife made me report to my family doc at my annual physical that I suffered from sleep apnea, where you stop breathing for periods of time and then gasp for air. Snoring is usually associated with this. Apnea is, of course, disruptive to your normal sleep and can affect the body's ability to restore and repair itself. I think my wife has the same affliction, so I sent an anonymous message to her family doc yesterday. I squealed like a stuffed pig.
I packed my pajamas, a pillow, some reading material (see below), and a toothbrush and headed off in the direction of all those scrub gowns and the Sleep Clinic at 8:30pm. All I knew was that I had to sleep there all night. I didn't prepare anything. After all, I have been sleeping my entire life. How difficult could this be? Just to make sure I could sleep, I went into my den and pulled Prosser's Comparative Animal Physiology off the shelf, a textbook I used 30 years ago. A few minutes of reading about osmotic balance in the Chondrichthyes should do it. If not, maybe there is a baseball game on tv. Ten minutes max. I'll be out.
But when Mike the technician appeared in my room, I realized there was a bit more to all of this than just a leisurely snooze. He explained that he would be monitoring me during the night from his observation room, but that first he had to "wire me up". He proceeded to clean up spot after spot on my body with alcohol, then smeared a glue-like gel in all those places, and then attached an electrical lead to each of those areas. This is way more than I do each night at home before going to bed, and my wife used to be an ER nurse. Maybe I kiss her good night, but nothing electrical. When he finished, I had 24 leads attached to my head and a couple on my chest and lower legs, with all wires leading to a box on my night stand. Mike also attached devices in front of my nose and mouth to monitor my oxygen level and respiration. Judas Priest! I'm ready to begin filming Frankenstein now. Sweet dreams.
But seriously, after I was wired, I was fearful about turning on the tv. What if Mike wired me incorrectly and when I turned on the television I saw Desperate Housewives inside my head, for the rest of my life? Was he an electrical engineer at Cornell? He didn't look like one, and I've seen plenty. The wires are supposed to transmit electrical signals from MY brain to HIS instruments in the observation room. But what if the polarity got reversed and HIS machines sent impulses to MY brain? I'm never going to get to sleep now, and I read all there is to know about osmotic balance in fish.
Fortunately, there was a baseball game on the tube. By the third pitch, I was sending data to Mike's machines. I slept more or less normally, for me. Tough to move or turn on your side when there is a half mile of wires running from your body. I would not do this during the summer when thunder storms are common. If lightning hit the hospital, I would probably look like Wiley Coyote after his own dynamite blew him up. (Which reminds me, how can a mammal not outsmart a bird? A coyote's brain is the size of an apple; a roadrunner's brain must be no larger than a few apple seeds. Come on Wiley. This is embarrassing.)
When Mike greeted me in the morning, he was all too cheerful. He removed the wires and other monitors, and gleefully reported that he got about 1,000 pages of data that now needed interpretation. Amazing, in 30 years of doing scientific research, I never generated that much data. How could I possibly accomplish all that in one night while asleep? What a fool I have been all these years, staying awake, and working like a dog to gather a little data, sometimes only a datum. Maybe our university students have had it right all this time. Many of them must have generated copious amounts of data right in front of my eyes while I lectured. I left the Sleep Clinic hurriedly, and bought the first legal stimulant I could find.