I would like to state at the beginning, that a part of this is satire. You get to decide what. It will keep me from being sued. Parts of this are definitely fabricated for comedic value.
This past weekend I enjoyed the Florida sun a bit much. Not the “Dude, you need to go to the hospital” bad, but I turned a nice pink. Bald heads burn quickly. I didn’t get any blisters, and it was more of a pink than a red, but it was clear that I had been outside working in the yard and lost a few fluids as a result of basking in the April and May sunshine that you get this close to the equator.
Sunday afternoon, after church and a lovely lunch with my best friend and wife (the same person) I packed an overnight bag and drove for three hours to do a sleep study at a major hospital.
Why a sleep study? I have sleep apnea. I know, I’ve mentioned it before, and thus you wonder why another sleep study. It’s because of COVID. I swear, that’s the only reason.
I did my first sleep study in the 1996-97 time frame. It was an absolute joy (no sarcasm, it saved my life.) The technicians were very nice, the room was like a hotel room, and they served breakfast the next morning. More importantly, they saved my life and put me on a CPAP that night. I got my first good night’s sleep since basic training once they put me on the machine. It was bad enough, as sleep apnea goes, that they sent a technician out to my house with a CPAP for me to use on the Fourth of July. Yup, they figured it was serious.
I blundered along with that CPAP for about 15 years until my employer changed and I had new health insurance. They, for some strange reason, wanted me to prove that I would die from breathing problems if I didn’t have a CPAP. How do you do that? You make the poor schmuck (me) come in for a sleep study and force him to try and sleep without his CPAP. It’s frightening. But I did it, and once they caved in and put the thing on my face (about an hour in) I was good to go for the night. It was a nice room, the nurse was a little crabby, but not too bad. I did, however, hate the testing process as it is frightening to someone with sleep apnea. Nobody needs that extra anxiety.
Fast forward to November 2020. My spiffy (but now elderly) CPAP failed to power up right around Thanksgiving. Thankfully I had an older unit which worked, and was the one I travelled with to distant places. Why lug around the old one which weighs twice as much? Because it has fewer computer functions, was far more physically robust, and less likely to gork out when the power bounced in Third-World nations.
I put it to use that night, and the very next business day I started trying to get a replacement unit from my health care provider. They, bless their souls, wanted me to provide a new prescription for the thing. Uh, okay. Call my pulmonologist. Nope. The clinic wouldn’t do that because they were closed for non-emergency cases. I personally consider breathing to be an urgent matter, but not the insurance group.
I finally wrangled them into agreeing to just replace the thing, and then worked on the supplier. They wouldn’t let me just drop by the shop and pick a new one up. No. They were closed and working remotely, and I’d have to wait.
So I waited. One week. Again, breathing is good, I am in favor of it. I called them back. Evidently there was much more to this and I needed to wait and make an appointment with a clinic that was closed for an indefinite period so that I could order a device from a company that was indefinitely working from home and unable to give me a CPAP.
I called the medical team at the VA. I had someone on the line asking for my address to ship me a new CPAP within 3 hours. They, strangely, considered breathing important. I didn’t even have a prescription on file with them, but my records showed that I needed the machine and had been diagnosed by someone somewhere with sleep apnea.
It arrived, it worked well. It does the job. Unfortunately, my new doctor team when I moved to Florida spotted the fact that I was being treated without a diagnosis or a prescription by their organization.
Thus I was offered the option of driving about 5 hours total to pick up a testing machine, bring it home, do the test, bring it back, and then go back home. Or, and I chose this one, drive 6 hours and get the full sleep study.
Sunday afternoon was lovely. I drove in the sunshine with the tunes basting in my ears. I arrived an hour early and read a book. I checked in to the clinic and was directed to my room for the study.
All was well until I was asked to produce my Ambien so I could take it and get ready to sleep. Can’t sleep well without the stuff. Too many years of night shift.
I searched the bag. I found everything I needed for the study – except the 1 centimeter long pill that it all hinged on. Mind you, I’m in a gigantic hospital which has a pharmacy. Nope. I was supposed to bring that pill.
It was at that exact moment that I learned why the Germans loved having surrogate guards from Belrus and the Ukraine in their camps. I met “Ludmilla” the woman who was in charge of monitoring me.
“You forget pill? How you forget pill? Study will fail because you did not the one thing you need bring to hospital.”
She stormed out. I had a brief chat with God, and asked Him to let me sleep enough to do the study. I think He agreed. I trust Him. He also knows I’m very twisted and all I could think of was the Wendy’s commercial about Soviet fashion shows when she angrily chastised me.
When she came back, it was another five minutes on how I was a “Durock” (stupid person – she didn’t say it, but it was pretty clear) for forgetting pill. Finally I simply agreed that I was a deviant, perhaps even a criminal, for missing out on a 1 centimeter long white oblong in packing my CPAP, other meds, inhalers, etc.
I figured I’d calmed her down enough to move forward. I asked, very nicely, where she was originally from. It was the biggest mistake I could have made. My attempt at charming her led to a rather lengthy lecture on why the Soviet Union was right in oppressing the satellite nations and republics.
“They needed firm hand to deal with stupid people. Now stupid people have divorced from Russia. How can you be real country if ends you cannot meet make? They need Russia, but stupid pride gets in way. They will never get territory back. Russian people in those places a vote held.”
Okay… Wow. How could this get worse?
I found out in the next breath. “Stalin did many good things for those people. In 1954… And even Lenin helped them improve…”
That’s how it could get worse.
I was then instructed to strip and climb into a tub full of ice water and hydrogen peroxide. Shrinkage. Bubbling of raw tissue… well, not really. But I was then told to “Get ready for test. Take off shirt. Sit on chair and do not move. I will be back.”
About 45 minutes later she returned. My feet were turning blue from the cold. I was then wired for sound. Evidently I was not only too stupid to remember pill, but too hairy for sensors. I detected a certain amount of glee as she stuck extra sticky pads to me on my back and sides, and never connected wires that I could see. I felt like Krusty the Clown when he was trying to quit smoking.
The razor came out and I was promptly shaved to make things work. Let me tell you, the beard is sacred territory. But it got trimmed under the mass so my neck would take the wires. Lots of wires. Wires on my back, chest, legs, and arms. All of it with the same adhesive that the woman used to plaster her hair down and got a shell. I knew hair was leaving in the Ukrainian equivalent of a Brazilian wax the next morning. Thank Bog (Russian for God) I’d shaved my head that morning.
The bed was produced: it was a Murphy bed that folded up against the wall. I was told to lay down and not move. At this point I’m looking for the cattle prod to make an appearance if I keep up being bad. I don’t move. It’s cold in the room. I normally sleep in a cold room with a lump of blankets, usually 5 layers and a pair of comforters. There is a blanket on the bed that I’d missed. Honest, it was about the thickness of two Handiwipes.
I was then told not to sleep on my back. Mind you, there are so many wires on me that I couldn’t not sleep on my back. I rolled to my side toward the wire tether and tried to sleep. It was a challenge. First, the room is well lit with emergency lighting. You know, the little lights along the floor in big buildings. Not exactly conducive to sleep studies, but there they were.
I think it was actually the “pilot” led on a wall panel that first disturbed me. Intercom unless I’m mistaken. Glad it had power. But it was green spectrum and annoying.
I tried rolling the other way and discovered that the hand-sanitizer dispenser flashed Morse code for YOU WILL NEVER SLEEP every 27 seconds. Not a little led, a big one indicating power would not go away in the event of an emergency.
There I am, no sleep drug, blinking lights, tethered like a falcon on a Saudi’s forearm, and wondering if hypothermia is a common issue under the tissue paper blanket.
I finally fell asleep some great time later. On my back. I awoke to the door admitting brilliant corridor light and Ludmilla saying, “I was specific! Not sleep on back.”
I’m on the edge of lucid and say, “Did I sleep? I was afraid to doze off and quit breathing.”
Wrong answer. “You sleep but on back. What size mask?”
I remembered being told I was out of my mind using nasal pillow masks and told her I’d try the full face mask she preferred. Picture a funnel being strapped over your nose and mouth, with bungee cords going behind your head. You then cinch down the cords and wait until the patient moans in agony. The full face mask is now ready.
“Sleep on side.” Bang. Door shut.
I tried. I really did. But the thing kept hitting the pillow and pushing into the bridge of my nose. I must have grabbed at it because out of the dark, just as I fall asleep, I hear “What is with mask you are doing?”
I’m done with being nice. “I have no idea, I was asleep.”
Speaker clicks off and now I am working through every problem in life. What is the name of the neighbor’s toddler? I know it starts with a “C” but can’t remember. This goes on until I switch topics and review every rotten thing I’ve ever done and apologize to God once again. If it was more than five years ago, I have to remember all the context as well.
I finally dropped off to sleep. I must have run out of sins to apologize for, because I clearly started a new list of them to repent for. I base this on my next conscious thought being “A bear is killing me.”
It wasn’t a bear. It was Ludmilla thrashing my head around by yanking on the full face mask.
“Mask is leaking! What you do to mask to make it leak.”
We’d hit 5-g’s with the head swinging, and the mask must have quit leaking, for she left me alone until 0500 when the lights went on and she said, “Study over. Do not move. You are leaving.”
Yes I was. No doubt about it. She couldn’t wait to get rid of me, and the anticipated Ukrainian version of the wax job was in full swing. I swear there were more patches on my back than she applied. Perhaps she was just grabbing hair and pulling out of spite.
In any event, I was out of the door by 0530. At that time of day, the only thing open was “Submerging Fried Pastry Circles.” I was really hungry and ordered a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. The coffee was excellent. The breakfast sandwich required Imodium later that afternoon. Other details are without merit.
I drove down I-75 with the traffic flow at 80 mph in the predawn and pounded on the search button to find a station that didn’t make we want to swerve into a swamp. It didn’t matter if it was country, rock, oldies – all of them had 2-3 “on air personalities” trying to be cute and clever. Live radio is a tough gig. Filling dead air is hard work. None of them were up to it.
At 0705 I was punching around and heard what sounded like a station signing on the air. The next thing I heard was “The Star Spangled Banner” booming out of the dash. I turned it up. Truly my favorite song.
Only in Florida, have I experienced this on the radio. Having come from a blue state, ain’t no way they would do it. But as I buzzed along I realized how blessed I am to live in this country, especially in Florida. I realized that I was very proud of my service, and the fact that my wife and most of my friends are vets as well.
It made the drive worth it. The torture chamber with blinking lights, the Ukrainian dominatrix, and the inedible fast food all faded from my concerns.
I was an American. And that made it all good.