This is one test you just may want to fail

by Bruce Richards

As tests go, this is one you might prefer to fail.

Having read many articles and sat through a number of presentations on a pervasive health issue that affects commercial drivers as well as the general public, I thought it was time for me to take the next step in my research.

So last month I took the sleep apnea test – purely, as I say, in the interest of research. And also because my wife made me.

I’m sure there are many readers who have taken this test, but I’m equally sure that many haven’t even taken the first step towards diagnosis, the one where you ask your family doctor for an opinion or a referral.

This is one of those health concerns that can seriously affect your everyday life, relationships, and even more importantly, your safety – particularly if you drive for a living.

So, I thought that if I walked you through my experience, it just may encourage a few of you hold-outs to get checked.

Getting tested is actually a pretty straightforward process, at least in the clinic that I attended. On the appointed evening, five of us were scheduled to be tested and we all arrived at more or less the same time.

The usual medical forms were filled out, and then we all watched a 15-minute video on the subject of sleep apnea that provided an explanation of the causes and potential treatments.

As an aside, this test is nothing like some of those other ones; you know the ones, where you drink some foul tasting liquid and ultimately end up exposed on a hospital table while a series of nurses come and go and your doctor does some things that make you wince?

The preparation for this one, except for the requirement to abstain from alcohol on the day of the test, didn’t include any particular inconveniences.

So, after that short digression, back to the clinic: Once the basic paperwork was completed and the video screened, I was led off to my private bedroom and asked to change into my sleeping gear.

This room arrangement is not unlike a college dorm – just about enough room to swing a cat (my cat, Hooligan by name, hates that phrase), with a chair, blackout curtains and a bathroom down the hall. Comfortable enough for a one-night stay.

I sat on the bed and read my book (that’s another tip: be sure to bring something to do to occupy the waiting time involved) until a knock on my door presaged the entry of my clinician.

Together we ran through an extensive review of my family’s health history, ultimately narrowing it down to my own.

This only took a few minutes, but if, like me, you didn’t pay all that much attention to your grandparents’ health issues, there may be a little guesswork involved in your answers.

Then it was on to the next step – getting wired up. For this we had to sit in the hallway (another good reason to bring your PJs along) with a couple of other folks who were also being prepped. During this step they attach monitoring wires to those being tested.

This is quite a procedure in itself. Wires are attached to many parts of your body – the top and side of your head, your face, chin, neck, and legs – but thankfully bypassing anything private.  These, it is explained, will monitor everything that happens while you sleep (everything?), from involuntary leg movement, to grinding of teeth, to your brainwaves. No need to worry though, they say the machine can’t read your thoughts. (Remember the Dylan line ‘You’d need a dump truck momma to unload my head’)?

I watched the guy across from me get fitted (only because he was watching me), and I thought we must both look like a couple of Cyborgs, or another alien from a Star Trek episode – wires extending from all sorts of places, ready to be plugged into the master monitor.

Then I was led back to my bedroom and instructed to lie down and get comfortable. Keep in mind that with all those wires attached to your body, and straps across your chest and stomach – comfort is a remote concept.

My clinician plugged me in and we went through a few more tests to ensure that she had a baseline for reactions such as blinking, eye movement, etc.
Finally we arrived at the stage of “Goodnight, and have a good sleep. We will wake you at 6 a.m.”

‘Not so fast, lady,’ I thought. You see, considering all the stuff attached to you, being in a strange room, and the sound of computers beeping (similar sound to the ones that tell the McDonalds guy that the fries are ready), it’s pretty tough to just go to sleep on cue.

An hour later, I was still wide awake.

A light knock on my door brought my clinician with a sleeping pill.

Apparently lying in bed awake wasn’t helping the testing process, they actually want you to fall asleep.

I took the pill and eventually did go to sleep and as promised, at 6 a.m. the lights burst on and I was unplugged and told that I could go home.

That last part sounded great to me.

I was looking forward to my own bed and to getting some sleep. In a few weeks or so, they say I’ll have the results.

So, you see, the test is simple and painless.

If you think or even suspect you may have a sleep disorder, do yourself a favour – take the test! If nothing else, you’ll have some stories for your friends.

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