This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Modern Medicine: Takes My Breath Away

Since you so politely sat through the more serious essay, here's the first lighthearted one. My intent was to create an essay similar to one Dave Barry might write (although clearly I'm no Dave Barry). I hope to write new essays perhaps weekly or bi-weekly. --Liam

UPDATE: It's been pointed out to me that this essay was largely inspired by my interactions with friendly folks on a sleep apnea themed website, If you have apnea, or are considering getting it, you should definitely check it out.

Modern Medicine: Takes My Breath Away

How many wires can be attached to one human being?

If you're anything like me, this is not a question you ever really wanted the answer to. Certainly not if the human being was yourself, and CERTAINLY not if you were then expected to sleep.

Welcome to the modern Sleep Study, a procedure whose purpose seems to be to see how much medical equipment is required to prevent a body from losing consciousness... and then to measure how well you sleep.

It was via just such a procedure that I was recently diagnosed with Sleep Apnea (from the Latin root "apnae", literally translated, "Yeah, Right"). Essentially what this diagnosis means is that during the night of my sleep study, while I was sleeping, periodically my throat closed and I stopped breathing. This would concern me, except that with the application of roughly 4700 electrodes to my skin, the discomfort was such that I think my throat was simply trying to end the torture.

I arrived at the Sleep Disorders Center at around 8:30pm on a Wednesday night with excited anticipation (my hospital had received four stars in Zagat's and a recommendation in Fodor's) and was immediately sent to my room to wait for the sleep technician. In hindsight, this was not unlike being sent to my room to await the arrival home of my Dad when I was a child, although so far no one has been willing to tell me what rule I broke. I was definitely in "Time Out".

The wait was approximately an hour, while this sleep technician, this Marquis de Sade of the medical profession, worked his dark arts upon another poor victim. Eventually, he arrived, towing behind him a cart with enough wires and gadgets and gizmos to repair the Hubble Telescope, and possibly even build one from scratch. The first thing he did was take my blood pressure, because clearly having just been confronted with that mass of equipment and having just started imagining all of the cruel and heartless places he planned to put them, I was at my most relaxed. I forget what my reading was, but I believe the pressure at the heart of a small star is lower.

Next, he left the room (leaving my cyborg other half on the cart beside me), telling me to get into my sleeping clothes, and he'd be right back. This was clearly some definition of "right back" of which I am not aware. Sitting there staring at the medical implements o' torture, I estimate I waited through at least two Presidential administrations. Finally, he returned and began laying out wires across my body, asking me to thread some of them in sensitive places where, trust me, you do NOT want wires.

In case you haven't yet grasped the extent of my experience, here is a partial list of the sensors they put on me, which I am not making up or exaggerating in any way:

· Roughly 10 electrodes on my scalp and face, for an EEG.
· Another 4 electrodes on my chest for an EKG.
· Two more on my legs to detect Restless Leg Syndrome.
· A "canula", that little device you sometimes see under the nose of patients who require supplemental oxygen.
· Two straps, around my chest and abdomen, to measure the expansion of breathing.
· And to top it all off: a sensor on my finger to measure my blood oxygen saturation.

(By the way, I highly recommend the blood oxygen sensor. It makes your finger light up like ET's, and turns a part of your body into your own personal portable night light).

Finally, I was entirely wired up (I'd missed yet ANOTHER election by this point, I have NO idea who the President is today. I assume the answer is "Not still Reagan".) and I had to, you guessed it, use the rest room. Fortunately all of the wires conncted to me had been bound behind my head with a medical scrunchy into a pony tail. For those who do not know me, this is the closest my head will ever come to supporting a pony tail, in so far as I have less individual strands of hair on my head than most people have individual fingers. So I trudged carefully into the bathroom, pulling a cart with the end of the pony tail on it, into the bathroom, and got a good look, for the first time, at the future of humanity after the robots take over and start assimilating us. It was not pretty.

Then it was back to bed, for a nice, calm, restful night's sleep (in the sense that a tornado blowing through the New York Stock Exchange in the middle of a trading day is calm and restful), so that the sleep technician could monitor my every breath and movement (and probably more than a couple of undignified personal region scratchings) and tell me whether my sleep was disturbed. Surprisingly, the answer was: Yes, it was. Who'd have thought. And thus was I diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, and told to come back to repeat the procedure, this time with a mask strapped to my face so that they could "titrate" a "pressure" to keep me "breathing".

And thus ends my first sleep study. An uncomfortable, relatively sleepless night, but at least I can report, for those who were concerned, that hospital beds are just as uncomfortable as ever, and hospital blankets have actual cooling systems woven into them, just like always. Nice to know that the classics never change.

Copyright (c) February 17, 2005 by Liam Johnson.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got a good laugh reading this....

Tuesday, August 09, 2005 11:08:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL...I got a good laugh reading this as well, for I am one of those sleep tech's whom you mentioned! Hmmm, I have never looked at the test in such a tortureous light. I feel for you! I have had the test myself...unfortunately it was how I discovered I was allergic to medical tape! Very funny essay though, thanks for the laugh. And Liam...GO HAVE YOUR CPAP TEST! Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, cardiac arrythmias, car accidents, impotence (yes...impotence), and can be life threatening! :) (Now you know that I have to say that!)

Thursday, November 17, 2005 11:29:00 AM

Blogger Liam said...

Thanks for the good words!

My wife and I have five children (the fifth will be joining us next month), so I'm not so sure the impotence would really bad such a bad thing. :-)


Thursday, November 17, 2005 11:34:00 AM

Blogger Unknown said...


You had about the same experience I had when I was diagnosed. If you want to read my account, it is here:
Did I Shave My Legs For This?

I'll put a comment on each respective section so you can check out my whole experience as well.

Sunday, July 02, 2006 8:24:00 AM


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