AZ To Houston (AKA Sleep Lab)

One Small Step


It was the third time that I was invited to experience being wired everywhere possible and then oxygenated and told to go to sleep for at least 5 hours. The drill was the same: Arrive at the lab, sign papers, talk with the Therapist, change into nighties, watch TV for a while to try to get tired, investigate the quarters for the potty, yawn a bit, and then wait for the wire guy to show with his kit of attachments. In all, I believe I counted about 31 plus or minus brass looking electrodes that were to be placed in various body locations.

Wire guy was very cool—explained stuff as he went. His routine was very rhythmic: spot a place, rub the place with a sandpaper Q-Tip, put gorilla glue on the spot, and then put the wire end in place with pressure so it would stick. If I recall, there were about 8 on the skull, 4 on the legs, 6 on the chest, 4 on the face, 2 on the eyelids, 2 on the jaw, and about 5 more at undisclosed locations in the midsection.

There I was with my knit Buckeye shorts, Elon College T-Shirt, no shoes—looking like I just had a perm and the permer forgot to take the wires out. I was ready to go. I checked out the mirror and it sort of scared me a bit. What if, as the ad says, “Gorilla glue never lets go”? Would I have fun at work or what…

A few adjustments, a few pre-test questions, a few pills to take, and I was led to the bed…the bed that I would dread…with the wires in my head and hoping they would not bled…

Was there anything he should know about my sleeping habits that would be associated with the study? I said no, I don’t think so, with the exception of a full bladder about 2:24AM, a cramping left leg when I turn over, and an occasional flurry of punching my pillow whenever I think of paying taxes. Other than that, nothing should interfere with the test. Well, except the wires that came out of my body everywhere and the mask that was strapped to my face. How in the world would I ever sleep? I wondered how porcupines sleep ever at all. Mr. wire guy assured me that he would keep watch and if one became dislodged he would come in and put it back on. Okay, that sounded good.

It was time…the bed beckoned. As I walked slowly in that direction he followed with the wire ends all connected to a rather large black box hanging on an IV-looking metal stand. I followed his direction and sat on the edge of the bed that I dread. He sort of worked with the wires, moved them around and loosened them away from the body so that I could have turning room. I don’t turn like most others.

Because of my less than graceful body moves and generally weaker muscles, I rise up almost on all fours and then, like a huge boulder, I cut the switch and free fall onto the mattress. A description might be like throwing a very heavy rock into a lake…and watching the ripples. Well, beds seem to ripple also….not good for relationships if you happen to have a significant other on board. YIKES.

He had me lay flat on my back and look at the ceiling. He was to ask me several questions from the lab to check my wiring and then turn the lights out. Good. Head straight, roll eyes to the left, right, up, and down. Blink the lids 5 times. Grind your teeth 3 times. Take a deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds.

Wiggle your nose. Lift your left and then right arms. For a minute I thought he was going to say…and put your right foot in and your left foot out and…Word from the lab was Roger. Good job. Nighty night, see you later. Lights out to very dark. Except a little red bead-like light emitting from the 3 cameras recording every move. Very scary. I thought maybe I would put on a show of some kind, but decided it would not be in my best interest…or anyone else’s.

I settled in as the wires pulled tight in a few places. He came back once to find a wire that pulled loose on my chest. In a smooth move he reattached the brass looking thing back on. Then it really was smooth sailing. It was about 10:15PM. Of course at 2:24AM I received a message from Bob the Bladder alerting me that he needed to be drained. There was a microphone on a board next to my head so I gave the leader the code word. In a commanding voice I shouted Bladder Control, Bladder Control. The light went on immediately, my man was there to shift a wire or two and put my right hand on the IV rack and off I was directed north to the relief room.

A few dribbles later I was heading south back to bed. My man was at my side to make sure the wires were working. The lights went out and there I was—once again being monitored by the lab. I meant to mention that when he turned the lights of it went black…I mean BLACK……you can’t see your hands in front of your face black. Now that was scary.

After a while I dozed off again. Seemed very soon the lights went on again. Then I heard a voice saying, “Time to get up. The study is over. Legs over the side.” My mentor asked if I would like to shower to clean the glue off.  Not on your life. I wanted to look like I was up all night with the Gorilla in my hair. I intended to stop for coffee on the way home and wanted to share ugly me with the world.

What I found at the coffee shop was a bit caustic. No one looked or cared whether this guy—who could have been a serial killer based on the Gorilla in his hair—was there or not. They had more important stuff to do. Like calling people on their cell…or listening to music through earbuds…or putting on eyeshadow…or bullshitting with their plumber buddies about the date they had last evening. I left the shop depressed. No one cared to ask how I became that way: disheveled and glued.

After being dewired, I was given a list of questions to answer…sort of interesting. Here we have a well trained technician working with thousands of dollars of specialized equipment to monitor every inch of my body for several hours through about 30 wire attachments to my skin and bones, and the first question was: how did I sleep?  Was it a good sleep?  And 8 more of similar kind…

Those over, I gathered my meager belongings—the Buckeye shorts and the Elon t-Shirt—said my goodbyes to the therapist, and hit the road, hoping that I didn’t trip or fall on my wobbly legs and get stuck to the ground with the Gorilla Glue.

Perhaps your physician may recommend that you be referred to the Sleep Lab for testing. You may, as I did, fantasize that you were not at the Sleep Lab but at the Shuttle Lab being prepared for astronaut duty on the next moon shot.


Admittedly it was a stretch…but isn’t that what dreams are made of? The larger the stretch, the greater the achievement in one’s own mind. As he was asking me the 10 questions, I could think of the countdown before being strapped into my seat. I was prepared. And as he said his last words—“Lights out”—what I heard was “Lift off,”and off into sleep space I traveled until my landing several hours later, safe at home again.



One Comment

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