The last straw was when I woke up in the bathroom of the Ritz Carlton in New York last weekend. I had made a semi-comfortable pallet for myself—two terry cloth robes, a few fluffy bath towels and a pillow I snatched from the bed just before I was exiled.
The four of us – husband, daughter, son and me – were sharing a room at the hotel. At one in the morning, my fifteen year-old son tearfully shook me awake and said he couldn’t bear my snoring anymore. Please, he begged me, do the sleep apnea study.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve slept on the floor of a hotel bathroom. It started last year on a family vacation. It was to be an idyllic week of looking at colleges in New England and upstate New York for my daughter. Of course, we only needed one hotel room. Who were we anyway, the Rockefellers?
But this last time my kids’ were intensely anxious about sharing a room with me. The previous couple of months my children had taken to shutting my bedroom door and theirs because my snoring was so cartoonishly loud. One night my daughter and her friends taped me so I could hear for myself how bad it was. I was horrified. I asked my husband how he slept through the racket. “I love you,” he said. He refused to comment further.
It was clear I’d have to go to a sleep center to get my snoring under control. I don’t know how I got so loud and disruptive in the first place. Nor am I sure when it began. Menopause may be a factor in there somewhere. So is the sleeping medication I take. In my late forties, I decided that I had had enough of the insomniac life. I was past my childbearing years. I deserved some uninterrupted sleep.
Truth be told, I didn’t want to go to a sleep center. I wasn’t happy about having to sleep in a weird, sterile place hooked up to machines that measured my brain waves and kept track of my oxygenation. I also didn’t want to know if I had sleep apnea because that would involve sleeping with an oxygen mask for the rest of my life. Yes, the rest of my life. The sleep technician made a point of telling me that several times.
I had no idea what to pack for my overnight at the sleep center. Pajamas, sweats? I opted for a nightshirt that said “Hot and Flashy.” You can play with the double entendre. I brought along my iPad so I could watch one of my favorite shows—a British Masterpiece Theatre import called Foyle’s War. It’s about a police inspector protecting his seaside town during the Second World War. I have a crush on Foyle and his younger sidekick, Sergeant Milner. I thought they’d be good company.
But before I got set up with the right sleepwear and the Netflix instant cue there was a matter of finding the place. It was a nondescript building in a business office park. But it was set back in the woods and when the technician let me in all I could think of was that I was stuck in a version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I felt as if I were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I walked in with my little overnight bag stuffed with books and back up clothes. “Get comfy,” said the technician. A few minutes later she started spreading glob in my hair to secure the electrodes. She fit me with tubing in my nose so she could blast me with oxygen if she needed to. I had electrodes on my legs to test for restless leg syndrome and I was also hooked up to an EKG. To top it off, I had one of those bulky finger clips to keep track of my oxygen saturation. I wore a kind of necklace that looked like a fuse box that could easily plug in and out of the machinery keeping track of my body functions in case I had to go to the bathroom. I looked like a robot. I had to go to the bathroom a lot.
The technician gave me a perfunctory definition of sleep apnea—when your airways shut down temporarily—and how that affected sleep and overall demeanor. If I was experiencing sleep apnea she’d replace the nose tubing with an oxygen mask during the night. I tried on three different masks and chose contestant number two.
I called my house just before lights out and said I wanted to go home. “I know,” said my husband. We had already established he wasn’t allowed to come to the testing site to be with me.
I don’t know if I have sleep apnea. The technician told me that she was not allowed to discuss any results with me and I won’t hear anything from my own doctor for a few weeks. But I actually slept for a few hours and I woke up maskless. When I tried to confirm that I didn’t need a mask at any point in the night, the technician said again that she was prohibited from talking about any aspect of the test with me. She sounded like she was wearing her own fuse box.
“And if you don’t have sleep apnea,” asked my concerned children when I got home, “will you keep snoring.”
“Yup,” I said. “And it’ll be your turn to sleep in the bathroom the next time we share a hotel room.”