Here are the fantasy and reality versions of my recent sleep test:
Fantasy: I enter a room that resembles a science lab with machines beeping, beakers of liquid bubbling dry-ice steam, and scientists with clipboards taking notes. A large one-way glass wall hides the doctors. The bed is round with a vibrating feature that costs 50 cents. A stack of quarters waits on the nightstand. Jackpot. A 72-inch flat screen is mounted to the ceiling and a Die Hard film festival is playing.
Reality: I enter a dim hospital room with one small overhead fluorescent light glowing and a king-size, rock-hard bed covered in 25-count white hospital sheets with old blood stains covered by a thin, crappy blanket. Ah, prison, I remember thee, my second home. The cushion on the single, lonely “not J-Crew green” chair has a torn fabric seat and would sell on Craigslist for a maximum of $10, which I know because I measure everything in Craigslist value. Crappy hospital flat screen: $45 – $60.
Fantasy: I’m greeted by two nurses who model on weekends. They insist on giving me a shiatsu massage to make sure I’m relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep. They talk softly and compliment my muscle tone and how solid I feel. Yep, ladies, keep dreaming, I tell them, this ab table is reserved for one woman, my wife – but don’t stop the massage just because I popped your dream balloons. And they continue, little tears falling from their sad blue eyes.
Reality: I’m greeted by a young male lab-tech who just graduated college, looks 10, and speaks in a monotone, as he explains every technical detail of the test at a volume I stopped being able to hear when I was 18 and sat in the front row of a Who concert. Why can’t I sleep through this drone of medical detail, God? Why? Tell me.
Fantasy: After my massage, I’m dressed in Hugh Hefner Collection black and red silk pjs and tucked into bed by the nurses. Two electrodes are placed on my head, Bruce Willis shoots bad guys above me, and the ladies sing Beatles songs until my eyelids can no longer resist their siren powers. And I dream of . . . .
Reality: The lab tech robs Home Depot of every foot of wire they sell, then uses a thick gel-like glue to plaster all of it to my face, head, shins and stomach. The process takes 45 minutes and feels like watching King Lear in German. Worst of all, he asks personal questions of me. I’m grumpy, tired and want to sleep. I don’t like telling him about my life but can’t escape his suffocating, questioning captivity, while wishing he might accidentally stick one of the wires in a live socket and electrocute me.
Fantasy: I sleep like a rock.
Reality: I sleep like shit.
Fantasy: The nurses gently wake me in the morning with soft kisses. You taste like maple bacon, they say, delicious. The doctor interrupts and tells me she watched my brain waves with great interest last night and has never seen anything quite like them. Would I mind coming back next week when her colleagues from Austria will be visiting? They’d like to study my magnificent brain. Of course, my good doctor. Of course. Anything for science and my two nurse gal-pals.
Reality: I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep. I see the infrared camera and decide to give him the tech something to watch. So, I squirm around the bed, stretch, and dredge up any and every memory I can, flipping back and forth from childhood to adult memories, from terrible events (coughing up blood on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean) to the best moments (my daughter being born). Back and forth I go, lighting up my brain waves (so, I think), living my life over in my head, expecting the tech to come tell me the computer is on fire and to stop thinking before I burn down the entire hospital.
Fantasy: I am a perfect sleeper. No farting, snoring, no scratching body parts, nothing. Perfect lamb, I am.
Reality: My oxygen dips below acceptable levels and I’m given 1 liter of O2 for the remainder of the test. Four days later, R2D2’s little brother, O2D2, shows up at my home and starts humming and burping in my bedroom each night delivering oxygen.
Fantasy: I fly home instead of driving.
Reality: I don’t let this new milestone rock my world. My new positive attitude of “one day at time” shields me against bad thoughts and self-pity. I am grateful. I am lucky. I have so much to be thankful for. I repeat this over and over until it sinks in and life goes on.