Moonlighting as a lab rat.
Mlugh. You’ll have to forgive me, I’m a bit tired today. I didn’t sleep that well last night, mostly due to plastic tube stuffed up my nose, although all those wires glued to my head didn’t help either.
You see, ever since I was a wee laddie, I’ve had an occasional tendency to wake up panicking, full-on fight or flight, heart pounding, vision shaking, and it sucks. I always just dealt with it, but since I am temporarily a member of a functional medical system, I figured I’d try to find out wtf was going on.
So yesterday evening at six o’clock I found myself sitting in the hospital lobby, watching everyone watch everyone else, all trying to figure out who was dying, and of what. (Kinda macabre, but be honest, you know that’s what’s going on in the minds of those people who aren’t particularly dying or visiting someone who is.)
They gave me room 339, fine, we went up there and checked in again, okay, then entered the room…kind of a shock. It was also a totally normal hospital room. But it was, you know, a hospital room. For me!
The narrow bed that can be raised in the back or the legs. The broad triangle handle hanging down to help the ailing one sit up. The bulky remote control, clunky like it just escaped from 1970, with two yellow buttons to turn off the lights, and a big glowing red one to call the nurse. The TV mounted up in the corner above a utilitarian visitor chair and atrocious curtains.
Thus far in life, “patient” has only been applied to me as an adjective, rarely before as a noun.
They asked if I wanted dinner. We’d quickly scarfed down a vegetable stir-fry before leaving the house, but I figured something more solid would be a good idea. White plastic tray. White IKEA plate. Two packages, sealed in plastic, each with two pieces of thin white bread. Two packages, in sealed plastic, each with two pieces of white cheese. Two pats of butter. A small cup of yogurt, cherry.
Why is hospital food so bad? I know some patients need bland and basic food, but at those prices, can’t the rest of us get a little flavour? Or at least a second color?
For beverage they offered coffee or black tea. Odd choices for dinner in a sleep lab, no? Can a brother get some chamomile?
After the monochromatic dinner the nurse dude came in and started gluing shit to my head. Well, first he strapped a plastic powerpack to my chest to which everything would be attached, starting with a belt around my stomach, a stethoscope taped to my jugular, and then the wires. Most of them went to my head and had a little metal cup on the other end, but I was mildly alarmed to see a pair of little alligator clips in the mess too. These were attached to little metal Frankenstein nubs sticking up from pads glued on my gut and shoulder. If they’d brought out a car battery I would have told them everything.
The cups at the end of the wires were glued on. Top of the head, sides of the head, back of the head, behind the ears, temples, two on the chin, and one smack dab in between my eyebrows. That’s 13 wires hanging off me. I expected a man with six fingers on his right hand to tell me it was simple really, he was going to suck one year of my life away…
Later the night-shift nurse added two more wires, connected to Velcro ankle-bands, and the plastic tubing stuck up my nose that I associate with the colossal case of emphysema my grandfather had, then said “call for the nurse if you need to pee.”
It’s all connected to a machine humming away in the corner, and there’s a camera on the opposite wall recording the whole time.
I sat there, wired up like the display at a tech museum, trying to decide if I felt closer to A Clockwork Orange or Captain America. Either way, I found it entertaining that K came to the US and saw things from the movies (like diner waitresses topping up your coffee from those big bulbous coffeepots, “regular or decaf hun?”) and I had the same in Belgium. I wonder if my amusement showed up on the screens?
I’m not sure how one is supposed to have a normal night’s sleep in those conditions, but I gave it the old college try, and after what only felt like 3-4 nights, the nurse charged in, slamming on the incredibly bright light and bustling brusquely about as only a nurse can.
She quickly bustled away again after plunking down a pair of feedback forms, in Dutch of course. As I was puzzling over those I started yanking the shit off, starting with the chin and jugular (the plastic tubing came off as soon as the light went on). By the time she came back to collect my forms I had ripped most of them out of my hair, and let me tell you, those f’ers didn’t come out easy.
Nor did they come out clean. They said the glue will come out after 5-6 showers. So I walked out and across the lobby, already busy at 7:00 AM, looking like I had been, shall we say “anointed”? by an impressively large seagull with an incredibly toxic diet. Must be the hospital food.
In two weeks I’ll go back to hear if I’m good at sleeping or not…