Vacation time is the time for me to spend at least one week jumping through various medical hoops, like a trained dog, and this year was no different. In fact, the one week I wanted to take, turned into two when I visited my local Sleep Clinic. They are very good at hanging me up there, and they struck again. Now I'm forced to take BOTH weeks of my vacation, so I can do another sleep test tomorrow (Thursday) night. The doc I see out there don't think my pressure is high enough on my CPAP, so I have to go through all that baloney again that I went through three years ago, then come back in in two weeks or so, in order to get my machine reset, have a followup visit, and finally get a silly form signed that Uncle Sam says I HAVE to have signed each year, in order to stay medically qualified to work at my occupation another year.
And do you know what?? I'll get all that done, hit the road again, with my machine blowing air into my lungs harder, and still be sleep-deprived for half the week anyway!!! I've told that doctor before that my sleep apnea therapy only impacts the actual sleep I get by about 25% (my own estimate); the other 75% is the working conditions I endure on a daily basis and the normal stress of my occupation which, all too many times, actually reduce the amount of sleep I'm able to get. It ain't just a matter of strapping my mask on and drifting right off to dreamland on my break (assuming I'm able to even get a full break!) Not at all. Oh, do I ever wish it was that easy!! Apparently, though, because I haven't actually seen the doctor himself for two years, seeing his assistant instead, I guess he forgot about it. I didn't feel like explaining it all over again when I was out there last week. Maybe I'll print out a copy of this entry and give it to him when I do the followup visit. Or maybe not. Who knows? Sometimes I just tend to shrug and say, "What's the point?"
All I know is that my vacation is dead until next year. That second week that I wanted to take later, free of [Bleep!!] doctors, is being taken now instead of sometime in the near future. Oh, I could have reset the test for another day, even for a Sunday night, but that would have left me more than likely having to leave out on Monday with a probable accumulated 3 to 4 actual hours of sleep, if that much, and then, naturally, be expected to drive all day in that dangerous condition. So, in my infinite wisdom, I decided that just taking the second week and getting the crap over with would work out best, as I'd at least have all day Friday to recuperate. If there's something distasteful I have to go through, then I at least want it over with ASAP!
The task that awaits me tomorrow night is decidedly distasteful, namely because a "sleep test" is much more of a "I hope I can maybe sleep a little bit" test, in reality. For those of you who have never experienced one, allow me to enlighten you:
1. For starters, you're sleeping in a strange bed -- not the one you're used to at home (or in the sleeper, in my case.) The one I had on my initial test reminded me of sleeping on a big marshmallow. Mattress was WAY too soft and I kinda sunk into it, like lying in quicksand. Could barely get back out of it on my own. It was worse than the worst $25 fleabag motel "sag-o-matic" bed that you could ever imagine!
2. You're hooked to approx. 23,754 (est.) different wires, with sensors glued to your head and an electrolytic cream all sticky and gooey in your hair. When you're hooked up and attempt to speak, your words come out in full stereo and the gizmos on your skull can pick up radio stations 100 miles away. You could snap your fingers and light up your cigarette with the sparks (except, of course, you aren't allowed to smoke in there!) Okay, okay!! I'm exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea -- it AIN'T comfortable at all! And then you're expected to actually sleep, all wired up like that!! Yeah. Right. Tell me another one!!
3. You know you're being constantly monitored; that a technician is listening to every sound you make, to see if you snore any (one of the chief symptoms of OSA.) Er -- uhhh -- well, suffice it to say that this is NOT the best time to eat two plates of beans, or a big bowl of chili for supper on the night of the test. Stomach gas is a no-no here, definitely. At any rate, it makes it even harder to sleep, knowing you're being watched over by Big Brother in the next room (or Big Sister, as the case may be.)
4. Then you do finally manage to nod out and . . . the @#!!!%&*!! so and so's keep waking you back up!!!!! It's like the late, great, Charlton Heston cried in Planet Of The Apes, "It's a madhouse!! A MADHOUSE!!!" The techs either wake you up coming in to adjust the air pressure setting on the CPAP you're using, or you'll hear a soft voice over the intercom system intoning, "I need for you to turn over on your other side, Mr. Wayland." or "I need for you to sleep on your back now." My back??!! I NEVER sleep on my back, normally! I am a confirmed side-sleeper, or sprawled out halfway on my belly at times, but never on my back. But since that's also the most apnea-prone position you can sleep in, they want to see how effective the new pressure setting is. And then of course, about the time you're really sleeping soundly and they leave you alone, they wake you up for good. It's morning. Test over. They take the wires off of you and you shower the goo out of your hair.
And, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, you walk out of the clinic, get in your car and drive to the closest Waffle House, to get some breakfast, with extra caffeine in whatever you drink. It's gonna be a LONG day!!! And an even longer wait to get the results of the test. Averages two weeks while they study everything there is to study. So, it'll be that long before I even get my machine turned up, and that has to be done by the technicians at the medical supply place that supplied the machine. Takes a special code sequence to get into the menus that allow you to reset it. Only the techs have those codes, so it's not a user-friendly deal at all.
Then I talk to the sleep doc again, and then, finally, get the signed FMCSA form I need, so I can give it to my regular doc when she does my DOT physical in June. That's all assuming everything goes well, of course. If it doesn't, I might get some unpaid vacation I definitely don't want and can't afford to take, what with all the bills I owe. Got my fingers and toes crossed as I do every year. All this, for one lousy piece of paper, in order to stay qualified.
The government gets involved and everything goes from bad to worse, as usual. If it moves, tax it; if it moves too slow, regulate it; if it don't move at all, subsidize it -- that's how the government thinks. I work in one of the most overregulated occupations in the world. It's supposed to all be about "safety," but in reality, only about 20% of the regulations have any direct bearing on safety in the first place. They're lightning-fast, jumping in on the medical hoopla, but, as I said above, the rigors of the job itself are more to blame for driver's sleep deprivation than any actual sleep disorder, or treatment thereof. And no one, seemingly, is interested in doing anything about some of the real problems in my industry.
More to come on that in Part 2, a little later.