July 16, 2016

Sleep Retardant

Sleep Retardant
By John R. Greenwood

 It’s 4:45am and I just returned from my physician prescribed sleep study.

Warning: I’m not happy. 

First of all let me say, this is not one of those, grumpy-old-man-sour-grapes-mad-at-the-world rants, it’s a simple observation inflamed by the fact that I’m tired and I haven’t had anything inspire me to start typing in quite awhile. 

That changed this morning. 

As a professional truck driver and transportation manager I have carried a Class A CDL driver’s license for decades. One requirement of being a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) holder is you must pass a DOT (Department of Transportation) physical every two years. If you have extenuating health issues you may need a yearly physical. Up until a year ago I never had any issue of any kind and I always passed my two year visit with flying colors. 

That is until I got the Neck Lady. The infamous lady with the rubber ruler who told me my neck size coupled with the 1940’s weight chart on the wall dictated that I was a “candidate” for sleep apnea. When I responded with the fact that I slept like a baby and never experienced insomnia more than a handful of times in my life, she only seemed more determined to send me to sleep hell. It’s not that I don’t believe sleep apnea is a serious and problematic health concern, because I do. I know several people who wear their CPAP apparatus faithfully and swear by it’s results. Part of me was upset about having to incur more expensive testing when I didn’t feel there was reasonable cause. Maybe a tiny sliver of my ego was upset because I’d been reduced to once-a-year re-cert status—that is, until I could be properly diagnosed. 

So after dragging my feet for a few months I decided to talk to my own doctor. She seemed minutely sympathetic but ultimately suggested that I suck it up and find out for sure. So, I did. 

A week later I got a call for a consultation appointment. Three weeks later I had my consultation which basically consisted of filling out paperwork, answering a few questions, and another $40 copay. “The Sleep Center will be in contact in a week or two with your appointment,” were the last words I heard for two months until I called them back and asked what the story was. My physical would be running out in September, it was June, and my consultation had been in April. “Oh, we’ll get right back to you.” The following week I got a call and a date. 

It’s now the second week in July and I’m heading to my 7:30pm sleep study and where the fun stuff is about to begin. 

I arrived on time with my Walmart backpack. It contained a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to sleep in, my iPod for some relaxation music, and Tom Brokaw’s book, “A Lucky Life Interrupted.” I smiled the next morning when I thought of titling this piece, “A Sucky Night Interrupted.” 

I knew I was at the right location when I saw Ma & Pa Kettle (Google them) heading in the door—Pa with a big pink pillow nestled under his arm. I wondered if I missed the memo telling us we could bring our own pillow(s) to the sleep study? Ma & Pa took the elevator to the second floor, I took the stairs. The elevator was small and the pillow was big. It was a long way to the second floor in cozy quarters. I wasn’t in the mood for cozy. We all arrived at the intercom simultaneously so I pushed the button and stepped aside. I let the Kettle’s go first. I had all night. 

Once we were allowed access a young girl whisked the Kettle's away. I wasn't sure which one was taking the study. Maybe they both were, but the pink pillow case told me Pa was going to deposit Ma then head back to the hills. I was greeted by slender and pleasant Dustin. He was grey in color and polite. He sensed a less than exuberant old man, I sensed an overly precise young man who took his job seriously. He led me to Room #2 and with clipboard in hand proceeded to recite the rules and regulations of the house. I listened with the same excitement I did when listening to the Neck Lady list the markers for sleep apnea a lifetime earlier. I did my darnedest to handle this whole ordeal procedure like an adult. I had done everything I was supposed to do. For the first time in my life I felt prepared for a test. I was tired and all I had to do is sleep—right? How hard could it be to sleep in a strange setting? I’d slept in the passenger seat of a rolling eighteen-wheeler at 65mph on the NYS Thruway with my head bouncing off the window at 3pm in afternoon. This would be a piece of cake. I finally found a test I might be able to get a 100 on and maybe even get extra points for drooling. 

Hook me up Dustin I’m raring to go…

Then reality set in. 

I saw the wires, probes, machines, monitors, and additional paraphernalia that was about to be connected to thing atop my self described, fat neck. 

Maybe my optimism was premature? 

I kept hearing my well intentioned primary care doctor’s voice, “Suck it up.” I stood there like a real adult and did just as Dustin directed. He began attaching sticky probe tape on me from head to toe. I remained calm and compliant. Once Dustin had attached 95% of my testing paraphernalia he told me to go ahead and relax until I was ready to actually go to sleep. At that point he would finish hooking me up and after a few minor calibrations I would be ready for a peaceful nights sleep. After he left I turned on some relaxation music and sat quietly reading my book. Reading is a great sleep inhibitor for me and within 45 minutes I was ready to begin my sleep journey. After waiting another 30 minutes for my host to return I was beginning to lose some of the calm I’d collected. Dustin finally arrived to complete the connections. I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Once all the apparatus was connected I could barely move my head. He gave me my final instructions and turned the light off as he left. I managed to get on my side and as I lowered my heavily wired head to the so called pillows that were provided I knew instantly I was in trouble. The pillows they expected me to sleep on were like flimsy foam from a stuffed animal. The bouncy cheap stuff you might find in a sofa pillow if it were being used as a movie prop. It was like lowering my head onto a half inflated balloon. I’m not a pillow snob. Although I prefer my own pillow(s), I can usually survive a night or two on hotel pillows of substandard construction. These pillows had no business even being called pillows. I began to panic. With each attempt to adjust my position and get comfortable my fear grew. I began to get claustrophobic. My hopes of acing this test were beginning to fade. No matter how much I punched and poked those puny fake pillows they were not going to comply. I felt sure my night was going to be filled with nightmares of Neck Lady cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West in my ear, “You have apnea, you have apnea. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,ha!”

I can honestly say that, other than the night Taco Bowl tried to food poison me, this was the worst night’s sleep I have ever experienced. I’m sure that if this sleep test was graded on a scale of 1-100, my score was going to be a 12 or less. I felt like someone was trying to strangle me all night with a phone cord. Those of you over forty may know what phone cord is. If I’m torturing you by dragging this story out, you’ll have some idea of how torturous a night I had. 

I think I may have had a couple of two hour stretches where I finally fell asleep. 

I was awakened by a quiet rap,rap,rap on the door. It was Dustin. He apologized for having to disturb me but he said, “You’ve managed to disconnect all but a couple of your wires. I’m sorry but I’m going to have to re-calibrate the equipment.”

I looked at him with vacant eyes of disbelief. 

“That’s not happening scooter. It’s 4am and that’s when my alarm goes off. There’s no way I can go back to not sleeping.” 

He had that look of victory, like David beating down Goliath. 

“Well, we have six hours of data. You can go home if you want.” 

I’m sure he’d just told me the machine had been disconnected from the majority of probes. If that was true my data would be incomplete or at best show I slept like a barrel of monkeys. I knew right then I was doomed anyway. 

Get me out of here.

When he went to unhook me from the contraption where all the wires came together he found it on the floor between the nightstand and the bed. No wonder I couldn’t move, with the unit on the floor all my wires were taught as a Wicked Tuna fishing line. I’m surprised he didn’t come in to find me blue and unresponsive. I looked on the other side of the bed and there were the two pillow imposters against the far wall. Obviously I’d had a midnight hissy-fit and flung them with an anger they deserved. I had stripped the blanket from the bed and tucked into a ball to use as a pillow backup and slept with just a sheet over me. The bed looked like a crime scene. I might be sent away to sleep prison after this episode. I felt like a failure and a fraud. I’d always boasted that after working the nightshift for two years in the 80’s, I could sleep on a ladder if I had to. 

Dustin couldn't get me out of there any faster if he tried. The only thing he was worried about was the survey on the clipboard. He’d told me the night before that I would need to fill one out before leaving. I couldn’t wait. I was ready to share my viewpoint right then and there. 

“I can tell you right now those pillows belong in the dumpster” 

“We’ve had a couple people say that.”

“A couple?” 

“We’ll to be honest one lady said they were the best pillows she’d ever slept on.” 

“Who was that, Wilma Flintstone?” 

No response…

Dustin gathered up his stuff and told me to come out to the front desk when I was ready and he’d let me out. I felt bad. I think I was scaring him. I had flashbacks of my father when he would lose his patience during one of his prolonged hospital stays. He could be a nurses nightmare and dream all in the same day. I could hear him laughing from above while cheering, “That’s my boy.” 

As I snapped a farewell photo to memorialize my experience I sat for a moment and tried to put it all in perspective. I had come to some serious conclusions about sleep apnea. Foremost, it is a real and serious condition that should not be taken lightly. This piece was meant as a relief valve for my frustration with the sleep study itself. I shared it as entertainment more than a health care review. I do wonder if the CPAP industry isn’t thrilled to death by this additional gold rush. I think there should be a more in-depth interview process before sending someone for testing that I found to be questionable at best. As the case in any issue you can usually justify the means if you weight the argument enough to one side. It’s hard to argue with the positive results many people see when properly diagnosed and treated. I argue that you would be hard pressed to find any person who didn’t possess a sleep issue of some kind from time to time. Are we destined to be a society filled with mask covered faces attached to breathing machines? Maybe we place too much emphasis on perfection. In doing so we create a culture of doubt and despair. Often to such a degree we create a more complex mental or physical problem. I will follow through with my testing and take my medicine no matter what the final diagnosis may be. I may not agree with it but in the end I must set an example for others and comply with the regulations my industry has created in the interest of public safety. 

When I complained to Sleep Tech Dustin about the horrible pillows we were expected to ease into slumber on he did add that regulations require the pillows to be flame retardant. He said, “These are the only flame retardant pillows we could find.” 

I’m thinking maybe they were the cheapest fame retardant pillows they could find but I know one thing for certain they were definitely sleep retardant. 

I need a nap. 

June 07, 2016

Facebook Birthday Wishes

Facebook Birthday Wishes 2016
By John R. Greenwood

They kept coming and coming. Some short, some with added exclamation points, some with nice comments, a few with shots about my advanced age--but they came. I was here to see them, and appreciate them. Facebook helps the Happy Birthday chain letter extend far and wide. At first you don't pay attention because you know your name is popping up like spam from a porn site all across the internet. People you haven't heard from in years show up at the party and wish you a Happy Birthday like you were special or something. At first you treat it matter-of-factly like the Happy Birthdays don't mean anything to you. Then reality sets in. These are people who you embraced as friends somewhere along the last 61 years of your life. You start adding them up like the accountant at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life." Then as you look closer at the list you realize how lucky you are to know the people you do. Whether it's family or friends, they are people who have touched and influenced your life in some fashion. I have been blessed with an abundance of people who, even if we haven't seen each other since high school, I consider a friend. Close friends or old friends, immediate family or distant relative, the experiences and memories remain a part of us. It's not about keeping score. It's about the ride. It's about how we got to this point and who was some cog in that wheel. Whether they contribute to our campaign or whether they're viewing from the curb they're a participant in our album. It doesn't matter to me if you were at my wedding or graduation. I could care less if you were someone I knew for one summer or you're someone I've seen Monday through Friday for the last thirty years, you're important to me and I cherish whatever connection we shared regardless of the footprint. What has been most important to me in this 61 year journey has been the stories of the people I've been blessed to know. The people sending Facebook birthday messages are a cross section of my life. There are many people on that list I have never even had the pleasure of meeting in person yet their well wishes blanket me with calm and comfort. It isn't about what people do for you, it's about what people mean to you. Knowing a friend is struggling with a sick parent or the loss of a pet at the same time as you can ease you through a rough patch. Something as simple as a "Like" on a feel good moment can fluff your pillow and make you sleep a little better at night. Facebook can do a lot of damage if left alone in the wrong hands but it can also shrink our world just enough to see our friends and family a little clearer and closer than we could before its existence. 

To all of you who were kind enough to send me birthday wishes, I thank you for them and I thank you for your friendship regardless of how thick or how thin it is. You make me happy to be in this game. Even if birthday wishes never arrived from you, know that if you're on my list, you are there for a reason. It's because you're someone I met along the way and that means more to me than anything. 

Happy Birthday to me?

You betcha.

June 05, 2016

Color Change

Color Change
By John R. Greenwood

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in May and there’s a world of options at my doorstep. Do I work in the yard, clean the garage, get the motorcycle out, go for hike, wash the car, or something else on the endless list of possibilities? It’s always a question that’s better answered Friday night before going to bed. Mrs. G and I start every day early, even Saturdays and Sundays. This allows us to maximize our timeline for the rest of the day. You also feel less guilty if a little nap fills in the cracks. If we don’t have a game plan by 7am things tend to go askew. It’s called compromise and conquer. I’ve found a little horse trading doesn’t hurt as long as I don’t try to sneak one by a circumspect spouse. Like she says, “I’ve worked with you before.” 

I discovered after years of research that is indeed better to say, “If I get this done, I was thinking of going to do that?”, versus saying,” If I go do that, I promise I’ll do this later.” These are the little technical aspects of marriage you don’t learn overnight. There are a lot of perks to being married, I have been in training for decades on how to enjoy them all with the smallest amount of conflict. For those liars out there who claim to be in charge—“Wake up, it’s a dream.” 

Here’s a good example: 
I’ve honed my brain to more readily accept paint color changes. Fighting them only prolongs the inevitable. My father was a champ. He avoided repainting the living room 25 years at a pop. I’ve found that accepting painting projects is like putting premium gas in your car. It’s a little more expensive and you question whether the expense is worth it—until you realize just how much smoother the engine runs on the good stuff. Succumbing to that sentence all men dread, “I was thinking about painting the living room a different color.”, and responding with, “Sure, I think that’s a great idea, I think we could use a change.”, will not only give you the same result it will make you that mythical knight in shining armor you heard about when you were dating. 

This post is really a little deeper under the surface. It’s about compromise in a marriage and in life in general. We all want what we want and when we don’t get it we either pout, complain, or revolt. Seldom do we go to the other side of the street to see what the view is from there. This is not a decline in today’s society, it’s not Obama’s fault, it’s not due to gluten overload—it’s human nature. When I was a kid I was pretty lucky, I didn’t go without much. I didn’t just stick my hand out, I did as I was told. I mowed the lawn, changed the bulb in my grandmother’s well house, and fed the dog when threatened. I stayed out of trouble (didn’t get caught), I was polite, and I didn’t talk back to my parents—until the stupid part of my brain kicked in my senior year of high school. 

What happened over the next few years is what happens to most men. We go from receiving to providing. I became a husband when my age still ended with an ’n’, and a father the first year it ended in 'y'. That’s when everything changed, “big time.” I became my father, a father, the father. Someone turned the mirror around and I was not prepared for it. You tackle the most intense on the job training program ever devised and it lasts until you flatline. The best thing you can do for yourself is crank open your mind and your heart as wide as it will go, take a deep breath and enjoy every diaper, cut, crash, tear, repair, tantrum, conflict, suggestion, rain drop and cable bill. If you take them like a Mike Tyson sparring partner you will survive disheveled but intact. You might even get through your fifties with a smile and no artificial parts. 

I watch all the political rhetoric and I shake like a Chihuahua in November. I can’t even go there, it makes my temples throb. Wake up America, we’re already great, we need to start acting like it. Stop going from 0-90mph before doing your homework. Don’t jump on the first bus that promises free beer in your faucets. The song tells us, “You can’t always get want you want,” and it’s true. If we were more geared for giving and sharing we’d sleep better and wouldn’t need our Winchester’s. Suck it up, kiss the dirt in front of your house, apartment, or trailer and be glad you have running water and toilet paper. I whine with the best of them when things get squirrelly but eventually someone splashes cold water in my face and I come to my senses. I’m convinced we all need to turn around, go back in the house and fix our own messes. Stop blaming, pointing, and critiquing everything we get our big mouths on. This post began over a month ago and I filed it away under "Not Sure." After listening to the nonsense oozing from the airwaves this morning I thought maybe it made sense to post it, if for no other reason than to settle my mind and to look forward to whatever tomorrow brings. 

Color Change, it's a lifesaver...