I just let a bunch of strangers watch me sleep
(It was not a sex thing.)
(At least, not on my end. Maybe the strangers got off.)
This was a medical thing: a procedure called a polysomnogram, A.K.A. a sleep study.
I suffer from Night Terrors. Actually, my wife suffers from them. I don’t remember them at all. During the night, I yell and thrash, emitting blood-curdling screams like someone is about it kill me. I have no idea who or what these invisible monsters are. I wake up perfectly refreshed, next to a woman with P.T.S.D. She obviously hates my medical condition, because 1) her sleep is ruined, and 2) I scream things like “please… not me… take her.”*
(*this is a joke)
I have finally relented, in embarrassment and shame, to her long-standing request that I seek medical help.
The initial consultation with my sleep doctor did not go well. I screwed up and told him that I was a comedian. This is always a colossal mistake. As all comedians know, what we do for a living is disgusting and wrong, and should remain a cancerous secret. As soon as I tell people, I feel the need to entertain conversation partners on the spot. Which is another way of saying: I bombed in front of the sleep doctor.
Doctor: What do you do for a living?
Me: I’m a comedian.
Doctor: Interesting. You know, I’ve heard a lot of comedians kill themselves.
Me: Is that a prescription?
Me: I was joking.
Doctor: I see. We’re going to do a study where we videotape you sleeping.
Me: Can I get a copy of that for Instagram?
Doctor: No, that would not be appropriate.
Me: I was joking.
Doctor: I see. You’ll need to stay overnight next Wednesday, and follow your usual sleep routine.
Me: Is there an upper-limit on stuffed animals?
Doctor: The room is 8 x 12 feet.
Me: I was joking.
Doctor: I see.
So, I was more on edge than usual when I showed up for my actual overnight sleep study, on a nondescript office floor in midtown Manhattan. The plan was to videotape me sleeping while hooked up to a bunch of equipment, and try to find out what the problem was.
My room looked like a $70-a-night motel: not the worst place I’ll ever sleep, but hopefully in the top twenty. There were a few mystery goo streaks on the wall that I told myself were normal. There were also scratches and scuffs on the wall, presumably made by my fellow night terror patients.
There was a weird circular opening right by the bed, into the hallway, that I can only describe as a medical glory hole. I was desperate to know its function, but too embarrassed to ask.
Thank God, the doctor I bombed in front of was not there. Instead, a very sweet male nurse named Muqtar took care of me. I liked Muqtar a great deal. I just wish he had not seen so much of me in my underpants.
Word of advice, if you ever do a sleep study: wear pajamas. It took Muqtar twenty minutes to mount all the sensors on my legs, chest, face etc. During this time, I just sat, very vulnerable, in a pair of underpants with “Big Ben” stenciled across the rear, and an image of London’s most famous clock printed over my crotch.
Muqtar was deliberate and attentive. I was nearly naked, and felt like an ancient Chinese concubine being prepared for a night with the Emperor… if the Emperor had a tech fetish. Was I being transformed into some kind of cyber rent-boy? Would I fall asleep and get sucked into a Matrix/Tron/Nightmare-On-Elm-Street electro-sodomy-verse, then be helplessly double-teamed all night by Morpheus and The Lawnmower Man? Probably.
Reminder, I looked like this:
Muqtar said he might need to come into my room during the night, to adjust equipment if it became dislodged while I slept.
Me: OK. Will you knock first?
Muqtar: We try to let you rest.
Me: That should make for a restful night, Muqtar. Opening my eyes to a man in scrubs adjusting wires on my face at 3am.
Muqtar gently helped me into bed. You can’t really move that much with all the wires and equipment on you, so there’s no following your regular nighttime routine. Forget skimming a novel or sipping some chamomile. The nurse clicks off the light and you just stare at a glowing red digital clock on the wall, counting down the night, by the second.
It was at this point that I felt the most embarrassed. All this ridiculous equipment, just because I screamed in fear during the night? Was this really a medical problem, or just psychological? I imagined seeing the doctor a second time: “I have your results, Mr Cowell. You are what we in sleep medicine call… a scared little girl. It’s very common. I’ll be prescribing you some big boy pants.”
As always with big things you’re afraid of, the night was pretty uneventful. I woke up four times. Muqtar had to come in just once, to adjust the finger sensor and hear me yell: “F*CK! Oh, it’s you…” I don’t know if I had any actual Night Terrors. But I never know.
I woke up five minutes before the study was supposed to end. That’s an interesting moment, when where you realize a bunch of strange nurses with night-vision cameras can 100% see your morning boner. Also, I wasn’t sure if the camera had audio, so I held all farts.
After Muqtar took off the sensors, I took a shower and got dressed. Before leaving, I stopped at the front desk to do a medical questionnaire. The best question: “would you say last night’s sleep was typical?” Oh, yes. I typically sleep with five male nurses staring at me on a webcam, tied up in Ethernet cords. I’m not a weirdo.