Monday, July 24, 2006

The longest night...

I was staying in a “high dependency unit” bed after grommet surgery as there is a risk that people with obstructive sleep apnea can stop breathing during sleep due to the residual effects of anaesthetic. On this basis, it was felt safer for me to kip in a ward where the nurses would know what to do if I stopped breathing, aided by being hooked up to monitoring technology. (Apparently, they give you a poke!)

I had three electrodes on my chest (two at neck area, one on the side, measuring heart activity and respiration), a sensor on my finger (for pulse and oxygenation), a Blood pressure cuff on my arm (which inflated once an hour or so to measure BP) and a nasal oxygen feed, the sort where a pipe loops over your ears and under your nose, with two small, short pipes up into the nostrils. I was also in a motorised bed with the head angled up somewhat for ease of sitting up in bed. I also had my home CPAP machine available, which I anticipated to be using later on.

Come sleepy time, I attempted to snooze but there were a number of distractions. One of the patients was constantly fiddling with his facemask which would set off alarms. Another patient was good at disconnecting the oxygen which would set off alarms. Patient drips would run out which would set off alarms. Patient responses would drift out of expected limits which would set off alarms. When I say alarms, I don’t mean strident bells or a big claxon that would sound “AWOOGA!”, instead it was an assortment of chimes not unlike that heard on long-haul aeroplanes. Indeed the whole experience was somewhat like a night-time flight with constant activity and noise but without the headsets & seat-back screens.

After a while, I got to recognise what the various chimes meant from what I could see of the screens and what the nurses said. Some were strident & insistent, others more subtle. I noticed that if I turned over in bed, my own box would make a solitary bong not unlike calling an aeroplane stewardess. Sometimes, my BP cuff slipped down my arm and would struggle to take a decent reading- it would try three times and then start to demand attention.

The level of attention that the staff gave to the alarms was enlightening- it varied from immediate concern to distinct indifference. The norm was to initially tune out the noises than pay attention if it persisted for more than 30 seconds or so (and a lot of the alarms cleared up on their own within that time).

A succession of doctors visited the ward, it was obvious that some were liked by the staff and some not!

I found myself drifting off to a fragmented sleep and I cursed not being able to reach the bed controls to make it flat but was too lethargic to ask the nurses. I eventually came to the conclusion that there wasn’t too much risk of me stopping breathing as |I couldn’t manage to get off to a deep sleep anyway.

Eventually, dawn happened and there was enough light for the staff to turn off the dimmed florry lights. The staff change happened again at round about 7ish and I met a third set of nurses. I had bled slightly overnight from my ear and they cleaned me up so that I could face the world. They made me some toast and coffee and after a wash and tinkle I was able to to get dressed and relax in a bedside chair. They offered me paracetamol & ibuprofen but I wasn’t actually in any pain so I declined it. After a while they decided that I would live and discharged me with a follow-up appointment in four months.

Has it helped? I don’t know yet, my ear is still plugged somewhat with dried blood so my high pitch hearing remains mediocre. Grommets cure symptoms, not problems and they didn’t find any underlying problem when they had a shufty in my nasal space with an endoscope. I did come away relieved that I wasn't seriously ill, though!

No comments: