Julie removed my glucose monitor the next day, and I was test-free for the next week. Each night I slept at progressively higher altitudes until I leveled off at 15,000 feet. I didn’t seem to be feeling any effects from the oxygen deprivation, but I was definitely getting cranky. I had signed on to get away from the daily grind, but each morning when I went home, I found myself dreading the coming night. I was living in a perpetual Sunday night funk. Is meaningful work really so difficult to find? And what incentive is there to offer it when there’s no shortage of people even more willing than me to demean themselves for a buck?
I was watching television one night at the hospital, when I spotted an unfamiliar face in the hall. He looked to be in his early 20’s, with a shaggy beard, matted blonde hair, and a Superman shirt. He was trotting down the hall, looking haggard, wheeling an IV bag. I asked Tina, one of the nurses, who he was.
“He’s doing a sleep study like you,” she replied.
“The same one?” I asked.
“No, he’s only here for four days, but he has to stay awake the entire time, 88 hours.” Apparently, whenever Superman started to fall asleep, a nurse assigned to watch him would shake his bed or yell at him or bang pots, anything to keep him awake.
“How much does he get paid?” I asked.
“About a thousand dollars,” said Tina. A thousand dollars? For four days? The study broke one of my rules, but the hourly rate was worth it. “But,” she continued, “he has to have a rectal thermometer in at all times to keep track of his temperature.” So it broke two of my rules — I was poked and choked daily, but Superman had a thermometer up his ass. For four days.
A few days later I had my first testing session with Grant Gilroy. He called it vascular testing, a fancy way of saying they were going to give me drugs to artificially raise and then lower my blood pressure, and measure how quickly I returned to normal. He also inserted a small needle into the back of my knee, searching for the nerve that ran down the length of my leg. By applying a small current, he hoped to isolate the nervous activity in my leg when it was at rest. Finding the nerve took over an hour of twisting the needle and adjusting the strength of the current. Sometimes the needle felt like it was cutting through the nerve. Sometimes the current was so strong my leg flopped around like a dead frog in biology class. But when he finally found the right spot, we heard crackling static—my muscle fibers firing. If I thought about moving my leg but didn’t actually move it, I could hear the static flare as nervous energy coursed down my leg.
After that I had another free week, and without the depredations of testing sessions, I became accustomed to the routine of the hospital and my high-altitude haven. The third week wasn’t so bad. And my final five days were a marathon. When Janice removed the fishnet shirt for the final time, I asked to keep it. She didn’t ask questions. On my second to last day, Grant visited me, looking serious. “We took a look at your Holter record from a few days ago, and it looks like you might have an elongated QRS response. It’s right on the threshold,” he said.