On Friday, I was up at 4am after going to bed at midnight. In the quiet darkness, I was reminded of my freight flying days, but there was no early show-time today. The goal was to stay awake until 10am for an Electro Encephalogram or EEG. I could eat breakfast, but no coffee was allowed.
My wife drove me to the hospital, we found the neurology department and we waited. Looking around the waiting room, I got the feeling that there were some seriously ill people there. Was I one of them? I was hopeful that this test would, if not give me a clean bill of health, at least rule out the things dreaded and dreadful.
The EEG technician's job was made easier by my choice of hair style, or should I say scalp style? She carefully measured my skull with a small tape measure, marking spots with a red pen that she assured me contained water-soluble ink. The character of the ink was the least of my worries. After several minutes of measuring, she began applying the electrodes - somewhere around 25 total.
Seated in a comfortable reclining chair in the darkened room, I began to drift off into a light sleep, vaguely aware of the light dab of gel and the press of each electrode as it was attached. One electrode was placed just below the orbit of each of my eyes to measure eye movement. Another was placed on chest to measure heart rate. Lastly, everything was held is place by a wrapping of a light, elastic gauze and the test began.
I opened and closed my eyes on command. With my eyes closed, I began the three minutes of deep breathing I was told to expect. The technician explained to me that the goal was to get me hyperventilated and what sorts of sensations I should expect - tingling around the mouth and in my fingers, lightheadedness. I wanted to tell her that as a flight instructor I was familiar with the effects of hyperventilation and other aeromedical factors, but just kept breathing.
With my eyes closed, an array of LEDs was placed near my face and at regular intervals it began flashing. The frequency of the flashing was slow at first, it would pause for several seconds, and begin again. Each time the flashing resumed, it was at a higher frequency, gradually increasing to a rapid, strobing pace. The flashing reminded me of sitting in an aircraft with the engine idling, facing west, awaiting takeoff into the setting sun. I thought about how it was discovered that some World War I pilots were susceptible to flicker-induced seizures and how leaving aircraft anti-collision lights on while flying in the clouds at night can induce vertigo.
The flashing stopped and it was time to take a nap. I wanted to sleep, but I heard the click-clack of shoes on linoleum tile in the hallway, the light tapping of the technician occasionally entering something into the computer, the sound of the the air moving into the room through the vents in the ceiling ... And then there was a tap on my shoulder. I had dozed off and the test was done.
As the electrodes were removed, one by one, I just wanted a good cup of coffee at Cafe Trieste. The technician told me to expect the results early next week. I couldn't mask my disappointment. I explained that I couldn't drive or work, even on a limited basis, until I had the results. She shrugged and then, as if telling me the latest gossip, she leaned forward, winked and whispered "It looks fine."
To my surprise, I received an email early Friday evening saying I could view new test results on line. I logged on and found a message for the neurologist. She had worked a bit late on a Friday to review the test and send me the words I wanted to read: "EEG normal, it's okay to drive ..."