Sleep Lab offers more than sweet dreams
Poor sleep is more than inconvenient. It can negatively affect endocrine, metabolic and neurological functions. Left untreated, a sleep disorder can be associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
Erica Nelson, Sleep Lab coordinator at Falmouth Hospital, knows this first-hand – not only because she treats patients, but because she is one.
“I’ve had the home test and the in-lab test. I do have sleep apnea and a CPAP machine,” she said, joking that her own experience lends to her credibility when she’s working with a patient coming in for a sleep study for the first time.
The Sleep Lab at Falmouth Hospital provides attended sleep studies and Home Sleep Apnea Testing (HSAT) services for diagnosing Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in the comfort of a patient’s own home. A physician referral is needed for patient’s evaluation and treatment for OSA.
Nelson has worked for the Sleep Lab since it opened in 1991. Having already worked for 15 years as a respiratory therapist, she saw the new Sleep Lab as an opportunity that few in her vocation would have.
“I was working the night shift as a respiratory therapist when we got a new medical director who had started a Sleep Lab in South Carolina and I was just ready for a change,” she said.
As a single mother, nighttime work made sense for her. She had hired a sitter to stay overnights with her children and would come home just in time to help them get ready for school. Career progression wasn’t the first thing on her mind, but she jumped at the chance to do something new and have a new experience in her field.
Her goal, and the goal of her colleague Suzanne Carlow, EEG Technician, is to make patients as comfortable as possible for an inpatient sleep study.
“You try to give them a good experience,” Carlow said. While the majority of her EEG work is outside the Sleep Lab, it’s not unusual for a sleep study to include an EEG.
“Usually, we do EEG to rule out seizure activity,” she said, measuring and comparing waking brain wave patterns to sleeping wave patterns.
Carlow, like Nelson, has many years’ experience in her role, having worked 31 years as an EEG technician. When she works with the Sleep Lab, she assists with studies, pulling reports and helping with equipment. The patients are at the heart of what they do.
“There is anxiety on the patient’s part. There’s an element of the unknown,” Nelson said. “There’s nothing painful or uncomfortable about the test, it’s just the unknown.”
Seeing the positive outcomes for her patients is what appeals most to Nelson about her role.
“After years of doing RT, you see a lot of chronic illness. With sleep disorders, we see primarily obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and there’s a fix for that!” she said. “After treating chronic illness, this is so uplifting.”