“You know, your snoring woke me up again last night,” my wife said.
“I don’t snore,” I protested.
“Dad, I can hear you from my room,” Tyler, my nine-year-old chimed in.
“Whatever. You guys don’t know what you’re taking about,” I said.
“Oh, and when you wake me up and I’m lying there trying to go back to sleep, you stop breathing, and then you choke yourself awake. You definitely have sleep apnea,” my nurse practitioner wife said.
“You’re cardiology, not sleep — stick to your specialty,” I said, half kidding. “And you, junior mint — keep the lip zipped,” I offered to my son.
But the effects of what was happening during my sleep — whatever it was — were showing themselves in my day-to-day life. Those effects creep up on you. For example, you might say to yourself, “Well, I just don’t sleep well, that’s just me,” or, “The kids woke me up last night, so that’s why I’m tired today,” or, “I drink a lot of water so I wake up to go the bathroom during the night.” And you go on and on, and deal with being tired quite a bit of the time.
Running my own business has made it easier to live with being tired. For example, with no manager to answer to, I can (and have many times) taken a 20-minute nap in my car before heading into the office after lunch. Taking 20 minutes out of your day really isn’t a big deal if you can swing it, and so life went on. But then I started to have an issue with driving. I could get a full night’s sleep but then barely handle a 30 minute drive — even in the morning — without fighting to stay awake. And when this became the case, I realized I had to do something.
Oh, and my wife’s complaints may have given me an additional nudge.
And my wife not only gave me the nudge, but pushed me in the right direction. From her work at the hospital, she was able to recommend a pulmonologist with a specialty in sleep issues like apnea. My wife also knows I’m a big PIA about going to the doctor and offered: “You’re going to like Dr. Villa. You guys will get along.”
Luckily we did, swimmingly. He could even handle my joke of, “Do women generally find this get-up attractive?” referring to the C-PAP machine mask in his office.
As a first step, Dr. Villa said we had to see what was actually going on with me. Fortunately, technology is at the point where I could do my sleep study at home, getting myself all wired up to ensure a worse night’s sleep than usual. The next day, my wife was able to drop off the kit at the hospital and, soon after, Dr. Villa called.
“I’ve got your results,” he said.
“Give it to me straight, doc,” I joked.
“Well, you stop breathing on average 57 times per hour. Your average stoppage is 32 seconds, and your longest was 56 seconds. When you stop breathing, your oxygen saturation goes from 98 down to 74,” he said.
“Geez. That sounds pretty bad,” I said.
“So you have sleep apnea,” he said.
“On a scale of 1-10, how bad is it?” I asked.
“About a 9.5,” he said.
“Geez,” I said.
With that, he said the next step was to get me a C-PAP machine that would become my new nightly best friend.
I handled the news pretty well. I mean, I knew there was a problem. I didn’t like feeling tired, and I was kind of looking forward to having more energy. I’ve only had one mental hiccup in the whole process (I’ve been using the machine for about two weeks now), and that occurred when the company that supplies the Philips Respironics C-PAP machine dropped it off.
At that moment, with the company representative sitting in my kitchen showing me how to use the device, it all became real. The fact that I was “infirm” — that I needed this machine to be well, that I had to put on this mask and look ill at night, got me momentarily down. But then I kept telling myself that there’s nothing bold about not dealing with one’s problems. In fact, quite the opposite.
So to answer what’s probably the main question out there, yes I do feel better. I have more energy and go to bed with a better frame of mind knowing I’m about to get real rest and not endure what amounts to 8 hours of waterboarding. So to any of you out there feeling the symptoms I described, make a call today to get your sleep checked out, because there’s nothing bold about a middle-aged person needing a nap in the afternoon.