As some of you who still hang around here know, after my big Medical Event this past fall I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which means that I stop breathing, for several seconds at a time, many times -- in fact, dozens of times in my case -- every hour that I'm asleep. My doctor said that this could well have been a factor in my going into respiratory arrest after some routine, "twilight sleep" day surgery.
Occasionally sleep apnea has a neurological basis -- the brain, for whatever reason, is simply misfiring when it comes to sending the message to breathe. Most often, though, it's a function of body mechanics, whether that be enlarged tonsils or, most commonly, excessive weight that can physically obstruct one's windpipe if one is sleeping in a certain position.
Even though I think it's sometimes misunderstood as merely a snoring problem, it's actually a pretty serious condition that brings with it a whole constellation of unhealthiness, from daytime grogginess and cognitive slowness to full-blown depression to metabolic imbalances and hypertension to increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
Well, this sucks, in many and various ways, I thought in the morning, dutifully washing my headgear with Ivory soap and setting it out on its little towel on the bathroom sink; a new daily ritual to follow for the foreseeable future.
But the next night, something interesting happened; after repeatedly tweaking the fit of my face mask, I finally got it to where I could sleep on my side, as I am wont to do, without pulling the thing away from my nose. And -- I got a good night's sleep. I woke up with my head spinning from all those good, complex dreams that come with some decent REM action, and an urge to work out on the Wii Fit and write and inventory our antiques and play Words with Friends and clean the house and go snowshoeing -- all at once. Oxygen is amazing stuff when you've been depriving yourself of it for years. In the days that followed I became a whirlwind of energy; while that's peaked somewhat, it's still nice to wake up feeling, as someone once put it, Good morning, God rather than Good God -- morning. I also started thinking more clearly, which can be a bad as well as a good thing -- along with feeling like I'm getting my old sharpness of mind back, I also keep coming upon evidence of a mental fog that, while certainly being amplified by having a seizure, had been there to a lesser degree for a much longer time. Half-done projects that I had completely forgotten about, just lying here and there...confusing strata of personal clutter in my favorite caching spots...lots of stuff that makes me think Omigod -- did I really do this? Did I really not do that? What is this? Omigod...Omigod...
So I love this machine that I hate, because it's made the difference between experiencing my world in one-dimensional sepia and in 3-D Technicolor.
And I hate this machine that I love, because as this article points out about Type 2 diabetes and the medical industry that's sprung up around it, CPAPs are evidence of a culture in which we've largely (pardon the pun) given up the idea that we can wean ourselves from unhealthy food and habits; we've consigned ourselves to simply creating technology and pharmaceuticals that help us survive a little longer and more comfortably while we still remain dependent on ways of food production and leisure and marketing -- think Walter Wink's powers and principalities-- that damage us. I hate the idea that over the years I've imbibed the poison cultural Kool-Aid and damaged my body to the point where I need a device like this.
But I cling to a stubborn hope that it doesn't have to be like this forever, either for me personally or for great swaths of society. My DO, henceforth to be referred to as Dr. Awesome (as opposed to my previous physician, Dr. Drive-By), is a complementary-medicine practitioner -- improbably located just 45 minutes away from my small town -- who is absolutely convinced that chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes are reversible in many people with the right balance of lifestyle guidance, motivation and judicious use of medical technology. She isn't mean or condescending, but she holds me accountable, and I like that. And she suspects that if I lose enough weight I may well be able to eventually wean myself off my CPAP. At the same time, she told me that my CPAP is a very useful tool that is going to gradually lower my blood pressure, amp up my metabolism and do a lot of other good things that will in turn make it easier for me to work on my other health goals. I wish everyone had a Dr. Awesome.
So at this moment I am loving the squid more than hating it. And last night I actually got a very sleepy Fellow Traveler laughing by donning my headgear, turning on the machine and intoning, "Luke...I am your father..."