Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Living With the Squid

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.

All of which made my choice to invest in a CPAP machine kind of a no-brainer, even though the thought of going to sleep every night hooked up to this odd contraption made me sad and got me going all Charlie Brown over myself: You blockhead; you can't even breathe like a normal person. It didn't help, either, that the tech who came to the house to fit my machine and run me through its use and maintenance was a dourly melodramatic young thing, a CPAP  user herself, who intimated that if I were careless in any aspect of wearing or caring for my machine, or even if I carelessly indulged in a CPAP-less naptime on the sofa, I'd die, pretty much. And my first night lying there in the dark, feeling like an unholy hybrid of Darth Vader and a vacuum cleaner, was not fun. I couldn't get comfortable; as I tossed and turned the hose would get twisted and would pull my mask, breaking the seal and causing a distressing hiss that kept both Fellow Traveler and myself up much of the night. I later described it as trying to sleep with a large squid attached to my face. Trying to speak with the pressure on is uncomfortable, to say the least; turning the pressure off before loosening the mask can feel like having the life sucked right out of you.

And -- I'm not a vain person, but no matter how hard the medical supply catalog models try, you cannot rock this look. Unless you're one of the more disturbed individuals who write classified ads in the Village Voice personals section, a CPAP mask is not something that you really want to visually inflict upon your mate as the last image of you before s/he goes to sleep. It just isn't.

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..."


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I'm sure glad this is mostly working out for you. I don't have the apnea, but I have falling asleep problems. But for the last 4.5 weeks, I've been post surgical, and not doing very well. In the grand scheme of things, I'm OK, and definetly making progress, but, damn, its not what I expected with being told that there were "no restrictions" post surgery. Yeah right. TMI to get specific. But I don't go out for more than 1.5 hours, except for my doc appointments, which are 93 miles away. Some days I've been very depressed. Other times I'm able to say, Well this is my life right now. Grateful for the 'net, writers like you, net friends, and two local friends that I can be specific with.

Interesting, isn't it, that several of us Lutherans became net friends because of blogging, then blogging semi faded, but friendships still continued on FB, more discussion style, but we'd not have met just on FB.

I'm awake in the night sometimes, so I've been trying to turn that to a positive by praying, for your Billy, for example. Also thinking of you from your last blog post that I never commented on, mostly because I was emotionally down.

The Lord be with You. You are a blessing!

LutheranChik said...

Thank you. I'm sorry that your post-surgical recovery isn't as smooth as it was supposed to be. (I learned from my own experience that recovery from even a brief-but-profound insult to the body takes a lot longer than what I thought, and that what's seemed like an interminable six months of no driving and light exercise is actually what it's taken to feel somewhat normal again.) I'm praying for you too!

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I wrote a long comment, but I think it disappeared. :-(

LutheranChik said...

It's back. I've been away from Blogger so long that I've forgotten its charming little idiocynracies.;-)

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Glad to see that the missing comment showed up. I've been 'netting on the phone a lot, so comments are trying my patience.

I want to send you a tourist booklet. You, of course, are private. I can send it to "your hope down the road" so to speak, ok?

Anonymous said...

I've used a CPAP machine for over two years, and it has helped improve my sleep and my health. It did take me a few weeks to become comfortable with the set-up. I use a nasal mask. I have found that using a mask liner (it's made out of T-shirt material) has helped protect the skin on my face. I used the Remzzz brand. Here's a link to these on Amazon:

Grandma K said...

Don't know if you will ever see this but - yes you can get away from the CPAP. I lost 50 lbs, and got away. Got breast cancer, gained the weight back - now back on the CPAP. I should have known better. Good luck.