When I last left you, my doctor had an inkling that I had sleep apnea after months of issues with my tonsils and sleeping. Today I conclude that tale!
The night of my actual sleep study, I came home with a small computer around my neck and wires everywhere. There was one around a belt on my chest, one around a belt on my waist, one attached to my index finger and a tube coming from my nostrils. Normally I would heavily complain about all of this, but since I got to sleep in my own bed with my dogs (who were stared at me skeptically since I was transitioning to a cyborg in their eyes) I decided it was tolerable. I wasn’t sure how much data the doctor would be able to get, because I couldn’t sleep for hours at first and when I did I yelled FREEEEEEEDOOOOOM in the middle of the night and ripped off half the machine. The following morning I returned the machine to the doctor’s office sheepishly, and escaped before they could figure out how little data there was probably stored on there.
The next week, I got a call from the nurse at my ENT.
“Hi Lauren, so we got the results of your sleep study and you have severe sleep apnea.”
My stomach dropped.
“Your oxygen saturation stayed pretty good at 90%, but you stopped breathing in your sleep 54 times in one hour.”
I did the math in my head, and wondered if that was even possible.
“You’ll hear back from the sleep specialist at the neurology center to outfit you with a CPAP machine.”
This is when I started to panic. “What other solutions are there?! I had such trouble with the wires from the sleep study. I don’t think I can handle a machine. We need to talk about other long term options.”
She informed me that my insurance wouldn’t explore any other options until I tried the machine as well as the machine having the highest rate of success with the lowest options. All I heard was “You are broken and you have to sleep with a huge terrible machine for the rest of your life” and I entered what can best be described as a week-long bout of extreme drama.
First, I mourned the diagnosis. When I sleep, my throat can’t stay open enough to let air in. You had one job throat, ONE JOB. Though it’s unreasonable, I felt like a lesser person than those people with perky throats and tiny tonsils who don’t snore and stop breathing 54 times an hour. And yes, even though it was 100% irrational I had the “how will I tell a new guy one day that I am part cyborg at night” thought.
This isn’t helped by the stereotypes out there about sleep apnea. It’s primarily thought to be a problem for older, overweight men. There is so much “obesity can cause sleep apnea” rhetoric online that on night two after my diagnosis I actually went home and measured my neck. You see, if you’re a heavier person there is a tendency (at least for me) to blame yourself for your problems, because (again, at least for me) there is a decent amount of guilt being associated with being overweight. After reading “necks measuring over 16″ can be a cause” one time too many, I needed to measure my damn neck to see if this was something I should add to my list of Things Lauren Needs to Feel Guilty About. Spoiler alert – it’s not. My neck measures no where near 16″ and the truth of the matter is it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of sleep apnea. Maybe it’s my terrorist tonsils. Maybe it’s genetic from my Dad. Maybe I choke myself with a pillow I fall asleep holding every night. What matters is that I have it.
After deciding the nocturnal throat closure wasn’t actively my fault, I moved to one of my favorites – morbid drama.
“See you tomorrow!” my roommate would say before heading out for the night.
“Not if I stop breathing and die before the morning,” I would answer with a straight face.
By the fourth day, nobody would say goodnight to me anymore.
A week passed, and it was finally time for me to pick up the damn machine I was waiting to completely hate. The specialist explained how it worked to me. Contrary to what a lot of people (and myself before all of this drama) think, there’s no oxygen involved with a CPAP. What it does is constantly shoot a stream of air into your nose and/or mouth. That air pressure is determined by the severity of your apnea, and the machine adjusts depending on how much your throat is trying to close– or in my case, the severity of the mouth terrorists’ plans.
“It actually uses the same technology of jet fuel engines!” the specialist told me.
I didn’t tell her that I would be way more impressed if my damn BODY would KEEP ME BREATHING at night.
My doctor prescribed the air pressure on my machine to range from 6-16 cmh20. In the office, the specialist helped me put it on and show me how it worked. Since I breathe out my nose at night, the harness is pretty minimal. It’s made of soft, translucent rubber and has a cradle that sits under my nose. I still looked like an ugly cyborg, but it was better than I expected. With a set of instructions and pleas for me to “be patient,” she sent me home with the machine.
“It can take up to a week to be able to wear it all night long,” she said. “Allow yourself time to get used to it and for it to help you.”
The first night I managed to keep it on for a total of four hours before I woke up and flung the thing from my head onto the floor. It then took me an hour to fall back asleep. I felt tired the next day, and resorted myself to hating everything for the rest of my life in a sleepless stupor of an existence.
On the second night I made it five hours, and woke up at 5am wide awake and again unable to go back to sleep. I tried to be incorrigible in the darkness before I realized something important – I had a dream! You see when you never fully go to sleep because your body is trying not to die, you don’t enter REM and therefore don’t dream. On night two with the CPAP, I dreamt! I mean it was one of my recurring nightmares when I’m going on a big international trip (this time Slovakia) and I realize last minute that I haven’t packed everything and HOW will I get AROUND without my travel books and then I show at the airport without said travel books and remember I forgot someone to watch my dogs so I circle the airport calling everyone I know to take care of my dogs for two weeks to no avail . . . but it was a dream.
When I (still groggily) woke up the next day, I checked the recorded data on my sleep machine. My average apnea incidents per hour had gone from 54 to 1.8. Though I looked ridiculous and had to now juggle a tube coming from my head in addition to pillows and dogs at night, I was sleeping better and I was DREAMING.
Since getting the CPAP, I have dreamt every night:
- Previously described “what do you mean I can’t fly my two large dogs with me to Europe?” packing nightmare
- I went to visit Gingham to see Windsor. She either owned or boarded at this beautiful barn with light wooden walls, and from every stall a perfectly groomed GIANT warmblood hunter lowered its face down to me to get petted on the nose. They were all beautiful. I realize this dream is fairly creepy, but also amazing.
- I was in Japan on vacation with my friend Amy, who was not one of my real friends named Amy but a combination of all the worst qualities of all of my friends. Fake-Amy ditched me in the middle of a stationary shop, and I said “F it I’m traveling anyway” and walked through the neon district of Tokyo by myself as happy as can be.
- This one is murky, but in some fantasy/sci-fi world I was journeying with an undead to bury someone’s father under the sea like he requested even though his wife wanted him buried next to him. The undead wasn’t a zombie, but a person as real as you or I only with gray skin. The way to keep the undead beings from turning into real dead bodies (like the man we were trying to bury) was to make sure you said their name out loud often around the company of the living.
- After binge watching New Girl all day Sunday, I dreamt that Schmidt was my older brother. Our family (not my real family) went for a fancy sushi dinner for Christmas night instead of the traditional southern home cooking. Schmidt was the perfect older brother, and asked me if I was having a good time on our post meal walk around the shopping center that my real-life office is based out of. He said it was important to him that I had a good time. I woke up this morning thinking, “Man I didn’t dream last night. Bummer. What should I get Schmidt for Christmas? Probably a scarf or a gift certificate to that new men’s clothing store that opened up in the Domain.” It took me until I brushed my teeth to realize that no, Schmidt was not my brother.
Though I’m probably the most excited about having my dreams back consistently, the real test of the CPAP machine is how I’m feeling. I have to say, after a week I feel fantastic. I woke up for work on Monday morning with a, “Oh cool! Work today!” philosophy. No, I haven’t magically become a morning person but I might be able to move my “don’t speak to me before 0’clock” time up to 9:00am from 11:00am.
I’ve joked a lot in the last two posts, but I’ll sum up with a serious note. If you are chronically tired, have trouble sleeping on your back, snore or really any combination of those three things – go get a sleep test. I completely had my head in the sand and was willing to deny this for years before strapping on a machine every night, but I’m very thankful my doctor pushed the issue. For me, the condition slowly worsened over a period of probably around five years until it was bringing me down in far more ways than I realized.
As I finish writing this post, it’s almost 6:00pm. I still have plenty of energy, and going to the barn to ride Roman seems like an activity I can manage instead of something along the lines of climbing Mount Fuji. There are still some things for me to figure out, like how to treat my apnea while traveling (because I really am going to Japan next year and I can’t lug that machine around for two weeks) and getting the settings just right but it seems attainable now. In fact, a lot more in life seems attainable than it was two weeks ago.