Posts Tagged ‘sleep

I first noticed I had sleep apnea when I was in high school. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the disease, I’ll explain it. Obstructive sleep apnea, which is the type I have, is a byproduct of my obesity. When you go to sleep at night (regardless of your weight) the lining of your throat relaxes to allow for shallow breathing. If you have too much fat in the lining of your throat, then when it relaxes, the airway will be too small for enough air to get through. The result is that you will have a difficult time falling asleep, staying asleep, and will often feel like a ton of shit in the morning. The human body is smart, though. When you stop breathing in your sleep, due to the obstruction of fat, your body wakes you up to keep you from dying. However, you can wake up hundreds of times a night and not even realize it. Because of this, you can end up with day apnea, which looks like you have narcolepsy. When I was in high school, I remember falling asleep in class while I was writing my notes. I’d nod off and my pen would make these weird scribbles all over my loose-leaf paper. Also, because you were so oxygen deprived at night, you wake up with headaches that literally make you feel like you’re going to die. I always had the worst trouble falling asleep, because as soon as I would nod off, I’d stop breathing and then wake up. It feels like every time you fall asleep, someone is strangling you. Then you wake up and try again, only for the same thing to happen all over again. It really is a miserable existence.

Everyone always told me to get a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. What a CPAP does is it senses when you’ve stopped breathing and forces oxygen down your throat so that your sleep isn’t interrupted. But everyone’s oxygen needs are different, so in order to get a CPAP you have to first go to your doctor, get a referral for a sleep study. Then you have to go to the sleep clinic, have them hook you up to what looks like the first half of Robocop, then they test your sleep to see how badly your breathing is while you’re asleep and how often you wake up during the night due to airway obstruction. Then, they have to fit you for the CPAP (which I imagined to be big an intrusive) and then you have to go back to the sleep clinic so they can put the CPAP on you and test your sleep again. This all may or may not be covered by your insurance. Then you have to wait like two weeks for the company who provides the machine to give a shit, and then some guy comes to your house and shows you how to work it. Now, after all of that, you have to sleep every night with a giant oxygen mask on your face? I wasn’t having it. Having decided that the whole ordeal was just more trouble than it was worth, I just dealt with the disease as best I could. When I lost 140 lbs. between 2008 and 2011, my apnea got so much better I would almost say it disappeared. However, then I gained all the weight back, and then some.

Over the summer of 2013 and well into the Fall, my father wound up in the hospital for his emphysema and bronchitis. My mother moved into the hospital with him, and I was left alone to fend for myself. (Yes I live with my parents…for now.) With no one around to lecture me about carbs and calories, I went a little crazy. I’d lived my entire life always binge-eating in secret, trying to hide my small (or big) treats from my parents so they wouldn’t get mad or bitch. Now it was like my house was my haven, and Dominos became my everyday crutch. I couldn’t stop. I was like Augustus Gloop, so obsessed with the chocolate stream that he falls into the water and gets sucked up the pipe. My body paid the price for it. My sleep apnea got not only worse, but disastrous and what I consider life threatening. I literally could not sleep. Every time I would nod off, I would stop breathing and wake up. In the past, eventually I would be able to get to sleep, even if that sleep was fraught with problems, and even if the next morning I had a headache that was so painful it left me paralyzed and crying, eventually I knew sleep would come. But now that I had put on weight (what I would later find out was almost 70 pounds), the sleep just didn’t come. I would fall asleep for an hour, tops, and then wake up because I’d stop breathing. It was the worst my sleep apnea had ever been, by far. And it made me want to die. Even Hitler, I would think to myself, was able to get a good night’s sleep once in awhile.

After a few weeks of this, I felt like I was going insane. I was so sleep deprived and so oxygen deprived that I lost the ability to speak in functional sentences. When I would try to talk, it felt like my tongue was swollen. The words just wouldn’t come out right. It was scary. I had such terrible day apnea that I would fall asleep for a few seconds literally hundreds of times throughout the day. I couldn’t dial a phone, because I’d fall asleep in the middle of dialing the numbers, only to have to start all over again. I couldn’t text, because of the same reason. My friends started to get worried about me, because I would fall asleep during phone conversations. My doctor even became concerned because I fell asleep during a discussion in her office. Sometimes, when I’d nod off, I’d fall off my bed and land on the floor. A lot of the times I’d nod off due to my day apnea, the transition from awake to asleep would be so sudden that it’d literally thrust me off my bed and onto the floor. My friend moved in and slept on my floor to help me when I’d fall. I also started to hallucinate from the sleep and oxygen deprivation. I would see people in my hallway, shadows of evil creatures. One night I was positive there was a rabid dog coming to eat me. It was the most horrible experience of my life.

My parents were beside themselves and my mother wouldn’t stop crying and begging me to get a CPAP (and lose the weight for crying out loud). Finally, I agreed. I wanted to fix my sleep apnea by simply eating right and exercising, but that was proving easier said than done. I had my doctor refer me to a sleep clinic which was thankfully right by my house. My friend came with me and stayed overnight at the clinic with me that first night. Then, once the level of oxygen I’d needed was determined by the right people, I went back to the sleep clinic to be fitted for the CPAP and finally, finally, sleep with the mask on. I couldn’t wait. It took some getting used to, but in the end, it was nothing short of a miracle. My friend who came with me overnight to the sleep clinic (the same friend who’d slept on my floor to help me up off the floor when I’d fall) knew only too well the difference as he’d witnessed it with his own eyes. No thrashing around, no waking up gasping for air, just pure beautiful serene sleep. “You went from doing the Harlem Shake in your sleep,” he said, “to like someone knocked you out unconscious.” The next morning after I’d slept with the mask for the first time, I felt like a new person. I was awake, and able to form cohesive sentences! The problem remaining was that I now had to wait a good two weeks before I could actually get the machine in my home. To make matters worse, the company called and said that the CPAP would not be authorized by my insurance company and would cost us almost $2,000. My mother called them (and my insurance company) off the hook for a week straight, asking them why I wasn’t covered for this and how it was literally saving my life. In the end, the company who provided the machine wound up giving it to us for free, as a courtesy, which is such an amazing beautiful thing that I could never repay them for. I am so grateful for their kindness!

Finally, the day came that I got my CPAP. It did take some getting used to. Sometimes the mask slips down on your face and blows cold air into your eyes and you have to know how to adjust it so that it suctions to your face and no air escapes (except from the vent). Often times during the night I’d wake up and fling the mask off and onto the floor and turn over and go back to sleep without it on. But now it’s been almost six months since I first got it and I must say, this thing is my new best friend. I use it every night when I sleep and I don’t it off until I wake up in the morning. I also dropped 60 lbs. as well, which also helps, and I’m not done yet!

The reason I wanted to write my experience down in my blog is because I can remember how set against getting a CPAP I was and how I just knew it would all be tedious and intrusive and a big annoying waste of time. I was wrong. A lot of the prep work – going to the doctor, the sleep clinic, waiting for the machine, etc. – was tedious and annoying. But it was more than worth it. I don’t want anyone else in my situation to make the same mistake that I did. Don’t miss out on one more horrible night’s sleep. Go get that CPAP. Sweet dreams.