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Have Sleep Apnea? How About a CPAP (Crazy, Pulsating, Annoying Paraphernalia)?

Laura is a mother of two, a teacher, writer and an artist. She also identifies with dreamer, visionary, advocate and an organizer.

The full face mask (shown) was too overwhelming for me.  I chose the nasal pillow which still has a mask but the hose coming from the top of the head.

The full face mask (shown) was too overwhelming for me. I chose the nasal pillow which still has a mask but the hose coming from the top of the head.

The Testing Process

You've been told by loved ones that your snoring resembles a freight train running through your home. You wake up gasping for air and strive to regain moisture in your mouth. Just moving your tongue around creates an effort on your part. Mother Nature calls you to the bathroom multiple times a night. You awaken with chronic headaches, fatigue and disorientation. If this sounds like you, you may have what is known as sleep apnea.

I lived with these symptoms for years. I attributed the lack of air to panic attacks as I'd experienced them before. I frequented the doctor's, convinced I had a urinary tract infection only to find out that I didn't. I couldn't figure out why I awakened every hour, every night, even when I had been busy and active throughout the day. Certainly, being a single mom, full time teacher, volunteer and home owner provided enough activity to wear me out but my body kept challenging me nightly.

I was 56 when I finally surrendered to the idea of being tested. I contacted a reputable sleep study center and got right in. The testing itself is challenging. I was asked to arrive around 8:00 PM and to wear something comfortable that I could sleep in. The woman in charge told me I was expected to go to sleep before 10:30 which would have been impossible had I not brought along a sleep aid that made me drowsy. I am a "night owl" and often stay up past midnight.

The next hour consisted of my sitting patiently in a chair while she applied a pasty type of fixative in about 20 areas of my hair and attached clips that were connected to wiring that hung down to the floor. I can only compare it to when girls and women have their hair braided with beading added. This makes the weight of the hair feel heavy. I also had sticky patches applied to my face, chest, arms, legs and torso. These too had long wires attached to them that hung to the floor. When all was said and done, I was sporting at least 30, if not more, wires hanging from all areas of my body.

I was told to get into the bed (it was actually comfy) and try to go to sleep. I was plugged into a box that needed to be unplugged by the attendant if I had to leave the bed for any reason. I am not a back sleeper and found that sporting all of the wiring made it difficult to sleep in any position. My medication kicked in and I dozed off for an hour. Then, my bladder began protesting. I had to call the attendant, have her unplug me, hold the multiple wires in my hand so they wouldn't catch onto the carpet or nearby furniture and drape them over a hook in the bathroom while I finished my business.

From 10:30 PM to 5:00 AM, I had to use the bathroom 13 times. At 5:00 AM, the attendant removed all of the wiring and sticky pads, told me I could try to wash the paste out of my hair and then leave. I was exhausted. It was raining outside and I asked if I could try to sleep a bit longer before trying to drive the 20 minutes home. She stated that they had to free the room up for patients coming in that worked the night shift and they couldn't allow me to stay longer. I ended up pulling into a nearby parking lot and sleeping for about an hour before my lovely bladder once again began to protest.

Sleep testing involves a lot of sensors and wires to give a full picture of your brain activity.

Sleep testing involves a lot of sensors and wires to give a full picture of your brain activity.

The Results

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
  • Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea

Apparently, my results indicated more of the complex symptoms than the other two. I was told that I needed to come in again to be hooked up to all of those horrid wires a second time but instead of sleeping on my own, they would set me up on a machine that would force the room air at a designated pressure that would be dictated by my lack of breathing.

Trust me, the thought of having to go through the nightmare of feeling like Dr. Frankenstein's science experiment made me upset just visualizing it. However, I knew that I had to follow through and I showed up at the clinic a few days later to accept the second part of the experiment.

After being wired up again, I was given multiple options of which face apparatus I preferred. To be honest, none of them are appealing. Each type of mask comes complete with face straps and a hose, either protruding from the face like an elephant's trunk or the top of your head, resembling the old hair dryers from the sixties. I am triggered by having something covering my nose and mouth and the full face mask was not an option for me. I settled on the nose "pillow" which sits directly under my nostrils and on my upper lip. This pillow is connected to a silicone face strap and this is connected to an elastic head strap to keep it in place. My hose sits on the top of my head. For the life of me, I don't know who designs these apparatuses. Seriously. Why on Earth does the hose have to be as wide as a toilet paper, cardboard roll? It is made of thick plastic and it feels like a super, heavy duty jump rope. The machine itself was about the size of a small mailbox and it was extremely quiet.

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I fell asleep immediately, thanks to my sleep aid and to my surprise, awakened at 5:30 AM without having to get up once to use the restroom. Since they had no one coming in after me, the attendant even asked if I would like to sleep in longer and I declined. I felt extremely rested for the first time in years and I asked if she could "unhook" me so I could leave.

It Truly is a Form of Life Support

Before I left the clinic, a distributor of the machine set me up with a machine, tubing, face mask, pillow and filters that I could take home with me that day. I set my machine up next to my bed and filled it with distilled water. Since my headboard has some detail to it, I was able to drape the long hose over one of the appendages so that it wouldn't be crimped by my laying on it during the night.

My first week home with the machine (the picture shown is not my model rather a face mask) I was amazed at how I no longer had to use the bathroom during the night and how quickly I fell asleep. However, my face sweat profusely with the silicone mask and I was experiencing facial heat which made me feel uncomfortable. I also noticed that I was experiencing nausea and headaches due to the powerful stream of air being pushed up my nose. I called the doctor and he suggested that I set the air stream lower. He explained that the machine will automatically increase pressure if my breathing becomes labored and will decrease once it stabilizes. Decreasing the pressure helped a little and I found by researching side effects of CPAP machines that my symptoms were common among people who were first using the machine. After a couple weeks, the nausea went away as did the headaches but my face continued to sweat.

The distributor company sent me some soft pads that I could Velcro around the mask and that did alleviate a lot of the sweating. Apparently, the machine also sends my information to both the distributor and the doctor so that they can monitor my sleep progress and the amount of pressure being used throughout the night.

Since my body hadn't experienced a full night's sleep in years, it did take some adjusting to the entire process.

Still Not a Fan but I Want to Keep Living

My report showed that I stopped breathing 80 times an hour. I was at risk for either a heart attack or stroke. I am overweight and have diabetes as well which escalated my chances for those factors.

Mayo Clinic also reports that sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. Complications can include:

  • Daytime fatigue. The repeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep impossible, making severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability likely.

    You might have difficulty concentrating and find yourself falling asleep at work, while watching TV or even when driving. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of motor vehicle and workplace accidents.

    You might also feel quick-tempered, moody or depressed. Children and adolescents with sleep apnea might perform poorly in school or have behavior problems.

  • High blood pressure or heart problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Having obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).

    Obstructive sleep apnea might also increase your risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation. If you have heart disease, multiple episodes of low blood oxygen (hypoxia or hypoxemia) can lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat.

  • Type 2 diabetes. Having sleep apnea increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome. This disorder, which includes high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar and an increased waist circumference, is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
  • Complications with medications and surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea is also a concern with certain medications and general anesthesia. People with sleep apnea might be more likely to have complications after major surgery because they're prone to breathing problems, especially when sedated and lying on their backs.

    Before you have surgery, tell your doctor about your sleep apnea and how it's being treated.

  • Liver problems. People with sleep apnea are more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests, and their livers are more likely to show signs of scarring (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease).
  • Sleep-deprived partners. Loud snoring can keep anyone who sleeps near you from getting good rest. It's not uncommon for a partner to have to go to another room, or even to another floor of the house, to be able to sleep.

Each time I don my head gear, I am reminded that my chances of enticing a suitor drop immensely and I've resolved myself into being happy that my dogs aren't freaked out by my looking like Hannibal Lecter! I'm told that if I lose weight that I could eliminate my need for this life giving machine but if losing weight were that easy, I would have been thin years ago. Maybe one day there will be a dating app that specifies one sleeps with a CPAP machine so as not to scare off those looking for love (LOL)! Right now, being one who is content with being single and enjoying the comedic aspect of dating with CPAP, I'm happy making jokes and openly declaring my disdain of having to "strap up" every night.

I find the mask annoying. Sometimes the force of air is noisy and awakens me from my slumber. I still sweat on really hot nights. My "elephant trunk" is cumbersome and awkward. Why do I continue to use it? I want to live. I want to avoid having my heart stop while I sleep. I enjoy my family and friends and want to open my eyes each morning.

While the use of a CPAP machine isn't for the faint of heart it is an incredible creation that has saved many lives. I'm fortunate to be one of those people.

I encourage you to seek help if you experience any symptoms of sleep apnea. As much as I wish I didn't have to use the machine, I appreciate the fact that I have one and my health has improved in many ways. I sleep better each night, I have better bladder control, I don't get migraines like I used to and my overall attitude feels more positive because I am better rested.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Laura Cole

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