Sleep Apnea? Not me!!

            I’ve added a new accessory to my wardrobe. It’s a pear shaped vinyl mask with dark blue straps that resembles something out of a bondage catalogue and has lots of Velcro that makes me fear for my long hair. Who would have thought I would become wildly enamored of my strange new sleep buddy? It’s been a week since we started going to bed together and I think it’s going to be a long and happy relationship.

            Okay, maybe I should treat the subject matter with a more serious and scholarly approach but Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) has been written about in scholarly tones for many years. We just don’t pay attention. At least, I didn’t think it could apply to me!

            Sleep, deep restorative sleep, had been elusive for a long time. It’s a gradual thing, this theft of quality rest, but one that comes with aging and a host of medical problems, not counting the stress of daily life. We assault our psyche with a continual bombardment of electronic and media stimulation and then wonder why we can’t turn it off at night. All I know is, I have been trudging along, weary to the bones, for way too long. In one of those head-slapping moments, I’ve realized that I should have done this much sooner, and I’m on a mission to get the rest of my fellow slugs headed for soothing sleep.

            Did you know that 80% of sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed? My own primary physician has suggested a sleep study several times over the past few years in a bid to combat my exhaustion, but I knew exactly why I didn’t sleep well. Or did I? Well, I’m getting older, I’m obese, I have some allergies and asthma symptoms related to my Lupus but most of all, pain is a sleep-wrecker. Tossing and turning to change the position of aching joints becomes a fact of life. Add those endlessly restless legs to the mix and it’s a challenge to stay asleep for anything but short bursts of time. Morning finds you clinging to sleep and your pillow like  achild with its blankie. “Don’t make me get up!” Daytime weariness got the best of me when compounded with some asthma issues and I finally relented, agreeing to a sleep study. However, I would surely know if I stopped breathing during the night, wouldn’t I? I don’t wake up gasping for air like a drowning person, so I fully expected the sleep study to be an exercise in futility. I was wrong. I could have been dead wrong.



            First of all, I was happy to learn that there was a sleep center nearby in Lockport NY, only a 20 mile drive for me. Once you have a doctor’s referral, they set up two appointments, spaced two weeks apart. The theory is, if the findings are negative, you can always cancel the second appointment. They do explain the procedure so you know what to expect but it’s an overview that was quickly forgotten by the thought “What if I have to go to the bathroom when I’m all wired up?” Laugh if you will but it was a very real concern, since you get more like an old Betsy-Wetsy doll as you age (drink, wet, drink, wet). You need to go to the center, with your pajamas, and plan to stay from 9 p.m. until roughly 5:30 a.m. Come freshly showered with no lotions, sprays, ointments etc. Okay, gotcha.

            My appointment was on the Friday of Fourth of July weekend and all the fireworks were going on in my brain as I prepared. I decided to stop drinking liquids a full 10 hours before the test so I didn’t have to go to the bathroom, my usually tied back hair was left free for the equipment and my nightgown was at the ready. The anticipation was palpable. At 4:30 they called to postpone the test because the technician was sick. ARRGGHHH!!! Suddenly, I really wanted the test I didn’t want in the first place. They called on Monday to reschedule for Wednesday, leaving me only two days to get all worked up, so that was good.

On Wednesday, I arrived at the center, a small building in a huge professional complex. In it were three bedrooms, a toilet/bath/shower, the technician’s command center and Mark. Mark was the technician with a wry sense of humor who has this routine down like a drill sergeant.

            Behind door number three, the room is more budget motel looking than medical-like, probably to put us at ease. Lucky for me, a cracker-jack air conditioner made it nice and cool. No, I did not have my papers filled out because no one sent them to me. No problem. He gave me a clipboard and a pen and turned the TV on to show a video about sleep apnea testing and treatment while he went off to talk to doors number one and two.  Hard to watch the video and write, but I finished my assignment, anxious to get on with it. I put on my nightgown and filled out my questionnaires (more later on really being honest about the answers) and waited.

            If you have seen the head wires used in an EEG study and think that’s all there is to it, you’re in for a surprise. You get all that and so much more!

            A belt-like elastic band goes around your upper chest, and another one across your lower chest (to check breathing expansion). Electronic leads get stuck to your legs, two each, and the wires are threaded up through the elastic bands. (I was grateful that I had no leg hair under those sticky patches!). A  few more on arm and neck.

            The process of gluing the array of electrodes in your hair doesn’t take long, but I was surprised at the ones added to the face to monitor eye and jaw movement. Ditto for the microphone (like a watch battery) taped to your throat to catch the snoring. The thin hose that looks like a breathing canula puts tiny sensors in your nose to gauge the air intake. Holding the horse’s-mane of electrical wires aside while I backed into the bed, mark ran me through a series of eye movements, etc. to check the equipment and set baselines. Then Mark added one last touch before lights out, a fingertip meter to tell my blood oxygen saturation level. It glowed eerily red in the dark, like ET’s finger. Now, all I had to do was fall asleep. Yeah, right! 

To be continued……


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