It's not that bad, I guess.
For most of what has passed so far as my "adult" life, I've had sleep problems. Like not getting enough, or getting too much (sleeping through entire weekend days, for instance), and snoring myself awake sometimes, and feeling tired during the day. Plus I got depression. And I'm kind of a big, doughy guy with a freakishly large neck that's apparently packed full of fatty tissue.
And people who are in a position to know have told me that I sometimes stop breathing during the night. So, whenever I see a doctor, it usually only takes him a few minutes to bring up the possibility of sleep apnea.
Which I actually got tested for a few years ago -- somebody brought a pulse oximeter over to my place and told me to clip it to my finger and go to sleep and she'd be back to pick it up in the morning. The thinking being that if I stopped breathing, the oximeter (which is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood) would register the resulting lack of oxygen.
That test did not find anything abnormal, but that may have been because I barely slept that night to start with. I'm kind of finicky about the situations in which I can get to sleep, and the big plastic clip on my finger just bugged me. (After I did manage to drop off for a little while, I woke up to find that the clip had somehow migrated to my other hand.)
But that plastic clip is nothing compared to what they do to you for a full polysomnography, which is what I went to my local teaching hospital to have done to me in early January. I know that some of y'all who might be reading this have had this (or a similar procedure) done -- in some cases, multiple times. So I know I don't really have any room to complain. And, I mean, given the broad range of things that can be done to you in a hospital, a sleep study is pretty benign. They don't cut into you or anything. (They just sandpaper your head a little bit.)
But really, there are few things in this world less restful than a clinical sleep study. You've got the pulse oximeter clipped on your finger, plus about 20 electrodes or whatever glued to your head and face, stuff taped to your arms and legs and chest and side, some plastic tubing looped under your nose, and big rubber bands around your chest and abdomen. And everything smells kind of weird. I'll say this for the sleep lab I went to: It didn't look that much like a hospital room. It looked more like a slightly run-down motel room.
I don't remember sleeping at all that night, frankly. But apparently I slept enough to have 99 "respiratory events" (48 obstructive apneas -- stopping breathing entirely due to the airway collapsing, then waking up to breathe -- and 51 hypopneas). Which is a lot, but not as much as some people do. My AHI only indicates "moderate" apnea, which is between "mild" and "severe."
Enough, however, for them to recommend CPAP therapy, which is where the above-mentioned plastic mask enters my life. Apparently, what they do normally is make you do another sleep study so they can determine the optimal pressure of air to pump down your airway to keep it open -- this is called titration (hee). For some reason, they didn't do that to me. Instead, I received a phone call directing me to an office park near the airport, where I picked up an auto-titrating (hee) machine. For the past week or so, it's been gradually cranking up the pressure every night and storing a bunch of information on a card which I have to take back to the office park, and somehow from there my doctor will arrive at the correct air pressure to prescribe, eventually.
I can't really tell if it's helping yet. The mask itself isn't that bad, but I guess I'm still getting used to it. The machine doesn't make much noise once I've got the mask strapped on, and I think it has cut down on my snoring. Plus, it's kind of fun to have a new gadget to play with. But it may take a while before I really reap the benefits. It's funny to think about the fact that I might not have had a proper, full night's sleep for most of my adulthood.
I don't know how I'm going to pay for all this, though. Like the gambler I am, I opted for a comically high deductible on my insurance. And now, sitting next to my humble bed, I've got an apparatus that, all told, is about the price of a used car -- and which also takes more fuss and cleaning than I'm used to providing. (One of the reasons I never got contact lenses was that I just didn't want to fuck with the solutions and cases and stuff. Anybody who's seen the state of my apartment can verify that I do not have the kind of lifestyle that's conducive to keeping up with minuscule, fussy details.) The various elements (mask, filter, humidifier tank, hose) have got to be cleaned frequently, and the humidifier needs fresh (distilled) water every day. It's what I imagine having a small housepet would be like.
I guess I can't complain too much, though. As one of the interviewees on the DVD that came with my mask said, what other disease can you get that can be treated by just wearing a mask every night? I'd rather have sleep apnea than polio, for instance. Or Huntington's chorea. Just to pick two examples.
Interestingly, when I visited my hometown for Christmas, I found out that a few of my relatives have similar problems, and had either had or might soon have their own sleep studies. So, if you're reading this, relatives, this is what happened after my sleep study. Sorry I haven't called to tell you this in person, but I've been busy trying to get to sleep with a plastic mask strapped to my face.