Thursday, November 21, 2013

More On Aging (Or: It Never Ends … Until It Does)

My ineptitude with tools (mechanical and electronic) is widely recognized among my kin, friends, and acquaintances, although I do wield a knife and fork with considerable dexterity.

I had a rather sickly childhood. At six years of age, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a sanitarium for a long, lonely, and miserable three months. The point of this is that while my youth was rather uncertain, my adult years have been quite healthy. I joined the army weighing 100 pounds (they almost rejected me, and this was while they were still looking for bodies to send to the Korean Peninsula). I left the army at 134 pounds. Then I got married. As I think I have said before, my late wife, Betty, came from a family of ten, and she did most of the cooking. Our grocery bill the first year of our marriage was outlandish because while she was a very good cook, she only knew how to prepare for ten … at one sitting.

Well, you know where that led. Her cooking and my penchant for sweets inflated me like a balloon. Despite my weight gain, I was healthy as a horse … say a Clydesdale. Candy and cookies and cakes were on my menu for every meal save breakfast. As fate would have it, my poor wife (who did not eat sweets to any extent) contracted diabetes. Since she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day while I didn’t smoke at all, I always figured wry fortune would take me down with a heart attack or cancer. Alas, pneumonia took her first.

As is my wont … I digress.

Over the years, my excess tonnage caused me to develop a condition known as sleep apnea. The doctor sent me to a lab where they put more wires on my head than I had hair and told me to lie down and go to sleep. In a strange place. With a TV camera watching every move. With two attendants outside the room where I lay frozen discussing the misbehavior of one of their boyfriends. Result? I slept for only one hour, which didn’t seem enough time for an accurate diagnosis. Nonetheless, the result came back as severe sleep apnea.

That stark proclamation was rewarded with something called a CPAP. I can’t translate acronym, but I can tell you when you strap it across your face like some giant blood-sucking insect, you can say goodbye to a good night’s rest … for the remainder of your life. The first time I put the mask on, I tore it off feeling as if I were suffocating. That’s silly, of course, because the thing is blowing air down your nostrils. At any rate, for a couple of years I wore the monstrosity, always waking at 2:00 a.m. to tear it off in order to get some rest.

Then I entered a very fine program at the VA called MOVE, which is a healthy living regimen. I lost 102.2 pounds and reached my stated weight goal in almost exactly one year. Not only that, but I kept it off, varying only five pounds on either side of that goal. The results were amazing. I went off blood pressure medication and got rid of that damned CPAP.

At the end of July last year, I fell and injured my back, which resulted in surgery. The surgeon not only repaired the slipped disk between L4 and L5 but also reamed out the nerve channel and corrected a stenosis problem. Recovery was slow and painful … and continues. I couldn’t exercise during the early months of recovery, but I could still eat. You guessed it … my weight started to climb after six years of remaining steady.

During a recent routine visit to my doctor … excuse me, my primary health provider … I discussed several items that were niggling at me. I have trouble getting to sleep and don’t want to rely on chemicals. That sounded like sleep apnea to her. I woke up often. Sleep apnea. At times I’m a bit uncertain on my feet. Sleep apnea. My right thigh goes numb when I sit too long. Sleep apnea. The ingrown toenail on my right big toe is acting up. Sleep apnea. Just to make certain she wasn’t on remote, I asked her how her kids were doing. “Sleep ap… Oh, they’re doing great. Thanks for asking.”

Result? She sent me to Sleep Medicine at the VA. I sat through an interview with a very nice intern who wore a small jewel on the left side of her nostril. I’m not sure if it was a strategy for keeping eyes off her rather ample bosom or not, but it sure worked that way. I sometimes lost track of the conversation because I was studying that oddly-place little diamond stud.

But I did catch her comment when she concurred with my doctor’s suspicion that sleep apnea was ruling my life. When she mentioned a visit to the sleep lab, I put up such a spirited objection (although I was careful to say I wasn’t refusing to go … when you do that at the VA they tend to lose interest in you) she excused herself to go talk to her boss. A few minutes later, the senior doctor came in … ‘stache and pony tail and all … and said he had an alternative proposal, which I took to be an interim step before hauling my carcass to the sleep room.

They had a simple device to wear on my finger at night to measure my oxygen levels while I slept. This, he said (he was very nice and professional despite my jaundiced description of him), would give us a strong indication if apnea was a problem. I agreed on the spot.

Don’t worry, we’re getting to the punch line.

As I awaited the arrival of the oxygen-measuring device, I began to consider my options. The one that kept coming to mind was … to cheat. Well, I don’t know if it’s cheating, but it ought to improve my odds, at any rate. Breathe Rite Strips! Simple, right? They open your nares and you get more good, clean, life-sustaining, apnea defeating oxygen.

I’ve never used the devices before, but a friend gave me six of her strips for a trial run. And here is where such advanced technology and I parted company.

The first night, I was mindful of Bobbi’s instruction to bend the strips slightly to make them fit properly. Of course, I removed the protective tape from the thing first. Result. I got the strip stuck to my fingers. In fact, to the fingers of both hands as I used the second to free the first. So after passing it back and forth between fingers a few times, the strip went straight into the trash. On the second try, I got the bright idea of bending the thing before removing the protective strips. Okay, but I had to bend it back the other way to remove the damned things. Still, I managed to settle it over my nose in the proper way and oxygen flowed into me so well I wore it for an hour at the computer before going to bed.

The next morning, Breathe Rite was still where it was supposed to be, and I’d had a better night’s sleep than usual (although whether it was real or imagined, I cannot say with certainty). As I put the thing on my nose the second night, I didn’t like the angle and lifted one side to readjust the strip. Breathe Rite didn’t like that, so sometime during the night, the right side gave up and let go.

I was certain I did everything properly the third night and went to bed to enjoy a restful sleep. But I tossed and turned a lot and woke several times, as I usually do. When I went into the bathroom to clean up the next morning, there was a big dragonfly perched on the bridge of my nose. The damned strip had come loose on both sides and there it sat, wings spread wide, poised for flight.

The remaining two strips are sitting on the bathroom counter. And I still await the arrival of the oxygen-measuring device. What are the odds I’ll screw that up, as well?

Best to you all,



Next week: Your guess is as good as mine

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


  1. Sarah, thanks for your comments on this post and the prior one. Might as well laugh at our peccadillos. Otherwise we cry over them.
    Always appreciate the comments of such an accomplished writer as Sarah Storme!


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