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A couple of Tuesdays ago, I kept an appointment at the VA to pick up a machine designed to force me to keep my airways open while I slept. I arrived confident that I really did not need the device called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). I had used one eons ago but no longer required it after losing 102 pounds in one year. Sure, I’ve gained half of it back, but 50 pounds isn’t the same as 102.
At any rate, when I arrived at the hospital and read the report of my sleep test, I learned the doctors claimed I not only had the kind of apnea where my throat collapses while I sleep, which denies me life-giving oxygen, I also had the type where my brain ceases to demand oxygen, so I don’t breathe. That’s the kind that kills you.
Now convinced, I listened carefully while the technician, a great lady named Pat—not to be confused with Patty who works in the same department—gave detailed instruction on the use of the machine to me and one other vic—uh, patient.
Firmly committed to making the thing work, I returned home and dutifully set up the device on a bedside table. And it does require some setting up: Enough—but not too much—water in the reservoir that provides the proper amount of humidity; plugging in the cord from the back of the machine to the special cord that goes into the electrical outlet; selecting the proper controls; getting the head harness sufficiently tight but not overly tight. And, of course, reading the operator's manual. But I can dispense with this latter detail because Pat gave such great instructions. And I’m a quick study.
Tuesday night, I went to bed at 12:30 a.m. (I’m a night person), strapped on the odious mask, hit the “On” button, and retired… to the most miserable night I can recall in years. I felt as if I were suffocating (a condition that I suffered with that long ago CPAP even though it was blowing out my ears with the force of its air flow). This one was supposed to be different. The clever little thing simply gave you a slight breeze up the nose until it sensed you were asleep. Then it delivered the gale force that flaps your lips like a dog hanging out of a car window at fifty miles an hour, which apparently is a requirement to keep you breathing when your brain says, “Who gives a crap?”
I quickly noticed a pattern. Three or four deep, struggling breaths, settling into regular breathing, followed soon thereafter by labored breathing again. I checked the two little vent holes on the mask to convince myself the devilish device was doing its part—giving me a gentle flow of air—and each time felt a slight air flow as I inhaled and exhaled. At 5:30 a.m., I decided that five hours on the CPAP was enough to give them a record, got up, went to my chair for the first fitful sleep of the night.
I did not get much productive work done the next day. Didn’t even touch the new novel I’m working on. Mostly, I merely blundered around in a fog. Nonetheless, I resolved to keep my compact with the sleep clinic by wearing the odious mask at least four hours a night for two weeks straight. That’s so the little spy card inside the machine’s guts can report via Wi-Fi to the hospital when I’m sleeping, when I’m awake, how many incidents I have (no, not that kind), and probably when I mutter curses at being so uncomfortable.
As I prepared to go to bed Wednesday night (again at 12:30), I checked the machine and made a discovery. The cord from the electrical outlet had come loose from its intended mate from the back of the CPAP. I’d gotten no air whatsoever from the machine the entire prior night! I wasn’t imagining I was suffocating, I was suffocating. All the air I got was from the two tiny vent holes in the mask. I shudder to think what that does to a brain that’s not terribly interested in oxygen in the first place.
After sitting on the side of the bed and laughing until tears came, I made sure it was plugged in properly (the little “On” light glowed briefly before shutting itself off—the machine doesn’t want lights to disturb your sleep), strapped on the mask, and felt a real (not illusionary) stream of air. Folks, I promptly went to sleep and woke up at 9:45 a.m. I haven’t slept nine hours without interruption since… oh, probably about 1950.
This experience reconfirmed that my level of mechanical and electronic proficiency hovers somewhere down near the dodo level. So I am officially changing my middle name to Doofus (look it up in the dictionary).
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