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One Foot in the Grave?

Last week it became impossible to ignore the signs that I experience sleep apnea. The major tip-off was my wife telling me that she sees me stop breathing for up to 10 seconds at night. Then there are the soft symptoms that I have experienced for at least 10 years and maybe for my entire adult life: mild depression, difficulty concentrating and keeping a coherent train of thought, headaches, bruxism, mild high blood pressure.

So last week I decided to talk to my doctor about this. This was difficult for me. I knew that the most popular treatment for this disorder is being hooked up to a machine that pushes air into you all night to encourage you to breathe. Imagining myself hooked up to a machine like this seemed to me like being on life support. Dying suddenly felt very close and real. I might be living during the day but dying at night. Wearing a breathing mask all night would also mean the end of cuddling and affection at night. I would become as a dying patient in a single hospital bed, alone, lonely, and wondering if a life like this is worth living.

Nonetheless, I don't want to die and leave my wife and children on their own any sooner than I have to. So I made an appointment and saw my doctor Tuesday. He told me I had high blood pressure and started me on an ACE medication for that. I took a blood test; the results came back today normal. I was to get an EKG, but their machine was broken so I schedule another appointment for two weeks, at which time my blood pressure will be re-checked. Then the doctor set me up for an appointment for a sleep lab test, which I completed last night.

Earlier today I emailed kent1 about the experience. What follows is pretty much a cut and paste from that email.

The whole thing was pretty low-key and uneventful. I arrived at the sleep lab, located in a very quiet development half-way between State College and Boalsburg. The only person there was the technician for that night, a young woman from Philipsburg named Mindy. She had all the grace and charm of someone from Philipsburg who went to school at Lock Haven. She was pleasant enough, though.

It took me about 15 minutes to fill out all the paperwork. Then Mindy attached about 20 electrodes to me, most of them to my scalp and face. Then I slipped into bed and Mindy plugged the other ends of the electrodes into a panel behind me. She then left the room to man (woman?) her control panel. Through a PA system she asked me to do different things to calibrate the equipment--move my eyes up and down, left and right, clench my jaw, shake my leg. Then she turned out the lights and told me to try to go to sleep. It was about 10 PM. I knew that she would be watching through a video camera all night and that my behavior would be recorded. I normally have a snack before I go to bed, so I felt a little hungry, having last eaten at 5:00.

I thought I would have trouble drifting off this early, hooked up with all these wires, but I didn't. I did wake several times to shift from one side to my back to my other side. I didn't feel like I was sleeping very deeply at all. I wanted to turn to lie on my stomach, but didn't know if the wires would allow it. I tried anyway, and found that a small, 1"x1" box that was strapped to my chest was really digging into me in an uncomfortable way. I also noticed that I had to go to the bathroom at that point. I was about to call out to Mindy, but just then she came in to tell me that my movements had loosened whatever was attached to my chest. I told her I wanted to use the restroom, so she unplugged all the wires from the panel and tucked them in to the elastic around my chest. When I got back I felt much more comfortable. Even though I felt fairly wide awake at that point, I managed to get back to sleep without much trouble.

Mindy told me at that point that she had not noticed any episodes of apnea, but that I had been grinding my teeth. That disconfirmed a theory I had been entertaining that my teeth grinding has been a reaction to apnea. I had read on the Internet that this can happen. She said that at this rate, unless the doctor noticed something she did not, there might be no reason for me to come back for the second test on Monday.

Then I started having dreams. I dreamt that two attractive young women were in the sleep lab with me, and I was about to get to know them better when IRL Mindy walked in to tighten the elastic band around my chest. Couldn't recapture that dream--drat. Had some more dreams, the last one that I was being observed by a number of babies above me who were hanging over a railing. I noticed one was about to fall but there was nothing I could do and splat--it fell a distance of about six feet, landed right on me, and began to cry. That woke me up. It was about five 'til 6:00. Two minutes later, Mindy came in and said I could get up and take a shower. I felt a little groggy, but not too bad, considering the sleeping conditions. I didn't ask how I behaved the second half of the night. Mindy said that I would be hearing from the doctor. I did ask if I could have a beer with my wife and her sister tonight, and she said that it would be okay. Hooray.