Do you know – as you grow older – how occasionally you just have to say to yourself, “Self, you just can’t do that anymore. You can’t run, but you can still walk. You can’t eat a whole box of chocolate chip cookies and not gain weight, but you can still eat a whole box of chocolate chip cookies and not worry about the weight. You can’t sit on the floor and stretch and touch your toes, but you can still get up off the floor when you do sit down there. Etc, etc. etc.
Another one of those moments came this weekend. “Self, you can no longer go to sleep unencumbered by masks and nozzles and hoses.” And honestly, I’m having a really hard time with that one.
FRIDAY: I drove into Albany to pick up my “equipment” and listen to a respiratory therapist tell me, “I can’t believe you have to have a pressure of “23”! A pressure that high is usually what might be needed by a 350 lb. man who smokes everyday and snores like a freight train!” Other nice comments were, “You absolutely HAVE to have a full face mask – there’s no way you can tolerate those pressures without your mouth being covered”, and my personal favorite, “This might be easier for you with SHORT hair.” To which I wanted to reply, “And it might be easier for me to look 20 years younger with a face lift, but I don’t plan to do that any time soon either.”
FRIDAY NIGHT: I didn’t take a nap Friday – even driving home – so I could possibly be sleepy earlier than my usual 1:30 a.m. bedtime. Didn’t work. At 1 a.m. I got into bed, hooked up all the nozzles and hoses, put on the mask, and turned on the machine.
It’s actually a really neat piece of equipment (if it wasn’t ME using it). All these machines are continually evolving into smaller and smaller units, hoping – I’m sure – to make adjustment to them easier. This one comes in two parts that plug together. Part I is the BiPAP machine. BiPAP’s are used when the pressure needed is high enough that exhaling becomes difficult with the same pressure set on both inhaling and exhaling. With BiPAP, the pressures inhaling and exhaling can be set at different levels. Part II is a humidifier. I need that because, again with high pressures, my mouth and nasal passages would dry out in a nanosecond, and that would be extremely uncomfortable. So, with this combination machine, the air being pumped into my nose is already humidified (kind of like inhaling on a hot, humid south Georgia summer day).
When my charming respiratory therapist measured my face, he said I was borderline between small and medium. I almost liked him at that moment – it’s been a long time since this body has bordered between anything but large and extra-large. He sent me home with two masks – small and medium – saying I could experiment with both and see which worked best for me.
I put on one of the masks, and he turned the pressure up to “23”. I was almost blown out of my chair, and he just shook his head – I think in sympathy. He shared with me that he uses a CPAP machine with a level of “6”. He again said I didn’t fit the profile for needing that high a pressure, and said I obviously must have a very small airway (which I confirmed to him because my internist had told me that). He excused himself to go talk to the doctor, a pulmonary specialist. When he came back, he had been given permission to lower my pressure to “18”. According to my sleep study, at “18” I no longer stop breathing, although I still have some “shallow” breathing. The goal is to eliminate both, and for me that was at a pressure of “23”. Both the doctor and he decided starting me at “18” would be a little easier. As I adjust to that, the pressure could be inched up over time until I reach “23”. Okey dokey – I was fine with that, especially after realizing that with my mouth covered, I no longer had the problem I did during the sleep study with just the nasal mask (opening my mouth and exhaling air pressurized to the point that I could have cleared all the leaves off our deck).
So . . back to Friday night. I put on the small mask and worked for at least 30 minutes trying to get a “seal”. There can’t be any leaks around the mask. Not only does that negate the point of the air going up your nose, but you also end up with pressurized air blowing straight into your eye or cheek or chin (trust me, that sensation doesn’t put you in a sleepy mood). Oh! Let me just mention here that the noise “leaking air around the mask” makes sounds like a word this southern lady does not even say in public , much less do. Anyway, I finally got a seal and tried to relax and go to sleep. The machine is programmed to give me 20 minutes of “warm-up”, starting with low pressure, and building gradually upward. The goal is for me to be sleeping soundly before the high pressure is reached, because in a relaxed, sleeping state I won’t be “fighting” the machine.
The pressure did not bother me. What bothered me was maintaining the “seal”. With Ted snoring like a chainsaw beside me, I turned on the light every five minutes, turned off the machine, took off the mask, turned the machine back on, put on the mask with a good seal, and lay back down – only to have the seal “break” and “leak air” – sounding like of those Grade B teenage movies where all the guys try to “outdo” each other doing that thing I don’t say or do.
At 1:45 I finally got a seal that stayed in place even when I turned on my side. I fell asleep relatively easily (why not – at that point I felt like I’d just finished a marathon) and woke up three hours later back in that Grade B movie. Without turning on the light, I took off the mask, turned off the machine, and feeling like my head weighed 20 lbs. less, fell into a blissful sleep that lasted until Bear pounced on the bed ready for some attention at 8 a.m.
SATURDAY NIGHT: Wore medium mask to bed, got a good seal right away, and slept three hours and 15 minutes. When I woke up, the seal was broken, and I knew I just didn’t have it in me to fight it for an hour. So I took it off and went back to sleep.
So . . . right now (and I’m writing this Sunday afternoon) . . . I’m kind of in between semi-down and down about the whole thing. I’ve spent today having lots of pep talks with myself (after crying on Ted’s shoulder for 30 minutes). One thing I worry about is that I’m disturbing Ted’s sleep with all of this – to which he replied, “I honestly never even knew you were getting up and down, never heard the machine (or any of the noises), and slept like a baby.” I probably shouldn’t think about that too long, or I’ll just get mad at him for being so clueless.
Thinking positively – I don’t think the pressures are going to bother me, even when I get to “23”. The full face mask solved the “panic” I felt during the Sleep Study. I know that this is going to be good for me – right after it stops being bad for me. I know that, in the long run, I may be able to come off some (or all) of my blood pressure meds by doing this and that it will help my heart and brain and just about every other organ I still have. And, according to everyone I know who has sleep apnea and uses a CPAP or BiPAP machine, I am going to feel SO MUCH BETTER AND LESS TIRED!
I’ll let you know when that happens.
Personal Note: Blake arrived in Ft. Collins, CO Friday evening and is settling into a condo with two other guys, until he finds his own place. More on his trip later in the week, but just wanted to thank everyone for the safe travel prayers that were lifted up for him . . . . and . . . .
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!