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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sleeping, the art of . . .

Well, I've got it.

Didn't think I had it but, apparently, I do.

What do I have?

Sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea = (Apnea - from the Greek - "without breath) People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer.

Against my better judgment I attended two Sleep Classes at Kaiser Permanente, both of which were designed to acquaint us with sleep apnea and to give us test equipment to measure whether we had it or not.

Two nights ago, following the second class, I came home, put on 'Alex' a computer module about 5" high, 3' wide and 1.5" thick. You hang it around your neck, place a belt around your chest, one around your belly; into each of these belts you plug in some cables. Both belts have sensors that measure things within your ancient body and relay those results to Alex, the computer. You then place a nose canula into your nostrils, secure it to your head, and turn the equipment on. You then go to sleep. While you sleep it measures your breathing, provides a constant positive air pressure via the nose canulae, and records all the results on a smart chip.

In the morning, you return it to Kaiser and they measure and evaluate the results stored on the smart chip.

I mildly resented my physician even sending me to these two clinics because (a) I had no problem sleeping and (b) I thought it was a waste of my time. He apparently sent me because I had complained of frequent tiredness and energy loss. He apparently wanted to rule out sleep apnea as a cause. (I chalk it up to spending 8-12 hours on a computer every day, writing, writing, writing, and researching, researching, researching).

The nurse called me this morning and advised I have moderate sleep apnea. I had an average of 12 apneas, which is judged to be moderate. At one point I measured 28 instances of apnea within an hour. This was when sleeping on my back (the equipment tells them if you're sleeping on your back, your left side, or your right side. It even tells them if/when you got up to go to the bathroom. Nosy little computers.) When I slept on my left side (which is where I normally sleep) I had 2.5 instances of apnea per hour. Quite a dramatic change and that was a negative report (which is good). Anything over 5 is considered minor apnea, over 10, moderate, and over 20, I believe, potentially dangerous.

I suspected my measurements would spike sometime between 5 and 6am as I had gotten a severe leg cramp that hurt like hell within that time period. Sure enough, the machine recorded a higher apnea rate at that time. Apparently, when you are yelping in pain you also tend to hold your breath while hurting. This is measured by the computer as sleep apnea. (Dumb computer).

I am now offered the option of buying (at anywhere from $750 to $1500) a CPAP machine (Controlled Positive Air Pressure) which I quickly declined. I told the nurse I would not be using "the Batman mask. I was afraid I'd not only frighten Evelyn, but worse, scare the kittens." Come to think of it, it looks more like that mask the bad guy wore in "Silence of the Lambs."

No Thank You.

Instead, I will sleep on my left side (which I normally do anyway; I have a suspicion I slept on my back more this night because I had that contraption draped around my neck). If needed, I can put a tennis ball, about shoulder blade level, on the right side of my body. If I should roll over, I hit the tennis ball, it's uncomfortable and wakes me up and I return to the left side. Or, the nurse said, "you could have your wife give you the old elbow if she sees you on your back."

"I'm not anxious to encourage Evelyn to give me the elbow," I told her. The nurse laughed.

One more thing with which I may have to contend in my old age . . . which I never knew I had . . . and am not convinced I have now.

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