Monday, February 8, 2010

Lack of Air

I knew that I wasn’t sleeping well. I’d wake up, toss and turn, and then not be able to sleep. My snoring was famous across the country. No one would be my roommate at conferences. At one workshop they made me sleep outside in a teepee by myself.

Then one day, when a friend gave me some energy work, I fell asleep. I was tired, as usual. But when I woke, Patrica gently drawled, ”You had some funny breathing going on—you should check that out, Terra. You stopped breathing.

My MD took it seriously. Not breathing is a red flag. He ordered a sleep study.

So I went to the hospital to sleep, while someone watched. I had wires glued all over me—under my nose, IN my nose, on my scalp, my forehead, my chest, my belly, and my legs. And I had a strap wound around my chest to measure breathing movements. The technician was very gentle, so I felt comfortable that he was the one watching me while I slept. My sleep night was being taped, so the MD could coordinate my readings with my sleep activities.

After a few hours he woke me up to put on a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) to keep the breathing passages open. Now, added to my wiring I had on a mask over my nose, hooked up to a machine by a long tube. Yet, I was so tired that I slept a few more hours, even in all the paraphernalia.

When the tech woke me up in the morning, he told me that he couldn’t diagnose, but he could tell me that I had been breathing normally only ¼ of the time, and my oxygen levels were down to 57%. The CPAP helped me breathe more normally while slept.

A lack of air while I slept would explain why I couldn’t rest at night; why I started falling asleep, even while playing cards; why I had to fight to make it through the evenings. It was only by the vigilance of my guardian angels that I hadn’t had a car accident from falling asleep at the wheel.

Breathing is such a simple natural process. It’s hard to believe that I couldn’t do it when I was sleeping. Instead of sudden infant death syndrome I had sleep apnea, a slow adult death. My body was starving for air when I slept. How many extra brain cells had died? Eventually my blood pressure would have increased, my risk of heart disease multiplied.

Now I sleep with my CPAP every night. I’m mostly used to it, but some nights I feel like I am suffocating when I put it on. I wait until my husband closes his eyes and falls asleep before I put the mask on. I don’t like him to see me that way. I feel like an elephant, the long, gray tubing hanging from my face down to the CPAP on the floor.

Every day I wash the mask, tube, and humidifier container and hang them to dry. It is a part of my routine. I’m used to bringing it through security at the airport now. They always have to swab it for explosives. And I have to adjust the altitude setting so the pressure is proper for where I’m visiting.

Do I wish I didn’t have to have this thing in my life? Yes. Will I give it up? No. My body feels more alive. I’m not sleepy all of the time. Breathing - it’s a good thing. Air- it’s essential.

--Terra Rafael

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