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0607 FG: An easy alternative to going crazy

Brad Nelson Published on 26 November 2007

“How old are you, Grandpa?” asked Ashton, my ten-year-old grandson. I had just shared a newspaper article with Ashton’s grandmother, mother and father.

Ashton asked the above question after I insisted that he sit down and read the article. The article was about a fellow who used a 12-guage shotgun loaded with buckshot to try to remove a wheel lug nut from his car.

It seems he lost patience with more conventional methods to remove a stubborn lug nut and pulled the trigger on the shotgun with the end of the barrel about four feet from the offending lug nut.

The article went on to state that he was hospitalized for various shrapnel injuries mainly to his lower legs but with some injuries as high on his body as his chin. It also stated that the individual was 66 years old.

That was the source of Ashton’s question concerning Grandpa’s age. I told Ashton that I would never be old enough to do something like that. But about two years ago –

I spent the night in a sleep center in Wenatchee, Washington. I had wires attached to my body literally from head to toe. My fears of not being able to sleep as wired up as I was were not founded; I felt like I slept very well that night.

The previous five years or so had been a nightmare that just kept getting worse. Those years included at least three trips to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack.

Each visit resulted in extensive testing and was followed by a stress test, again wired up to an elaborate heart monitoring device while I walked on a treadmill until my legs turned to rubber.

Each episode cost the insurance company over ten thousand dollars, and each episode resulted in the doctors telling me that there was nothing wrong with my heart. The final episode resulted in the heart doctor referring me to a lung doctor.

I experienced other symptoms that concerned me. By the time they sent me to the sleep center I thought I was losing my mind. I would take a machine apart and not be able to remember how it went back together.

I could not remember how I had assembled things I did manage to put back together. I was finding stupid mistakes I had made two or three days earlier and wonder how on this green earth I could possibly have done such a thing.

I would fall asleep in the middle of the day at the drop of a hat, sometimes while in the middle of a conversation. I did not dare drive farther than five miles without something crunchy or chewy to eat to keep me awake.

I felt like my get-up-and-go had got up and went. I tried going home in the middle of the day for a nap to no avail. I was experiencing episodes of feeling like I could not get my breath – almost every day. I was getting home from work and sleeping two or three hours before getting up to officially go to bed for the night.

My wife told me that my pattern of snoring frightened her – it sounded to her as though I had stopped breathing several times in the night. Sleeping on my side seemed to help somewhat.

Then I started waking up gasping for breath. The lung doctor told me he thought I was suffering from sleep apnea. That means he thought my breathing was stopping in the night as I slept.

I told him I thought it was short heavy guys with short, thick necks that had sleep apnea. “That,” he explained, “is a common misconception about sleep apnea.” I reviewed the troubling symptoms I was having and he told me that this fit one of the patterns. We scheduled an appointment for a night in the sleep center.

About three weeks after the night in the sleep center I met with the PA (physicians assistant) and reviewed that night. The machine I was wired to said that I had not slept more than an hour at a time all night.

Over a period of time this results in the phenomenon called sleep deprivation. The machine also said that my blood oxygen level had dropped as low as 79 percent a couple of times that night.

To put this figure into perspective, if an ambulance crew finds a patient with a blood oxygen level below 95 percent they get all excited and start giving the patient oxygen as quickly as they can.

The combination of lack of quality sleep time and lack of oxygen to the brain was diagnosed as the cause of almost all the weird symptoms I had experienced over the past few years.

The PA told me that he had seen people as young as the early forties and as old as the late seventies come through the sleep center and have the monitoring machine confirm for them, as it had for me, that sleep apnea was the cause of a multitude of strange symptoms.

He said that most of his patients thought that the way they were feeling was just part of how one was supposed to feel at that age, whether the age of the patient was 43 or 75. “That,” he said, “just is not the case.”

The usual cause of sleep apnea is that soft tissues on the upper airways relax and close off the airway when the person goes to sleep. The usual solution is a C-PAP machine.

It sounds like the weirdest thing in the world, but it works. A light elastic harness attaches a mask or a nasal pillow over the nose. The machine pumps low pressure moisturized air into the nose, creating a positive pressure that keeps the airway open.

The PA wrote me a prescription for a C-PAP machine. I caught Norco Medical still open and went home with a glorified air pump that night. Two days later I could tell that I felt better.

Two weeks later I felt like I might live. Six weeks later my employer’s oldest son mentioned that “The old Brad” was back. He told me that my mental state had been so foggy before the sleep apnea diagnosis that there had been mention of replacing me at my job since I had been making so many boneheaded mistakes. I feel like I found a fountain of youth. I have not felt this well for years.

While the C-PAP (for Positive Air Pressure) machine may be a hassle, I would not consider NOT using it at night. The comparative novelty of being able to sleep all night far outweighs the hassle.

One fellow I grew up with who is also using a C-PAP machine complained that the breathing machine kept blowing his mouth open. With his mouth open the positive air pressure just went out of his mouth and did him no good.

He said he even tried strapping his mouth closed but was still having a terrible time. I told him not to blame the breathing machine. I had known him most of his life and he never had been able to keep his mouth shut.  FG

Brad Nelson for Progressive Hay Grower