I didn’t know it, but for many years I was literally gasping for air while I was asleep. It took me ten years and twelve doctors to find one who could and would help me. The persistence paid off and now I feel SO MUCH better!
What was going on? I had been having health problems for years. Though never skinny, it wasn’t until I was 18 and suddenly gained 65 pounds in three months that I was truly obese. And no matter, which diet I tried or which doctor I saw, I couldn’t seem to get rid of it. Even though I tried the best diet of all: being a poor student who couldn’t afford to eat. But it still stuck around.
All through my 20s, I went to see more than a dozen doctors to see what caused this and if they could help me. Their response was almost invariably that I was just fat and should lose weight...and that was it. But how could I do it? And what caused it? Nobody seemed interested in that part, which to me was the most important factor.
I always thought, “Oh, I’m just an insomniac. So’s my dad. It must run in the family.” I'd lie down for hours, doze off, get up and go pee five times (a symptom of the apnea I didn’t know I had), read my book for a while, get a little more sleep and finally pull myself out of bed feeling bleh when it was time to get up for the day. What I didn't know is that I was dragging around with severe undiagnosed sleep apnea for who knows how long. I'm sure I had it when I was a teenager and through my 20s; I always looked at the bright energetic faces of my peers and wondered what it was like to have so much energy!
So imagine what a surprise it was when I went to see a new doctor recommended by a family friend. Rather than dismissing me outright as another fatty, she actualy listened to me, felt my neck and lower jaw and within five minutes of meeting me had diagnosed me with sleep apnea. She sent me for a sleep study that week.
I didn’t really know what to expect, but the sleep study was not bad. The rooms were like a small, nice hotel and the tech was very nice. She literally pasted wires to my scalp, but the worst part was the pulse oximeter on one finger--imagine just one finger stuck in an old-fashioned finger trap all night! The tech assured me that they would only put a breathing machine, or CPAP, on me that night if they thought it was an emergency; this was just meant to be a baseline test to see how well I slept.
I was actually able to sleep fairly quickly that night. The bed was comfortable, the tech was very nice and I was very, very tired. Only an hour later the technician woke me up with a worried expression on her face, and proceeded to fit the CPAP mask over my face! I had suffered 121 hypopneas in that first hour...essentially, I was breathing so shallowly that my blood oxygen level was in the mid-70s (i.e., not good). I didn't learn that part until later, though.
At the point when she placed the mask on my face, my main feeling was relief. They had finally found what was wrong with me. When the tech work me up four hours later, apart from a couple sleepy adjustments to the mask, I hadn't moved! They wake you up at five AM to leave the clinic, so I'd only had about five hours of sleep, four of which were on the CPAP machine. Despite that, I had SO MUCH ENERGY that day! It was incredible!
Two years later, I use my CPAP every night. I’ve fallen asleep three times without it for a nap, and boy can I tell the difference! It’s like having horrible nightmares all night and not remembering a thing except that SOMETHING happened. And my husband is still happily sleeping away next to me, the roaring of my snoring just a vague memory.
In my case, persistence paid off. But it took more than ten years. Here at Impact Urgent Care, our goal is to give you the best possible medical care, and our staff are strong patient advocates. But even the best patient advocate can’t feel the pain you’re feeling. Our clinical staff is here because they love helping and being your partners in healing, and want you to be actively involved in your own care. Don’t be afraid to ask your medical provider questions. If you’re in a clinic setting and meeting a doctor for the first time, ask them about themselves. What’s their specialty? Why did they choose to work in urgent care? What does the diagnosis they’re giving you mean? Ask until you understand and are comfortable with your treatment. After all, it’s your body.
Want to know more about sleep apnea? Ask your doctor.
Tips and tricks for getting along with your CPAP.
Sleep is precious. Try it.
I love the way I feel after a night's sleep now rather than how I remember feeling before I started using my CPAP, and have a few little tips and tricks I've developed over time to help keep me motivated to use it.
- -Support helps a lot. My favorite forum for sleep apnea is CPAP Talk. There are a lot of newbies here asking many questions you may be wondering, and a lot of experienced CPAP users who can help. I highly recommend it if you're struggling.
- -If you have an animal or a small child, you may want to introduce them to your mask and machine so you don't scare them.
- -If you have a pet prone to shedding, like my cat, keeping fur out of your mask, hose and machine is very important. I keep my mask covered with a washcloth when I'm not using it to help keep it clean. Remember, anything that gets into that hose or machine may potentially end up in your mouth or lungs, yuck!
- -Some kitties love to chew on plastic. Mine sure does. I caught him making tons of little teeth marks on my hose one day while I was taking a nap. I didn't have a backup hose, and had to end up covering the holes in duct tape while I waited for my new hose. Once I covered the plastic, Franklin Cat wasn't interested any more. I also keep the hose looped over our headboard so he doesn't sit or lie on it while I'm sleeping.
- -If you have a humidifier, try it out with different settings. I'm a mouth breather and found that I had to set the humidity pretty high to avoid getting a mouth so dry it was painful and would wake me up! Some people prefer their humidifier to be set very low or even off.
- -Use distilled water in your humidifier. You can usually get this easily at the grocery store in one or five gallon jugs. The distilled water doesn't have any minerals in it, so as it evaporates in your humidifier it won't leave a mineral deposit behind.
- -Clean your mask, hose, humidifier, headgear, etc. regularly. I wash the snap-off silicone mask cushion at least every other night and usually every night. Keeping everything clean helps cut down on any kind of weird smell, and a clean mask always feels better on my face.
- -Wash any makeup, lotion or moisturizer off your face before going to bed.
- Having anything on your face can interfere with your mask making the proper seal and can cause leaks.
- -When you're getting fitted for your mask, don't be afraid to lie down and ask for a machine to test with it. Remember, your face and the mask will shift when you go from upright to lying down, and the mask that fit perfectly in the supplier's office won't necessarily be the one you ultimately end up with.