How My Sleep Apnea Journey Began
The year was 2005 and it was my 27th year of existence. Twenty-seven years of healthy, happy and all round fun living. I was energetic, an amateur cyclist and overall a social outgoing person who did not know there is a disease exist called Sleep Apnea.
Since my marriage in 2008, I had gained a few kilos of body weight probably owing to the customary changes of diet that come with the territory of being newlyweds. The seemingly constant parties and celebratory meals that we had to attend as newlyweds most certainly took its toll on my waistline and my mother in laws exquisite cooking only made things worse! With the gradual increase in weight, I began noticing that I was becoming weaker and lazier. No matter how long I slept or rested, I still felt drowsy and lethargic. I did not feel like going out or engaging in any activity or meeting people.
There were so many embarrassing things (no doubt hilarious to others) that started happening to me. I remember on one occasion, my wife and I had visited the cinema to watch ‘Batman Begins’. Despite it being a movie that I had long been waiting to watch, I actually fell asleep during the show. When my wife shook me to wake me up, I looked around sheepishly at my fellow cinemagoers and their cold looks of admonishment made me realize that I had actually been snoring loudly. Even Batman himself would have been disappointed with me.
Another awkward incident that will forever haunt me occurred during my evening MBA class. Imagine a packed lecture hall with serious academic students and a stern greying lecturer in front of the class. And then there’s me with my eyes closed, mouth open and snoring away like I’m in my bed at home. My lecturer actually had to wake me up! As if that wasn’t mortifying enough, my lecturer told me in front of the whole class, “I have no objection if you sleep in my class. But please stop snoring as it distracts the others”. Talk about humiliation in front of your peers! My constant sleepiness and lethargy were causing me social problems as well as health problems.
With my recent weight increase, I found my blood pressure increasing too. My local doctor suggested that this increase in blood pressure may be due to stress and a general lack of sleep. Acting on his advice, I paid a visit to a specialist doctor. Whilst sitting in the waiting area of the clinic with my wife, I casually scanned the posters and leaflets pinned to the walls. Better that than reading the expired, antiquated magazines they had laying on the desk. Suddenly a single large poster situated next to the reception desk caught my eye. I tapped my wife’s shoulder and gestured towards the poster. I still remember to this day how inquisitively we both read through the questions on ‘Sleep Apnea Quiz’ poster:
DO I HAVE SLEEP APNEA QUIZ
- Do you snore loudly?
- Does your snoring wake you up at night?
Yes… probably wakes the neighbors too!
- Do you make gasping or choking noises during sleep?
Yes… My wife recorded a few videos (probably to prove it wasn’t her choking me!)
- Do you feel tired and fall asleep during daytime?
Yes… my boss is not impressed!
It was on that day from that poster that we first came to know about a disease called Sleep Apnea. My wife insisted that I do the recommended sleep apnea test immediately. So I signed up. Back then, home tests for sleep apnea were rarely available so I signed up for the clinic based test which was performed overnight.
And what a terrifying night it started out to be!
The clinicians took me into a dark, isolated room and lay me on a hospital bed, with numerous wires and electrodes attached to my body. I am sure it was not easy for my wife to see me in that condition. The aim of the test was to monitor bodily activity including breathing patterns as well as cardio, vascular, and neuro activity during sleep. However, I was really struggling to fall asleep with the stress of everything that was going on, as well as the feeling of all those foreign objects and wires attached to my body.
At around 3 am, a clinician entered the cubicle and placed a mask on my face. The mask itself was attached via a nozzle and pipe to a machine situated nearby. At first, I must say it was not very comfortable at all, but gradually I could sense that I was falling asleep.
I do not remember anything else after that. When I woke up, I could feel that I had awoken from a deep sleep. It felt like the whole night had passed in the blink of an eye. It reminded me of how I felt when I used to wake up as a kid; fresh and rested.
When the Sleep Apnea test results finally arrived, I sat with the consultant who would translate my one night’s sleep into words for me. The consultant informed me that I was waking up more than 13 times an hour in my sleep and that it was very dangerous for my health and body, especially for my heart. As the recommended treatment, he advised me to purchase and begin using a CPAP machine immediately and reduce some body weight.
I did not understand most of the medical jargon the consultant used that day. All I knew is that I just had to have that magical machine that enabled me to sleep like a baby!
So I started looking around for a CPAP machine. After a lot of searching, the best one that I found available to me was selling at around $1800 with humidifier and battery. It was a German made Hoffrichter CPAP machine. Unfortunately, at that time my financial condition was not strong enough for me to secure a purchase like this. So I decided to reduce some weight and to begin saving money to buy that machine.
Not even three months had passed since my test, and I was already unwell again. This time it was my heart that was giving problems. I was experiencing regular chest pains. All the diagnoses and tests showed I was suffering from Cardiomegaly (Enlarged Heart).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, Cardiomegaly is the medical term used to describe a heart that has enlarged. Cardiomegaly is not a disease in itself, rather it is the symptom and result of another medical condition. In my case, my heart had enlarged due to my sleep apnea condition. The link between Cardiomegaly and Sleep Apnea is well documented and although the cause for Cardiomegaly is not exactly known, in cases linked to sleep apnea, it is thought to be due to the frequent pauses of breathing suffered by sleep apnea patients during sleep which lowers the oxygen level in the blood. The heart, therefore, has to compensate by pumping faster and the consequent elevated stress on the fibers in the heart leads to cardiomegaly.
Everyone knows that any condition that affects the heart also has a sympathetic effect on other peoples ‘hearts’. One such person was my uncle (though he is more than a father to me). When he came to know the details of my debilitating heart condition, he purchased that CPAP machine without hesitation for me the very next day.
I was absolutely elated to finally own a CPAP machine. As with any new gadget or equipment, I was really excited to begin using this machine that would change my life. As with any new equipment, a certain amount of patience and compromise is needed to fully benefit from it. However, at the time patience was not my strong suit. I felt that the CPAP machine was not helping me much. The mask covering my face was making feel uncomfortable. I mean it was ok for the duration of the Sleep Apnea Test but having to wear this on my face all night every night! Seriously..??
After using the CPAP machine religiously for the first few days, my impatience began to get the better of me and I began to remove the mask at night at the slightest bit of irritation. I was disappointed and frustrated. My wife noticed the problem as well. I guess it was difficult for her not to notice since my incessant snoring was probably being noticed by the neighbors too! My wife being my better half, had the better idea of replacing the mask rather than removing it. She suggested that I consider changing the mask for one more suited to my needs. I learned early on in my marriage that my wife is always right (even when she’s wrong) so I went out and purchased a new mask which I felt fitted my facial structure more comfortably. I also opted for a Nasal Mask rather than a full face mask as this would relieve me of any stifling feelings I was having for keeping my whole face covered for the entire night.
Within a couple of weeks, the mask felt to me as though it had become a part of my body. I finally started to enjoy my sleep. This positive change in my sleep has helped to promote a marked improvement in my overall physical health, which in turn has encouraged me in returning to my socially active self once again.
Over the last 10 years, I have used an array of different machines and masks. Since I became aware of Sleep Apnea, its symptoms, consequences and treatments, I spent a large portion of my time building awareness among my friends and family about sleep apnea and its treatments. Till now, I have four members of my family who happily and successfully use CPAP machines based on advice that I have provided.
Remember, we spend one-third of our life sleeping so take your sleep seriously.