Background. For some time now my wife has been telling me that I have had a dangerous breathing pattern at night while I’m asleep. After breathing normally, I’ll stop breathing for awhile, then suddenly gasp for air, breathe rapidly, and settle into a normal routine again. The pattern repeats itself during the night and is accompanied by snoring. She thought it sounded like the sleeping disorder called sleep apnea. You can find several articles about the disorder on Associated Content if you do a content search. Through my primary physician, I made an appointment to check into a sleep center for a night of testing. I have just completed that testing.
Getting Acquainted with the Center. I arrived early for my 7:30 p.m. appointment and was given a tour of the facility. The center can handle up to six patients at a time. Each patient has his or her own bedroom with a queen-sized bed, cable television, air conditioning, and a couple of chairs with a small desk. The rooms are the right size for one person, but would be crowded for two. There are two common bathrooms located down the hall from the rooms. A small lounge has a refrigerator, juices, breakfast sandwiches, etc., for the convenience of the patients.
Patches and Wires! Will, the tech assigned to me, explained what he would be doing, which was basically sticking a bunch of patches on me, then hooking up wires to the patches. He explained what he would be checking. An hour later, he was back with a small cart of equipment. Using a cleansing agent, he cleaned the areas of my body (from the top of my head to my lower legs) where he would attach the patches and wires. Among the things he would be checking were: eye movement, the stage of sleep I was in at any particular time, breathing rate, heart rate, leg movement, and the breathing flow through my nose. He also attached a small microphone to my throat so he could hear my snoring and also so we could communicate back and forth between my room and the monitoring room. After a few simple system checks, I was ready for bed. Because some people have trouble sleeping in a strange situation (and especially with a fist full of wires hooked up to them!), he gave me a mild pill to encourage me to sleep.
How the Night Went. Even witih the pill, it took me about 45 minutes to fall asleep. About 1:30 a.m., Will woke me up to put a breathing mask on me. The mask was hooked up to a machine that pumped air into me to help keep the breathing passage open. Apparently I had stopped breathing for a while and Will saw that as an opportunity to try the effectiveness of the mask. He came around again at 5:00 a.m. to make some minor adjustments and to tell me I was doing fine. The mask, however, was too big and caused me some pain where it touched my face. That, combined with the wires, made sleep impossible the rest of the night. At 6:00 a.m., Will came back and unhooked all the wires. He told me that I did have sleep apnea and that I would be talking with a breathing mask specialist after I got cleaned up and had breakfast.
Consultation with the Specialist. Brent, the specialist, walked me through the instructions for a breathing machine and mask that I could take home with me and begin using that same night. I told him my problem with the type of mask that I had worn during the night, and he showed me something simpler that would eliminate some of my concerns. After signing several pieces of paper and making an appointment for a follow-up visit with the center’s doctor, I was on my way.
Overall Impressions. My time at the center was not a totally pleasant experience, but I expected that before I went in. Will did his best to prepare me for everything that he was going to do and how it might affect my sleep. The setting itself was bright and comfortable and quiet enough to make a good sleep possible given the circumstances. The most important result of this experience was that I learned that I have a problem and I got some help on how to work through it. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to some very serious health problems. If you suspect you may have it, do some research and see your doctor.
P.S. on Insurance. One question I had when considering the sleep center was whether or not insurance would cover it. (I’m on Medicare and have a supplemental plan to go with it.) My primary physician thought Medicare would cover it, but wasn’t sure. When I called the center, they said that they did take Medicare and my supplemental plan. Before you make an appointment, you may want to check about your own insurance plan. If a particular center does not take your insurance, another might.