Several years ago I started having problems breathing and was afraid that there was something wrong with my heart. I was given heart and stress tests. My heart was fine, but I still was having problems breathing.
Since there was nothing wrong with my heart and I still was having problems, I went to an allergy doctor who said I had asthma and prescribed a bunch of medications, including inhalers to help. Nothing helped my symptoms and the cost of the prescriptions was horrendous too.
I started waking up in the night. I would go to the bathroom, come back to bed, waking up numerous times in the night. I would have nightmares, and many times dream I was drowning or searching for a doctor. I would be begging them to help me saying that I couldn’t breathe. I would try to explain to my family that I couldn’t express how I felt but that I felt like I was getting a deep breath, but I wasn’t getting oxygen. I had always had a fear of not breathing, smothering or drowning. Actually I was smothering from lack of oxygen.
I would wake up as tired or more tired than I was when I went to bed. All I could think about was when I could go back to bed. Even in the morning before starting my day I was exhausted. I had to fight to stay awake in the car coming home from the Art classes that I teach. I was severely depressed and hopeless. I coughed and had heartburn and acid reflux.
I finally went to another allergy doctor. He did a series of tests and said that I didn’t have significant allergies. I didn’t have asthma either, but that he wanted to do a sleep study test on me. I was offended. He told me that I snored. He could tell this by looking at me? Gee thanks Doc that is flattering. That was the last thing that I wanted to do or needed. I went to the gallows reluctantly, dragging my feet.
It was a very demeaning and degrading experience. They put electrodes fastened with glue all over my head. I looked like I was ready for an electrocution. My self esteem was not at all bolstered by this cute young guy who was performing this procedure on me. Then when I was informed that I was supposed to sleep like this and he would be video taping me while I slept I was mortified and humiliated. He was very understanding and kind to an old lady whose dignity was being destroyed moment by agonizing moment.
What surprised me is that I was actually able to sleep. When I woke up in the morning after having the electrodes removed from my head I was able to go home. I would get my results later. First I was able to watch a humiliating review of the tape of myself sleeping and snoring with that lovely headgear on I was able to wait for the results from the doctor at home.
I went in for my evaluation about a week later. Dr. Patel informed me that I had the worse case of sleep apnea he had ever seen. He said that he was surprised I was as alert in appearance as I was. He had patients with a lot less severe problems with sleep apnea than I did that were not as alert as I was. He told me that I quit breathing over 450 times in a night and I was severely sleep and oxygen deprived. Well at least that explained my exhaustion and horrible smothering feelings. Where do we go from here? I wanted to know.
I would be fitted with a sleep mask and a bi-pap machine. I asked him what would happen if I didn’t use it. He told me that I would die. That was a bit of a motivator to use the dreaded machine. I had to go back for another study in the hospital to be scrutinized for how much airflow would be used in my machine. When the nurse, this time a lady about my age, put the mask on me, I thought I was going to die. I am severely claustrophobic. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I had nightmares and tremendous fear all night. I could not begin to imagine what it would be like to have to do this every night.
I had to wait for my machine and headgear for several weeks. I was afraid, because now I knew that I quit breathing in the night and the thought of that terrified me. I would never have believed it if I there wasn’t proof of it.
My machine finally came. I was shown how to wear it with the facemask tightly sealed over my nose. I hated, loathed and detested it. It was one of the most humiliating and terrifying things I had to deal with. Wearing this every night for the rest of my life? It was uncomfortable, ugly and demoralizing. I had to tell myself that I had a choice. I would finally surrender and go to bed fighting claustrophobic feelings and panic. Then I would pray that God would help me get over the fear. I would remind myself that I could take it off anytime I wanted to. It was my choice. I could wear this awful thing, or I could die. I chose to wear it and live.
The first night I wore it I slept nearly the whole night through, once I got to sleep, because it is not comfortable to get used to. When we went to the grocery store the next day my son told my husband that I looked like the energizer bunny. I could not believe the difference.
I still hate that I have to wear it, but I am amazed at the difference in the way I feel. I have energy. I sleep all night. I no longer have the heartburn or acid reflux. I am not depressed. I highly recommend it to anyone who suspects that they have sleep apnea. There is even a support group for those who have it. Even though I don’t go to one I am glad that it is available.
The technician that brought mine to me said that she took one to an older lady who had tears rolling down her cheeks with the fear of it. I felt such compassion and sadness for her. I felt the same way.
Today I am a different person. On nights when I am really tired I can put on my mask, which is now one that fits in my nostrils, and I go right to sleep. I sleep all night through and wake up rested and refreshed. On nights that I am not really sleepy, it takes a few minutes of adjusting and getting comfortable. Today I am extremely grateful that I have this machine, and a fantastic doctor who detected it. Today I chose to live even if it is with sleep apnea.