Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Breathless in Bed

One of the many things I didn't know about Barry when I first met him was that he has sleep apnea.  If you've never slept with someone who occasionally stops breathing, I can assure you that it's very exciting - in a bad way.  Fortunately we have a friend with apnea who uses a CPAP machine at night, and about a year and a half ago he convinced Barry to ask for testing at the V.A., where as a veteran Barry would be eligible for a free machine of his own.

The sleep test verified what I already knew - that Barry stops breathing several times every night, and even when he does breathe, his oxygen intake is often restricted.  The good news is that the V.A. gave Barry a CPAP.  The bad news is that the V.A. gave Barry a CPAP.

As soon as Barry began using the machine his snoring decreased dramatically in volume and frequency.  In addition, he stopped having the nightmares about being attacked that had plagued him for most of his life.  Apparently they were an unsuccessful attempt by his brain to say, "Danger, Barry!  Wake up because we can't breathe!"  Using the CPAP he is more refreshed after fewer hours in bed and less likely to need a nap during the day.  Barry will never be a morning person, but with the aid of the CPAP he no longer wakes up feeling exhausted and paranoid.  

He almost didn't use the machine long enough to realize its benefits.  Barry's CPAP came with a "full face" mask (covering both nose and mouth) that looks like this.  The masks come in three sizes - small, medium and large - with adjustable forehead and mouth straps, but they have no way to compensate for faces with differing topography.  Since Barry has a rather high-bridged nose, the mask rubs there and shoots air onto his eyelids.  He wanted to give up on it until I bought a fabric sleep mask he could wear underneath the CPAP mask to shield his eyes and cushion his nose.  That helped him initially fall asleep, although if he woke up during the night he usually had to remove the CPAP mask in order to resume his slumber.  Eventually his skin started to break out from the sleep mask, but by then he was used to the noise of the machine and his nose was more accustomed to the pressure, so he was able to put up with the air on his eyelids.

The bad news?  When Barry snored all night, I knew right away when he stopped breathing and could prod him awake if it went on for more than a few seconds.  Now he sometimes breathes so smoothly that all I can hear is the "whoosh" of the air from the machine.  Is he still breathing?  Has he stopped?  Should I poke him and risk an explosion, or leave him alone and trust the CPAP to do its thing?  Maybe the real answer is to trust the CPAP and ask my doctor why I'm awake in the middle of the night.

“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

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