I’ve always been a night owl. My best writing is usually after 9pm and usually after 11pm. I have no idea why. It’s when my creativity kicks into overdrive. In college, I pulled all-nighters at the drop of a hat. My record was 62 hours without sleeping. I wish I could look back and say it was for a good reason, like cramming for finals or to prep for some crazy party. Nope. Typical me, it went from being a necessary all-nighter to beat a deadline before segueing into a sort of science experiment.
It’s a good thing I only just recently watched Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia” with Robin Williams and Al Pacino. I think the trippy sleep deprivation camera tricks would have freaked me out enough to call it an early night during that little advancement of human knowledge. By the way, “Insomnia” is definitely underrated. It’s not Nolan’s best, but you can see how this is the guy who would give us Inception and Dark Knight years later. Pacino isn’t chewing the scenery and Robin…well, that guy could do it all.
Why am I on a sleep-related slant right now? Because Monday brought a new week, a new chance to accomplish life goals…and a new doctor to be cross-examined by (in this case, the pulmonologist).
I’ve had sleep apnea for years and it became scarily apparent when I was in my first leg of the hospitalization this time that this went beyond snoring. Jaime noticed at times I would stop breathing for a decent spell of time while knocked out. But with an aortic dissection, that’s a hell of a lot to expect from an already damaged heart that is pumping blood out at an accelerated rate.
Let’s fast forward to UPenn. They stopped my heart so they could operate on it and put me on an artificial breathing machine so I wouldn’t have that pesky side effect of Death. After they stitched and…glued?…me back together, I went into the ICU. This part of my memory is particularly hazy because I was still shaking off the anesthesia, a first experience for me. I know Jaime’s family came to visit me and I was so out of it from the medication, sleeplessness and the anesthesia’s side effects, that I couldn’t focus on them and I had a hard time speaking. One memory is crystal clear though.
The dread C-Pap machine.
Now, to be fair, I know the thing works. My father has one and both he and my mother claim it really helped him get restful sleep, a concept I’ve often heard about but assumed was just as real as leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster and Donald Trump’s soul.
The stay at the hospital required me to, as my last post signaled, keep breathing. To maintain enough steady oxygen, the hospital brought out the C-Pap machine. Now, prior to going under, I joked with the surgery team that I wouldn’t hold it against them if they had to take emergency measures to keep me alive. And by emergency measures, I mean putting me in a full on respirator helmet with artificial breathing system.
Look, if I was going to come back to the classroom injured, I might as well go all out with the process.
Alas, my potential Sith Lord status was put on hold, what with the successful rebooting of my heart. But hey, at least I won’t have to wax my armor every night. Seriously, you can’t just dump that suit in the washer for 60 minutes.
Where was I…oh, right, how to sleep at night.
The C-Pap machine I was to use was hooked up to the wall, with a mask that didn’t quite fit my face. The problem with this is that I couldn’t tell if it was just me or if the nursing staff was having a hard time. This is part due to the fact that for the first few nights, I had the mobility of a paralytic turtle that had slipped on a banana peel. I just couldn’t really move. My chest hurt enough that I couldn’t lift my arms to face level, so adjusting the mask for myself. And some of the early fittings happened late or even Late in the night.
So I was stuck doing my best impression of a bunny, twitching my nose all over, hoping to adjust my mask enough for it to be comfortable. If I’ve been traumatizing you with some of these stories and fears so far in recent posts, allow me to make it up for you.
That was my solution to fixing the oxygen problem in those early, sleepless nights. Now, I could say that this was necessary due to the lack of arm mobility and the fact that the hospital gown would often end up wrapped around me in a manner that is closest described as shrink-wrapping…but that’s not true. The call button was within grasp a few times. I just hated having to call for nurses to do something as simple as adjust a mask 20 inches from my hand.
I’m stubborn and often to a foolish degree.
There was another little catch. The air flow in a C-Pap is meant to be adjusted so that you can breathe easy enough to sleep with. I had been up during the day using a nasal cannula, and I was doing fine. In fact, I weaned myself off the oxygen days earlier than the nurses were expecting, with no ill effects. But in those early days, I needed oxygen. My lungs were still recovering from inactivity.
With that in mind, a C-Pap seems like the perfect option to fix my sleepy time needs. After all, it was basically a big old high powered oxygen mask. Yeah…thing is, no one really told me how to use it. So when it was put on me and the air was blasting out, I imagine I looked something like this:
Trying to breathe in those first few seconds was like trying to inhale Hurricane Sandy. It was not a pleasant sensation. In fact, explaining this to my mom weeks later resulted in us both calling out Top Gun as the go-to mental image.
This was only ever topped by when the seal shifted around my face and a jet stream of air shot into my eyeball. If you’d like to experience this for yourself, I highly recommend shooting a compressed air canister directly into your retina. Feels so good, let me tell ya.
That’s the other thing. Imagine trying to explain that you’re having a hard time trying to breathe with a stream of air assaulting your eyeball with the gentle touch of a t-shirt cannon and the seeming decibel level of a Boeing 747 jet engine in your ear. Except now you’re wearing a mask that limits your jaw’s ability to move, as you inhale gallons of air.
Communication quickly became a game of half-ass charades. Now, I love UPenn, and all of the staff I had there were top notch at making me feel less like a total invalid. There was one though that just didn’t seem to like me/understand how the C-Pap worked.
So you can imagine my joy when I was told that I’d need a sleep study done upon return home. You know, after some time to recover.
Or, the DAY after I returned home to recover.
If that one nurse was having a hard time handling the C-Pap, she was a walk in the park compared to the technician I had at the sleep center. You know things aren’t going smoothly when you hear the technician cursing loudly and shouting, “What the hell is wrong here? I don’t get it!”.
His gentleness was…tender. In that he handled me as though I was a side of beef in need of tenderizing at the hands of an underdog Italian boxer. It was almost comical how he seemed unable to understand that I just couldn’t turn and pick up leads due to the eight inch blackened scar that MARKED WHERE MY CHEST HAD BEEN BISECTED A WEEK EARLIER.
That gets us back to today. Here we are, over a month out from the sleep study, and the results are interpreted for me. I knew I woke up a lot in the night. Jaime has told me I often stop breathing for long periods or seem to wake myself up snorting or gasping for air. This is the kind of thing that will really take a toll on you over time. Now, my weight hasn’t helped, but that’s a whole other ‘Scott’s Luck Sucks!’ story for another time. And its possible some of the apnea is from bad pillows, bad mattresses, poor sleeping positions and horrifically late bedtimes. But you can’t run from science. So how many times did I stop breathing the night of the sleep study?
In less than six hours.
Needless to say, that C-Pap was put on rush order.
I could have been stubborn and put up a fight if that number was in the 30s or 40s over 6 hours. But nearly 100 times? Yeah. No leg to stand on this time.
And to continue the wedding planning process, we also were able to reserve my suit for the wedding afterward. Progress all around today.
Until next time,