A mid-spring night’s nightmare

Ed Smith
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I have this little problem. This is the first place in which I will point out that, despite all appearances to the contrary, this will eventually turn out to be a rather funny column.

My little problem is called sleep apnea. It’s often associated with that downside of sharing the same bed with a person of the opposite gender — or not — called snoring.

Most of you know what it’s all about since many of you have shared the suffering, both as snorer and snoree. For those of you in that category, your marital relationship — especially the physical — has been touch-and-go at best.

My apnea problem began with the injury that rendered me 90 per cent paralyzed. I don’t know what the connection is, ma’am, I’m just giving you the facts. We were very much aware from the beginning that sleep apnea is no laughing matter. Neither is snoring, for that matter, unless you don’t have to listen to it.

Sleep apnea is dangerous in that, as a result of your breathing abnormality, your heart suffers unusual and unwarranted strain. You can actually stop breathing for several moments. Then you awaken with a snort and a start. You drift off for a few moments and repeat the whole process. This has the effect of weakening one’s heart and shortening one’s lifespan.

The sufferer(s) are usually exhausted most of the time because neither one ever gets a good night’s rest. That’s not really healthy to begin with — or to end with.

Snoring itself can be quite dangerous, which is why couples so afflicted make sure there are no sharp or blunt objects such as baseball bats near the bed at night. OH, can never decide whether a sharp object would be preferable to a pillow over my face.

Masks and other apparatus

Other Half was quite concerned about apnea from the beginning (she’ll have to explain it to you), and so researched and acquired a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) apparatus, which is a mask placed over your nose and/or nose and mouth. This is connected to an air flow through a hose and into the mask to keep you breathing through your nose instead of your mouth and thus avoiding the apnea cycle.

This is a great idea and works really well with only two exceptions: the first is when the wearer is claustrophobic and keeps tearing the mask off at  night; the other exception is when the wearer gets over his claustrophobia, but still keeps tearing the mask off anyway. It will be no surprise to you dear reader and dear friend, to know that both exceptions apply equally to yours truly.

To make a 14-year story shorter by approximately 14 years, let me say nothing has changed. We have gone from CPAP machines to the more sophisticated bilevel continuous airway pressure (BiPAP), from partial facemasks to full facemasks and variations of each in between. We have spent literally thousands of dollars trying to find something that works consistently on me.

Nothing does. I should pause here to point out once again that this column has a very humorous twist which hopefully I will get to before the end.

For the last several years in particular, OH has found herself listening to the sounds of my laboured breathing accompanied by the telltale apnea symptoms of my heart getting weaker and my life shorter. She can only put up with this for so long before she crawls wearily out of bed, comes around to my side and readjusts the mask which I have torn off, perhaps for a third or fourth time that night.

Those of you who have just had babies will perhaps understand that no matter how much you may love the little creatures, they can get on your nerves in a hurry and make and wish you and your partner, in sickness and in health, had stayed out of that backseat that night. When the baby weighs 200 pounds and looks like me, the same conditions apply.

A strange occurrence

Enter the other night. The mask was affixed to my face, the last thing OH does — most nights — before succumbing to the need for deep and restful sleep.

An hour later, I woke up with an unusual problem. The mask was still on my face but I couldn’t breathe. I felt as though I was smothering and wondered if OH had finally decided on the pillow. I realized no air was coming through the hose that links the machine to the mask on my face and allows me to breathe normally. This was passing strange.

I could hear the machine going and the hose was still attached to the mask, but no air was getting through. Finally I realized I had no choice but to wake up OH, something I really hated to do, and get some help. Normally she doesn’t take too kindly to being awakened from a deep sleep, but when I told her what the problem was, she came to her taps quickly and with no little concern.

She examined everything carefully, but could find nothing wrong. Then she decided to lift the facemask, and when she did, we got a partial explanation. What seemed to be at least a gallon of water poured down over my innocent face. OH experienced one of those inexplicable moments when something that isn’t strikes you as being really funny.

She began to laugh hysterically while still holding the facemask over my face and I sputtered and spit water the way the Toronto Blue Jays spit sunflower seeds and the Toronto Maple Leafs spit God-knows-what.

OH said it was the best laugh she’d had in bed since our honeymoon.

We never did figure out how the water got into four feet of hose. But I know that the night OH laughed hardest was the night I almost drowned. Perhaps you’re right, it wasn’t that funny.

I didn’t think so, either.

Ed Smith is an author who lives

 in Springdale.  His email address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca

Organizations: Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs

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