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My Sleep Apnea Journey (Part 1)

From time to time I like to share my personal experiences in this blog. It’s rare for me to relate to my clients often, mainly because I’ve never served in the military. However, on occasion, there are some experiences in which we have common ground. Before I’ve written about the negative side effects of taking anti-depressants and experiencing what a lot of Veterans have described to me. In all honesty, I know my conversations with Vets helped me to realize the issues I was having with the medication I was prescribed. Just like that instance, I felt similarly when I started to have problems with my sleep. I wrote about sleep apnea before. This blog turns six in November. Our firm has a lot of VA clients with Sleep Apnea, so I knew early on it was a topic I needed to cover. When I wrote about this topic in the past I wasn’t having the issues that I have now. I simply couldn’t sleep. It was more like I had insomnia. Fast forward a few years, and things have changed. So, I want to use my experience to hopefully shed some light on this issue that thousands of Veterans are currently suffering from. Join me on this journey.

First Signs

I’ve had a pretty rough couple of years involving a sick parent, and a substantial weight gain. I am single and sleep alone. However, about two years ago I had to share a hotel room with my sister while my mother was in a hospital out of town. She stated that I snored quite a bit, and it lasted nearly all night. For the most part, I ignored it. Honestly, there were more important things going on, and I wasn’t too concerned about my own health. Eventually, mom was released from the hospital. I went back to work like normal and didn’t think about the snoring problem much. That was until last summer when my friend Shawn and I took a trip to Philadelphia to participate in their Comic-Con. Once again, I was sharing a hotel with someone. I fell asleep first. Shawn stated that he noticed my snoring and thought I quit breathing a few times. Once again I brushed it off.

Symptoms Getting Worse

As summer became fall, and fall became winter, there were a few more personal setbacks in my life. I noticed that I would often wake up with a dry mouth, which never occurred before in my life. I also started to notice headaches occurring often in the morning. Further, I was getting tired easily and electing not to associate with people outside of work. I really just wanted to go home and be by myself. Once again, I ignored all of the signs and just went on about my work.
Nine months ago is when I noticed that things were getting severe. I started getting very tired at work, almost to the point of falling asleep at my desk. I had no energy at all d uring the day. I would also pass out in a recliner when I got home. I didn’t want to do much. As I travel for work and pleasure often, I knew it would only be a matter of time before my driving would be impacted. For some reason, I often fell asleep sitting up in my bed. On more than one occasion I woke up because I fell out of bed. Once I actually hit my head on a dresser. I had to stop ignoring this problem and talk to a medical professional.

It’s Obvious

I made an appointment to see my doctor. She agreed that it sounded as if I had Sleep Apnea, but I had to see a specialist first. It took more than a month for me to see the specialist. I must admit that this was a little annoying because the problem kept getting worse. The specialist asked me a lot of questions about my symptoms and my sleep habits. She also believed that I had sleep apnea, but she then had to determine how severe it was. I was then told that I’d be scheduled for a sleep study at a later time.

Watching me sleep

It was nearly another month before I was able to actually have a sleep study. So, at that point, it had been nearly three months since I talked to my medical

Preparing for the sleep study with sensors.

professional about this issue. So, the wait has been a big issue. The problem had gotten worse. I was hoping to have some answers by then. Regardless though, I wanted to share my experience with the sleep study.
I will admit that I was extremely nervous before going to the sleep study. I was to arrive at a local medical facility at 8:00 pm. I recall being really on edge on the drive to the office that evening. Upon arriving at the medical complex, I was asked to sit in a waiting room with several other people waiting for their sleep studies. There were 5 other people there that evening other than myself. I was easily the youngest person there, and everyone else was talking as if they had been friends for years. I’m an extroverted introvert. This means I can be the life of the party when I want to be, and a shut-in when I don’t. This evening I preferred the latter. I didn’t feel like sharing my life story with this group. I am lucky because I have an expressive face. This evening my face told the world not to talk to me. Luckily everyone left me alone. I scrolled through my Twitter feed and Snapchat Stories so that no one would bother me. I am not normally like this, but once again, I was nervous.
Around 8:15 the team of doctors and nurses met us for the study. They brought all of us back together. As I was nervous, I was not thinking straight. Thoughts crossed my mind that a normal person wouldn’t think of. The most prevalent intrusive thought was: “Are we all sleeping in the same room?” The answer to that was no. Everyone would have their own rooms. I then thought

The bed I slept in for the sleep study.

I’d be in a hospital bed. That too was not true. We were given very comfortable Full-Size beds. I normally sleep alone in a King size bed, so this was a big change for me, but it was not bad. As I was placed in my room I was told that I had some paperwork to fill out, and then I’d be hooked up. By this time my nerves began to settle, and I gave myself a pep talk. (The actual pep talk included many swears, so this has been edited for a family audience.) I said: “Darn it, Jon, you will get through this sleep study just fine. You invented Snapchat (inside joke) and this will not break you. Now get off your butt and take some selfies.” It was at this point that I decided to document my experience for this blog. So, as you can tell, I took a lot of photos. The room was quite nice. It had its own en suite bathroom and was very clean. There was a TV and the bed was comfortable. It was just like being at a hotel. Well, a hotel that had a camera on the wall to watch you sleep.
It was approaching 9:00 when my nurse returned. She stated that it was time to hook me up. This part was a little more intense

All of these wires were plugged into sensors or me.

than I expected. They applied sensors to my legs, stomach, chest, and a bunch on my head. The head is the 2nd worst part. In order to get the sensors to stick to my head, they used some sort of gel. It was not super easy to get out of my hair the next day when I showered. I mentioned the head/hair sensors were the 2md worst. The goo in hair my paled in comparison to electrodes that were attached to my chest. I wish I would have known ahead of time to shave my chest. The pain was extremely intense when the nurses ripped off most of the hair from my chest. Honestly, though, this was the worst part of the night. Most of the evening was pretty laid back. Yes, I had sensors all of my body, but other than my chest hair being removed, the rest of the night was pretty simple.
It was a little odd to know that there was a camera watching me the whole time. However, the staff brought me a fan to block out the noise. There was a PA system in the room. The staff went through a few procedures with me, they informed me to clap if I needed to go to the bathroom, and then I was left alone. I had trouble falling asleep, but I eventually did.
A few hours into the evening the nurse entered the room and said that I sleep apnea. I asked her how bad it was and she couldn’t say an exact number. I was made to believe that it was pretty bad. They fitted me with a mask. I was given a choice between a full-face mask and the nose mask. Since I am a nose breather, I was told to try a nose mask. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the mask. It was odd to breathe through this because when I would open my mouth it would choke me. But after a few minutes, I adjusted, and created a rhythm, and quickly fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning I felt good. I unhooked from the monitors and went home.

The Follow Up

One of the worst parts of this entire experience involved waiting. I had my sleep study in May. I wasn’t able to do my follow up with the doctor until mid-July. That eventually got bumped up to late June. Then it was two weeks to get my CPAP machine from the medical supply store. From the time I went to my doctor for the first time to the time that I received my CPAP machine, it was nearly six months. The follow up with the Sleep Specialist was short. She essentially said “Well, you have Sleep Apnea,” and then she mentioned that I would need a CPAP machine. I could have told her that. One thing of interest pertained to my results. I had 70 instances per hour during the night. That’s bad. Essentially, I quit breathing at more than once a minute.

(Read my follow up to this blog here.)

I wanted to share my experience because so many Veterans I speak to have sleep apnea or other disorders. I couldn’t find much info about what a sleep study is, or what to expect online. I believe that most Vets have the same questions I do. I wanted to shed some light on what it’s like. I think that this can make a lot more people at ease going into a sleep study.
If you’re a Veteran with sleep apnea, give us a call to discuss your claim. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a better time.

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