Spending the night with Charles T. Pap (CPAP)

Stuff white toy bear is shown wearing a CPAP mask with straps around his head and a hose coming out the top of his head to demonstrate how it looks.

I call him Charlie. Charles T. Pap for formal occasions. No, it’s not a boyfriend, dog, turtle, car, or a character in one of my novels. It’s my CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. People wear these machines to keep them breathing steadily during the night when they would otherwise intermittently stop breathing due to sleep apnea. This is hard on the heart and other organs. It also robs sufferers of good sleep so, like me, they keep falling asleep during the day.

You might have slept with someone who has it. They snore and snore and then . . . silence. Then maybe a snort and more snoring. They may even snore so loudly they wake themselves up. I have done that. I have also recorded myself snoring. My husband, who did not snore, was a saint to put up with that. I’m pretty sure my mother had it. She snored like crazy and fell asleep often during the day, just like me.

Ironically, my brother and I brought home our brand new identical CPAP machines on the same day in June, so we compare notes. He tried another model before and gave up after a few days, but he’s sticking with this one because he has heart trouble and isn’t ready to die in his sleep. Me, I’m just tired of being tired.

You can’t get a prescription for a CPAP machine without having a sleep study. I wrote about that here in May, complete with embarrassing photo. You can read it here. The study showed that I stopped breathing about every 30 seconds when I slept on my back, less often when I lay on my side. Not terrible, but concerning. Just sleep on your side, you say? I thought I did, but it turns out I spend a good portion of the night on my back.

I will not be posting a photo of me wearing Charlie strapped around my face. It looks ridiculous. You have a hose running from the machine to a nozzle on the top of your head, another strap behind your head, and more straps holding a rubber nosepiece that looks alarmingly like a hospital intubation tube. In the model I have, my mouth is free, but many older CPAPs cover both nose and mouth. Nope, nope, nope, not for me.

The sleep doc gave me three months to try out the CPAP and see if it helped. If it didn’t, I could give it back and be done with it. Oh, how I wish that were the case, but I know I sleep more soundly with it on, with Charlie breathing moist air into my nose all night. Dang it.

Charlie takes almost as much maintenance as my old dog, who is catching some extra z’s beside me as I type. Clean these parts every day, these other parts once a week, refill the humidifier tub with distilled water daily, replace the filter, the nosepiece, the mask, and the hose at different times and the whole thing every few years . . .

My brother is more meticulous than I am. Every morning he puts a little baby shampoo on his finger and washes out his facemask and humidifier tub. I do it about once a week. I’m still trying to figure out how to get it dry by bedtime. It’s damp here on the Oregon coast. Last night near midnight I was standing in the bathroom in my nightgown blow-drying the padding on the sides of the nosepiece. When I put it on, water dripped onto my lips and chin for the first hour. Combine that with restless legs and a brain full of too many TV shows, and I didn’t fall asleep till the wee hours. To entertain myself, I watched videos on my phone on how to clean my CPAP.

At my telemed appointment tomorrow with the sleep doc, we will discuss my experience with the CPAP. Charlie is connected to the internet, and the doc will have a print-out of my numbers, hours of usage, oxygen saturation, etc. They know what I’m doing in bed! Well, at least with Charlie. They don’t know why it’s so off and on some nights and a steady seven or eight hours on other nights.

Sleeping hooked up to a machine, with a mask on your face and a hose coming out of the top of your head is weird and unnatural. Having Googled CPAPs online, I’m receiving lots of ads for less invasive machines and alternatives to CPAPs. I am not uninterested, but I am still hoping my relationship with Charlie will work out.

I got used to wearing curlers in my hair every night and sleeping with a headgear attached to my buck teeth in my teens. I can do this. Maybe. Experts say one-third to one-half of people prescribed CPAP machines quit or never bother to start. I know I never wanted this, but Charlie is here, and I’m hoping we can get along.

Have you or a loved one used a CPAP machine? How did it go? Were you able to stick with it? Why or why not? Any advice for this CPAP rookie?

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Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

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