Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Air Mask Man

I am standing in a doorway between two rooms of an old farm house.  It is a warm summer day, the sunlight diffuse and soft as pastel.

I am dressed in worn jeans and a white t-shirt. There is a fly buzzing around, making lazy loops from room to room, landing here and there, the way a big bass drifts among the lily pads.  The fly finally comes to rest on my thigh.  I watch it contentedly cleaning its snoot with its front legs. Suddenly the green plastic head of an old fly swatter appears from behind the door frame.   With a flick of an unseen wrist, it slaps down and squishes the fly into its webbing and onto my pant leg.  Dead.

At that same moment I realize the fly is actually my son and now my son is dead!  Just like that; poof... dead!  I stumble out of the house crying, hysterically cursing the sky and the God it conceals, my mind racing over all the things my boy and I have done together and all we will not.  My anguish at his loss is too much to bare and I wake up in a gasping jerk.

The gasping jerk is not part of the dream.  It is one of the twenty or so self emanating suffocations I experience every hour of the night.  You see I suffer from OSA, Obstructive Sleep Apena, a nocturnal disorder effecting some 12 million Americans.  I was diagnosed with it this past summer and I'm afraid is not pretty.

Beside the wall-rattling snoring, gasping and thrashing about symptomatic of OSA, the real damage is inflicted internally.  It seems my blood oxygen level drops to around 85% at night; something you might expect to see in a chronic emphysema sufferer but not a robust fellow like me.  The depleted oxygen level starves the organs of nutrients, causing them to deteriorate.  High blood pressure, heart disease and strokes are the most common side effects.  Depression, with its outward manifestations of irritability and poor concentration, are right up there on the OSA "Greatest Hits" list.

Sleep apnea effects as many adult as diabetes, but it often goes undiagnosed.  To raise awareness of this night time villan, we suffers are coming together  to form support groups like A.W.A.K. E. (America Sleep Apnea Association).  Soon we hope spouses and partners will start bonding as well, forming Al-anon equivalents like S.N.O.R.E.  (Sleep Normally Or Risk Everything*).

The treatments for OSA are varied and include everything from surgery to oral inserts, healthy living, medicinal herbs & spices, copious amounts of green tea and even a derivative of deadly African Calabar bean.  This shaman special was traditionally used on suspected witches to rid the body of evil spirits along with everything else in the bladder, bowels and salivary glands.  Of course real witches, as we know, can never be rid of evil spirits, so respiratory failure and death by asphyxiation were an efficient determinant of guilt. 

Opting for a slightly less holistic approach in treating my OSA, I will be fitted for a face mask and pressurized air delivery system which I will have to wear every night for the rest of my life.  This is a very depressing thought.   Its hard not to view doning such apparatus as anything but another sign post along the scenic highway of aging.  I am divorced and without a partner.  I worry about finding someone who will want to share the bed of the Apnea air mask man.  Were the roles reversed, I would be none too excited at the prospect of snuggling up to a hose-nose lover.

Of course my doctor thinks my reservations are silly.  I guess he looks at the date of birth on my chart, and the gray hair on my head and thinks:  "Just wait till this guy sees what's coming in the next ten years!"

I'm scared people!  Scared and lonely.  So if you know of any happenin' gals with a bent for polymer-based attachements, then send them my way.  I think I'm going to be needing all the help I can get.  For that matter, those A.W.A.K.E. meetings are sounding better every day!

*AWAKE exists, but SNORE is a just figment of my warped sense of humor... oh and instead of the elephant air mask, I opted for a small oral retainer that moves my bottom jaw slightly forward.  I slip in at night and it seems to be doing the trick.

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