Saturday, April 23, 2011

Gettin' old ain't for wimps

Fig. 1. Shmegegge.
Medical procedures are fascinating, aren't they? I often considered becoming what my Bubby Becky would have called "a doctor doctor," as opposed to what I am which is "a doctor of shmegegge" (Fig. 1.). But I have three barriers in my persona: I'm no good at science, I find the interiors of living bodies intensely repulsive, and I have big muscly clumsy fingers that have difficulty typing on an iPhone keypad. Not the kinds of fingers you want wrapped around your aorta, push comes to shove.

Fig. 2. Not good.
So anyway it turns out I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. I'm writing about this because I'm feeling strongly like it's a big chapter in my life, and it occurs to me that other people could benefit from this knowledge. I wish I knew about this ten years ago, or even twenty, when I started suffering from it. If you think you might have some of these symptoms, I encourage you to find a doctor who will help you.

In everyone, the tissues in your throat relax when you sleep. In my case, when this happens the tissue shut off my airflow [Fig. 2]. Each time this happens, I get a panic response with a shot of adrenaline that jolts me out of sleep so that I can open my throat and breathe. Preferable to dying, yes. Problem - it's a vicious cycle that keeps me out of deep sleep. The results - apart from, well, insomnia, sleepiness, which sometimes causes me to fall asleep during the day even while I am in conversations with people, and general exhaustion, missing meetings and deadlines, forgetting things, there's also the really fun stuff; morbid consequences to the mind and body such as obesity, hypertension, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, anxiety, depression, dementia and unexplained sudden death. Also, there's this: [Fig.3]
Fig. 3. One reason to get a good night's sleep.
So after years of experimenting with sleeping pills, herbal medicines, appliances, strips, inserts, plugs, losing weight, exercising, and meditating, with no effect, last year I had a series of polysomnography studies which determined that, well, I figure I should spare you the details, but it's really bad. Bad enough that a pulmonary specialist who looked at the results kept asking me if I was really a tenured professor at Carnegie Mellon - it seems that most people my age who have this problem are 350-pound shut-ins, or dead, or both. So, hey, that's something. For the past 20 years I've been turning my insomnia into a longer productive day, I guess.

So the pulmonary specialist strapped me in every night to a machine that blasts air into my lungs, which is like sleeping with your head hanging out of a Mack truck doing 85 on the highway. Also I have an oxygen compressor, so I am a genuine cyborg now. My bedroom sounds like the factory floor at Boeing. This improved matters, but not enough. So after a year of that, finally I'm heading for surgery. Yay!

Fig. 5. Like you don't have crap in your neck.
Apparently, they are going to clear out all the extraneous shit that should have evolved out anyway, shrink my knockwurst-sized turbinates, and clear out all the crap in my neck [Fig. 5]. After that, apparently, I will commence to lose weight (metabolism realignment), get in terrific shape (work out in evenings instead of collapsing), diminish anxiety, win friends and influence people, and, you know, solve all of my physical and personal problems [See Figs. 6 and 7].

Fig. 6. Before
Fig. 7. After

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