Dealing with sleep apnea

by James Menzies

It seems you can’t go to an industry convention anymore without the topic of sleep apnea appearing on the agenda. As I learned more about this condition, I began to suspect I suffered from it myself.

I had mixed feelings about speaking to my doctor about my suspicions. On one hand, part of me hoped I had the condition, as I knew through covering various industry events that there’s a solution for it that’s 100% effective when used. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is not a cure, but it’s a proven treatment that’s non-evasive and non-pharmaceutical.
On the other hand, sleep apnea seemed to be so trendy. It’s on the agenda of nearly every trucking conference and it seems everyone who has attended one of those sessions wonders aloud if they’ve inflicted by it. I didn’t want to be one of those guys.

Despite all that, it was the words of Kriska Transport CEO Mark Seymour, from one of those very events that came back to me when I visited my doctor for my driver’s physical.

I recently went back in the archives to revisit those words. Speaking at the 2009 OTA Convention, Seymour, himself a sleep apnea sufferer, said: “You never know how much better you can feel until you feel it. It changed my life, I feel better, I feel healthier. Let’s embrace it; it’s a problem you should not avoid treating.”

With that in mind, I decided to speak to my doctor about it. I had all the symptoms. I felt constantly tired, even after waking from what seemed like a good night’s sleep. I was especially tired when driving home from work and at times would close my eyes when traffic stopped. I’d put on weight. Gotten older.

So I decided to fess up and tell my doc. She referred me to a sleep clinic and I expected months to pass before hearing a peep from them. Surprisingly, they called just days later and offered me an appointment at the Durham Sleep Clinic in Oshawa within a couple of weeks. After passing (failing, I suppose) the questionnaire that indicated I fit the profile for sleep apnea sufferers, I was booked in for an overnight sleep assessment a couple weeks later. I remember it was the night the clocks moved forward. How fortunate, I figured, that’s one less hour I have to spend here.

Getting wired up for my overnight sleep study was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. The sleep technicians were remarkably efficient. The worst part of the experience was spending a Saturday night in a lab rather than at home with my wife and daughter and watching the hockey game. But I convinced myself it was a necessary inconvenience.

Despite having more than a dozen wires attached to various parts of my body, I was able to fall asleep nearly instantly (a good sign there was something wrong with me, perhaps).

Within a couple weeks, I was called back to the clinic to discuss my results. It was as I expected. I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. The sleep study showed I was waking as much as 33 times an hour and in some instances going more than a minute without breathing.

I had mixed feelings about the diagnosis. I was encouraged by the fact I now knew what was causing my fatigue and that there was a completely effective solution for it. I was also disheartened, however, by the fact I would likely forever need to sleep with a Darth Vader-esque mask over my face.

My story is not yet complete. I must soon go back to the clinic for another night in the clinic. This time I’ll be required to wear a CPAP mask while the technicians fiddle with the settings to find out precisely how much pressure I’ll require when I get my own machine.

Then, I’ll have to get used to CPAP treatment and learn to live with it. Only then will I be able to share my full story, which hopefully will conclude with me feeling better rested and more energetic.

I’ll keep you posted.

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