Part 1 of this series discussed how men rationalize their denial about having “Sleep Apnea“.
Today, in Part 2, the discussion revolves around starting to recognize that you might actually have sleep apnea, and the transition from denial to accepting the possibility.
Two new factors took me from absolute denial to grudging acknowledgement of the possibility:
- Meeting a new doctor at age 50
- Discovering that all my siblings either had or suspected they had Sleep Apnea
Meeting a New Doctor at Age 50
For a doctor-phobic, middle-aged, suddenly less-healthy man to be forced to select a new doctor, you begin to have visions of midlife crisis and a sudden need to buy a Ferrari. After all, new car pride should make any man feel better.
Fortunately, my wife was insistent on me having a new doctor, and the Ferrari wasn’t really in the budget.
So, the easiest solution was to call the most convenient doctor’s office and find out whether any of their three physicians was accepting new patients. They all were, but there was more:
- The first was a distinguished-looking man who was also the owner of the clinic. While he was certainly qualified, it was also evident that he would merely be a temporary solution, and another change would be needed in a few years.
- Next was friendly woman with good credentials and references, but not many middle-aged men feel comfortable being examined by a woman doctor, and that was the case with me.
- The last choice was a man in his late thirties or early forties and that was perfect. He was old enough to be experienced, and young enough to work with me long-term.
So, I had a new doctor. Unfortunately, even after I transferred my medical records from the last doctor, and swore that I’d been healthy enough to pass a life insurance exam two years prior, the new doctor insisted on a full checkup. He used words like “turning 50“, “baseline EKG” and “elevated blood pressure.”
The higher blood pressure was the most worrisome: After more than a decade of proudly testing at “120 over 80,” this test showed about “150 over 105.” Because of the higher numbers, the new doctor started asking questions about every aspect of my life, and zeroing in on any recent changes.
Grudgingly, I admitted that recently I was always feeling exhausted, but I pointed to an expanded workload and added stress due to a number of situations.
Then it happened: He asked if anyone ever said that I stopped breathing while sleeping, or whether I had ever been been tested for Sleep Apnea.
Time stood still for awhile as my potential responses passed through my mind:
- Take the easy way out by denying that anyone ever suggested that I stopped breathing. After all, he had never met my wife. What would it hurt?
- Tell him that I have been tested numerous times by nosy doctors who also misdiagnosed this condition.
- Bolt for the door and find yet another new doctor who might not be as thorough.
Suddenly, my lips failed me as I heard my own voice saying, “Yes, my wife has complained for years about me stopping breathing throughout the night.”
WHAT!!! – WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?
He next asked, “Do you fall asleep during the day?” GULP! Well, not unless you count waking up face down on your keyboard. So I admitted to finding it harder and harder to stay awake throughout the day.
That was it! He scheduled me for an overnight test at a local sleep lab. DOOMED!
After the rest of my exam, the blood pressure dropped some, and the doctor explained that he was prescribing immediate blood pressure medicine – instead of sending me to the hospital. That got my attention!
All in the Family
During the time between the doctor’s examination and my appointment at the sleep lab, I traveled to a family gathering back in my hometown.
Naturally, my wife pipes up that I am going to be tested at a sleep lab for Sleep Apnea.
To my surprise, one sister admits that she and her husband have Sleep Apnea and sleep with breathing machines. My other sister and our brother chimed in that they have always suspected that they had Sleep Apnea too, but had never been tested.
Could it be true?
There it was! – The Indisputable possibility that I actually could have Sleep Apnea.
Okay, MAYBE I could have Sleep Apnea, but that doesn’t mean that anyone will ever convince me to use a breathing machine with a mask at night.
In the Part 3 of this series, you’ll learn what a sleep lab is like, and what kinds of data is revealed by the test results.
For faster information, read “The Perils of Sleep Apnea–An Undiagnosed Epidemic: A Layman’s Perspective“.
Do You Fall Asleep During The Day But Deny You Have A Sleep Disorder? I Did And It Almost Killed Me!
Hello, my name is Steve and I have sleep apnea.
My wife diagnosed this more than five years ago, but I was in denial. The only reason I’m alive today is because my doctor died and my wife is VERY persistant.
What you say? – Alive because my doctor died? – How does that work?
Well, it goes like this: I’ve been mostly healthy all my life – the kind of guy who eats anything, does whatever I want, and avoids the doctor like the plague. My family doctor also treated my parents and knew the whole family health history. That means he knew that I’m never sick, so every few years I’d show up to prove I’m still alive. We had this GREAT arrangement, where he’d leave me alone until I asked for help.
In fact, the last time I saw him, I drove to his office to discover it was now an office for Psychiatric Therapy. My self-diagosis on that subject was very positive, and I since I didn’t want another second opinion from my wife, I picked up the cellphone and called my doctor’s number. The reply – after a few giggles from the receptionist – was that they’d moved seven years earlier, and I needed do drive east for a couple of blocks.
As a typical guy, I generally figure that any problem short of broken bones will go away with time, and often, time will mend those too. In fact, I’ve broken ribs on multiple occasions, and the doctor just prescribed pain pills and said “you’re tough and have great chest muscles to holdem in place, so call me in a few weeks if you haven’t gotten any better.”
So, since I was convinced that sleep apnea was just a made-up disease by doctors conspiring to take more trips to Tahiti, and since my doctor wasn’t likely to send the authorities to drag me into his office for a physical examination, my expert opinion was that I was in perfect health.
My belief was that my wife just needed a new hobby – and maybe ear plugs. After all, my dad’s snores could shake the house, but he lived to be 77 years old.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, my wife was not deterred from her insistance that I not only snored, but I was continually stopping my breathing throughout the night. I assured her that I just reverted to a more shallow form of breathing during parts of the night. Heck, if I wasn’t breating, I wouldn’t be perfectly fine each morning. RIGHT?
After three years of this verbal dance, I was blind-sided by a need to renew a prescription for a special hand cream. When I called my doctor’s office, I was told that he would not renew my prescription without seeing me in person to prove I was alive and still needed the medication. I said something like: “What? You know my voice. Of course I’m alive, and I’ll need this stuff for as long as I live – if not longer!”
How dare my doctor to dare challenge my self-diagnosis! And, given that I was just turning 50, he insisted on checking out my overall health. So, I decided that procrastination was my best friend, and maybe the doc would foget about this unreasonable demand and accidentally fill my prescription.
Well, after a two month delay, I decided to bite the bullet and make an appointment. To my surprise, the receptionist informed me that my long-term, usually reasonable doctor had passed away. My response was to say something comforting like: “That’s terrible! … Can someone else fill my prescription?“
Natually, no doctor was going to give me a prescription without EVER seeing me in person, and this was an even bigger problem because I had moved to another state two years earlier. This had been fine until then, because of the wonders of the telephone and fax. Now I needed a new doctor in my own community. How unreasonable!
In part 2, we’ll review the joys of meeting a new doctor – in person – at the age of 50.
Part 3 will cover the wonders of spending the night in a sleep lab, and hearing the truth about Sleep Apnea.
Later, we’ll explore the ongoing saga of living [yes, living] life with Sleep Apnea, and how it is actually better than gradually dying in denial.
For those of you who want to know more facts about Sleep Apnea, here is my current definition – minus the Tahiti part:
Sleep Apnea “A condition characterized by temporary breathing interruptions during sleep. The pauses in breathing can occur dozens or even hundreds of times a night.”
- loud snoring
- a gasping or snorting sound when the sleeping individual starts to breathe again.
Although the individual may not be aware of having sleep apnea, the condition can:
- disrupt the quality of sleep
- result in daytime fatigue
- raise your blood pressure
- cause permanent brain damage
- result in sudden death over time
The most common type, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the tongue or other soft tissue blocks the airway.
Enough with these boring technical details. We’re still too early in this story to believe this kind of non-sense.
So, if you absolutely need to know more facts before the next installment, go ahead and check out this 5-star book about Sleep Apnea.
For more information about how to get a better night sleep, read my wife’s recent post about Sleep Apnea and many other sleep challenges.