St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Out of Breath!

Last night I spent in the Mayo Sleep Center learning if I was sleeping soundly. This morning I found I was not and went home with a breathing machine.

It happened after I had surgery on my knee in December. The nurses said that my blood oxygen level was too low—and the alarm kept going off while in recovery room. Before I could have my knee replacement, I needed to have a check on why I wasn’t getting the oxygen level needed.

The possibilities included lung problems, heart problems, circulation problems or breathing problems. I went through a series of tests that ended up clearing everything but the breathing, leading to my stay over last night.

I went in at 7:00 pm. First a dozen or so electrodes were glued to me. Some in the hair, some near the eyes, some near the heart and one on each leg below the knee to record electrical signals from brain, eye muscles, heart, and leg movement. Two elastic bands with electronic sensors were stretched around my chest and belly. A microphone for recording snoring taped to my pajama top. A tube to just below the nose to register air flow.

The test was to be in two phases. First at 9:30 I was to try to go to sleep while they recorded 4 hours. Then a breathing machine, called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)—an air pump would be hooked to a nose mask to assist in breathing.

The CPAP theory is that the dangling stuff in the back of my throat, the stuff that rattles when one snores, was relaxing too much and closing the airway when I slept. The machine senses when I breathe in and pushes in a little extra air to blow the danglers out of the way, then relaxes to let me breathe out again.

The test went as scheduled, and I did manage some sleep in the quiet darkened room. The machine was somewhat uncomfortable, the surroundings uncomfortable, but I had stayed awake most of the previous night to assure sleeping during the test.

At 9:00 in the morning, I met with Dr. Hansen, a sleep-ologist. He showed me colored graphs, charts, tables of numbers and all sorts of wonderful scientific readings that said one thing: I am a lousy sleeper. The solution is a CPAP for nights.

So, I went to the Mayo Sleep Store and spent an hour getting one and learning how to use it. Medicare will pay 80% of the cost (at first I just rent it), if and only if I have it on and working at least 4 hours each night average for the test period of about 6 weeks. The machine is smart enough to record the time I am really on it, so there is no cheating.

“You will feel a whole lot better with this machine. You stopped breathing an average of 60 times per hour and never got into the deep REM sleep until the machine part of the test. You will be surprised at how much it will improve your life!” said the Doctor and the Pharmacist.

My life has been reasonably good, and I wasn't really aware of problems with breathing, but the doctor assured me that I would feel invigorated--like a young man again!

So, beginning tonight I try to get used to the thing. Having a face mask, even if it is just over the nose, strapped to my head and a vaccum cleaner type hose (much smaller diameter) running to the bedside machine will be a challenge for me and Margo. It is very quiet, relatively small, and pretty much foolproof, so I guess it will be a matter of seeing if I can adjust to it. About 1/3 of the folks who try one out don't continue as it bothers them too much.

My knee replacement doc says that I have to be on the machine for the stay over night a day or two after surgery--or they won't do it. That adds to the motivation!