Dave's Sleep Apnea Journey
My life changed in one night. I woke up suddenly and I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was going to die.
I was clenching my throat and couldn’t catch my breath. In those moments, I thought of my kids, my wife, and how I was too young to die. Suddenly, I was able to breathe again. It felt like an elephant had gotten off my chest and my windpipe opened. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed, still shaking, and processing what had just happened. I was very happy to be alive but terrified as to just what happened to me. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of addicted to breathing!!! In those moments of breathlessness, I thought of my family and wondered if I would see them again. I eventually calmed down but was terrified to go back to sleep, wondering if I would wake up. At 40 years old, I was not ready to die.
Knowing what I know about sleep apnea now, I realize I had so many indicators, but I didn’t know the signs and symptoms. Leading up to that night, I always felt drained, sluggish, groggy, and had no energy for day-to-day life. I was sleeping twelve or more hours per night and it was never enough. Showering and a strong coffee wasn’t enough to wake me up. When I got home from work, I would nap for a couple of hours and on weekends, I would nap in the afternoon and evenings. This pattern went on for years. Other symptoms included waking up with a dry mouth and a sore throat as well as headaches. I had trouble concentrating at work and was quite simply, burnt out. I just chalked it up to being overloaded with life.
The other symptom I had was snoring. I knew I must have snored pretty loud because my kids and wife said I sounded like a freight train was coming each night. I thought snoring meant I was in a deep sleep, not a sign of something wrong. Anthony Burgess said it best: “laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” My spouse adapted to my snoring each night by wearing earplugs and going to bed before me so she could fall asleep for a bit before I came to bed. After a while, she just slept on the couch, so she could get some sleep.
When I went for testing I was sent home with a monitor to sleep with for two nights, to test for sleep apnea. I had an average of 78 apneas an hour. This meant I stopped breathing 78 times in one hour!! An apnea last 10 seconds. This means I was having an ‘apnea’ episode every 4.5 minutes. No wonder I was always exhausted! After being diagnosed, I was prescribed a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine which I wear every night. In a very short time, I was able to see an improvement from using my CPAP machine. It is a great feeling to wake up refreshed each morning and be ready to tackle the day. Having a good sleep greatly improves your overall quality and outlook on life. When I don’t use my machine, I can feel it. Using a CPAP machine has truly saved my life.
Sleep Apnea is a lung disease that affects 300,000 people in Saskatchewan alone. So many people don’t know they have it
because they don’t realize they stop breathing throughout the night. Many people don’t even realize it can be a serious disease that can result in high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, memory and concentration issues, and more.
When I started working at Lung Saskatchewan I started to learn more about sleep apnea and just how serious this lung disease is. In addition, I joined the Sleep Apnea support group and have exchanged tips and tricks with other people. We share stories and offer support to one another. It helps to know I am not alone in facing this lung disease. I am so grateful for the ongoing support and education offered by Lung Saskatchewan and I was excited to be able to support a sleep apnea project last year. Please help Lung Saskatchewan with a donation to support our ongoing programs and patient support.
Dave Parkalub, Community Engagement Manager
*Please note that the patient is wearing the mask differently than the standard recommendation.
Sleep apnea prevents people from having good quality, restful sleep needed to stay healthy. The most common type of sleep apnea
is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
What are the risks associated with sleep apnea?
Factors that may increase the risk of having OSA include excess weight, large thick neck, recessed chin, large tonsils or other anatomical changes in the upper airway and nose, aging, family history of OSA, smoking, and certain medical conditions. Risks linked to untreated sleep apnea include the possible development of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, or type II diabetes; increased risk of heart attack or stroke; poor memory or concentration; and increased risk of motor vehicle or work-related accidents.
How can people get tested for sleep apnea?
If someone has concerns or feel like they have sleep apnea, they should speak with their family doctor. The doctor will determine if they need a sleep test and if it can be done at home or in a sleep lab.
What treatments are available for sleep apnea?
The primary treatment for sleep apnea is Positive Airway Pressure (PAP). The type of device a person needs depends on the type of sleep apnea they have and will be determined by a doctor who specializes in sleep medicine.
Susan Clark is a Registered Nurse with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of Manitoba. She has worked in long term care, on surgical wards, and now in sleep medicine. Susan joined the staff at the Sleep Disorders Centre in 2016.