Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Allergist

Dr. Dutta tested me for environmental allergens. This is one of my favorite medical experiences. They dot your arm with magic marker and prick your skin in rows on each side to keep track. When they see a reaction (a raised bump with redness) they repeat that allergen on your shoulder. I reacted to dog and cat, dust mites, and Ash tree pollen.

I didn't care too much about the Ash trees, but there is a four-legged allergen in my house named, Chicken. After too much contact, I sneeze twice and my nose plugs up. There's no chance of getting rid of her. She spends a lot of time in our bed, so when I lie down I often get stuffed up. My nose isn't very functional, but being stopped up is unpleasant and may contribute to my snoring.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Robert and the Crab Knocker

My face is a work of art – by Picasso. My chin is recessed. I have a severe overjet (my upper jaw sits much farther forward than my lower jaw) and overbite (my upper teeth completely cover my lower teeth). My bite is deep – my lower, front teeth touch the roof of my mouth. (Read that again if you need to. Can't figure out how that's possible? Well, it is.)

When I was little, my cousin, Robert, hit me in the face with a wooden crab mallet. It really hurt at first. I stood in front of the long mirror that was built in to our hall closet. I moved my nose from side to side and wherever I put it, it stayed. It was broken. But it stopped hurting and my parents never noticed. And that was that. Like most kids, I didn't put things back where they belonged and I ended up with a severely deviated septum.

I met with my ENT, Dr. Stacy Gray at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. She was great. She examined me with a scope that looked exactly like a meat thermometer that she inserted completely into my nose. (Got it? Picture that?) She very tactfully told me that I have "quite a few structural abnormalities", "a lot going on with my nose", and "a complicated septum." OK, that didn't sound tactful, but those statements are taken out of context. Her opinion was that my snoring is largely structural. My recessed chin, deviated septum and congenitally smaller sinus are the perfect storm for obstructive sleep apnea despite the fact that I am "otherwise thin." Yes, she desribed me as "otherwise thin." Seriously, it made my whole week.

She referred me to a maxillofacial surgeon and a plastic surgeon.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sleep Study is a Misnomer

After a little ice cream (but no alcohol or medications), I was dropped off at the Faulkner Hospital Sleep Health Center with my PJs, toiletry bag, and my own pillow.

They played a video to show me what to expect and asked me if I felt sleepy. If I had a certain number of "respiratory events", they informed me, they would ethically have to intervene. So they taught me how to use a CPAP machine in case I had to use one.

Now, I'm lucky that I can fall asleep anywhere and time – instantly. I bragged that I would probably win the prize for falling asleep the fastest of any patient. It turns out they don't offer an award for that. Nothing. I mean how hard is it to print out a certificate? My Sleep Technician wired me up with electrodes, heart rate monitor, and blood oxygenation sensor. When I laid down, you can imagine how weird it felt to be – Zzzzzzzzzzz. Yeah, I fell asleep immediately.

Here's the part I was not expecting. They wake you up ALL NIGHT LONG. [Speaker: "Mr. Shull, can you roll over on your side please?] Seriously, "Kssssht – Mr. Shull, please lie on your back now.", "Mr. Shull, left side now please."

Sometime around 1 or 2 a.m. they woke me up because I had exceeded the number of  "respiratory events." This was shocking to me. I knew I stopped breathing sometimes while I slept. People have told me that my snoring suddenly stops, then I gasp for air. I had no idea that I did it with such frequency. So they put the CPAP mask over over my nose to force air into my airway. The technician asked me how well it fitted and I said, "WuHOkAY!!" The forced air through my nose made my speech loud and breathy and slightly crazy. It made me laugh, "WuhHahaaHHahaHAHha!!!" which made me laugh even harder.

After several days of analysis, my results were presented by my sleep specialist who told me that I have moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea. On average, I stop breathing 33 times per hour. Yikes. Next stop, an ENT.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Sleep like a Log – Being Sawed by a Rusty Chainsaw.

I have snored my whole life. I'm not talking, "Zzzzzzz." It vibrates the keys sitting on my dresser. I can be heard through walls and I'm told through ceilings. My snoring is a source of anxiety and embarrassment.

I keep people up at night. When I was little I went skiing with a friend's family. A group of us boys shared a room with bunk beds. By the end of the weekend, they were plotting revenge – what should they do to me in my sleep? (Bowl of cold water? shaving cream?) Anyone who sleeps near me spends their night rolling over, huffing, fluffing pillows, and grunting. They feign coughing or loudly clearing their throat hoping to wake me long enough for them to fall asleep. But I don't wake up. If I do, its for about .001 seconds. Frustration builds until they cannot take it anymore. Eventually, they yell, push, or punch me awake. It's jarring to wake up to someone yelling at you. To me it seems like it comes out of nowhere. By now I've experienced it enough (and listened to people recount every detail of how miserable they were) that I have come to expect it. I suppose its only fair for me to have to endure their stories. They had to spend a sleepless night listening to me.

Sharing a room with someone has become stressful. I might fall asleep with a friend, but I will probably wake up to someone who wants to smother me with a Pillow Pet. I make people miserable while I'm unconscious – the ultimate passive aggressive.

I really didn't think anything could be done. But I was given an ultimatum. So, I finally went and talked to my doctor. He referred me for a Sleep Study.

This blog will document the extreme process to stop my snoring.