For the first time in 54 years, I got help breathing last night.
Switched on an oxygen concentrator, a machine that pumps fresh air into a thick plastic tubes, and hit the sack with two smaller plastic tubes inside my nostrils. They sort of feel like pipe cleaners.
It has come to this. My doctor is trying to solve a long-running sleep problem, and tests have told him I am not getting enough oxygen during the middle of the night. Sounds like obstructive sleep apnea ... at times after dark and under cover, I’m not breathing at all. The oxygen concentrator is supposed to help pump me up at 3 a.m., and make sure everything inside me is getting enough O2.
But reviews from this first-nighter are not positive.
It all started earlier this week, when I picked up my new nocturnal gear at a local air supply business. The guy who gave me a 20-minute tutorial seemed like a nice guy, but I was already shaking my head after five minutes.
First, he plugged in the oxygen machine — it’s about the size of a tall kitchen wastebasket, only it weighs about 70 pounds — and let me listen to the mechanical set of lungs. First, there’s a piston-driven rush of air, like a person exhaling. That’s followed by three beats, like drum beats, spaced about two seconds apart.
“Is the noise going to be a problem?” the technician asked.
“Got it in one try,” came the answer. I sleep better in stone cold silence.
Then, we tried on the nasal canals, the aforementioned “pipe cleaners.”
“Uncomfortable?” asked the tech.
“In one,” I smiled back. Not in one nostril; as in, “Got it in one try, once again.”
The noise and nose problems were really the least of my concerns. Part of the game means I’ve got to have an “emergency” tank of oxygen in case of a power outage. The techs figure if I wake up after a thunderstorm has knocked out electricity, I’ll be wheezing so badly I’ll most certainly need that back-up tank. “Must ... have ... air,” I’ll say, turning on the slim, green tank.
Won’t happen. I told the guy they could keep the tank for a needier person, as if my “concentrator” stopped breathing, I would simply take out my pipe cleaners and go back to sleep. I would never use the tank, not unless I had to kill a shark.
No dice. The rules say I’ve got to take the big can of air. So it now stands in the basement, lonely and unwanted, a new curio for the spiders.
It sort of got worse. The crew says I should hang a bright red “Oxygen in Use — No Smoking” sign in one of my windows, complete with the universal symbol — cigarette in a circle covered with the familiar slash through the middle. Nobody is allowed to smoke in my house anyway, so I think the warning is unnecessary. My brother Tim agrees.
“You put that in your window, some burglar is going to think your old and feeble, and you’re going to get broken into,” he said, more or less.
He has a point.
I knew I’d have trouble the first night. I stashed the machine in a bedroom down the hall, closed the door and unravelled 40 feet of tubing to my bedroom, about 10 feet away. Even with both bedroom doors closed, I could still hear the Sturm und Drang of the oxygen producer.
I hit the sack at about 11 p.m., but figured I would have to be really tired to forget about the plastic tubes in my face. After two hours of reading, I started the operation at 1 a.m. About 90 minutes of wide-awake waiting — waiting for sleep — followed. Think I tossed and turned most the night, and figured I might have reaped three or four hours of sleep before shutting off the airman at 7 a.m.
So nuts! So far, something designed to help me sleep has prevented me from sleeping.
Round two comes tonight. I hope to improve my chances by moving the machine to the living room, near the staircase, plugging in and stretching my 40 feet of tubing onto the second floor. And either one sleeping pill — or four beers — will put me into the dreamy beyond.
“To some, a dream,” as Merlin said to King Arthur in the movie Excalibur. “To others ... a NIGHTMARE!”