From Headgear to CPAP:

by Aaron Notarianni Stephens. 0 Comments

I snore with the gusto of Pavarotti and the lack of oxygen of Darth Vader. Whether I am falling asleep on the big comfy couch in the living room or tucked away in my bed upstairs, my snoring keeps everyone awake. It can easily penetrate pillows over heads. Doors cannot contain it. Being separated by a flight of stairs and several rooms means nothing to my nighttime ballad.

I have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. My body forgets to breathe when I sleep and my snoring is actually loud gasps for air and a reminder to take a breath. I have never had strong stamina for cardiovascular exercise; to find out that sleeping is a bit too demanding of a task on my body was embarrassing.

“Dad, put on your machine!” is a typical evening demand in my home. My children are referring to my Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.

Imagine what Darth Vader’s bedroom probably looked like. A mask on my face. The mask attached to a long hose. The hose attached to a machine the size of a large alarm clock by the side of my bed. The machine releases a constant stream of oxygen up my nose and hisses like a white nose maker. Most importantly, the CPAP allows my body to truly rest because my brain does not need to constantly remind my body to breathe.

I fear that my sleep routine is also reminiscent of the gossip magazine photos of Michael Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber. I do not like to think of myself as that eccentric. The problem is, in actuality, my sleep preparation has always been a bit on the high maintenance side.

It all started in late elementary school. While I imagined other kids simply brushing their teeth and jumping into bed, I had to insert a plastic, custom made retainer onto my teeth. The retainer was attached to a wire that resembled a long, stretched out paperclip. The wire jetted from my mouth, circled my face, and fit uncomfortably tight into a harness in the back of my head. I am not sure of the orthodontic benefit of my headgear. I only remember that this fashion accessory made me look so cool well into the middle-school-sleepover-years.

It got better in high school. It was not that long ago that acne treatments were not dispensed in mall vending machines. Long before Justin Beiber was praising the benefits of Proactiv, harsher means of acne clearing solutions were prescribed. My high school nighttime ritual included slathering Retin-A on my teenage skin. Between the dry flaking skin, constant sunburned appearance, and the fact that results took well over six months, Retin-A was another nighttime nightmare.

Then came college. My diet of pizza and pizza eventually turned on me. I would lay down to sleep and feel a wave of burning acid build up in me. It got so bad that I am being one- hundred-percent-honest when I say Papa John’s butter sauce was actually dripping from my nose one night in my sleep. This kind-of concerned me and I eventually went to a doctor. I was diagnosed with acid reflux, told to reduce the acids in my mostly Italian food diet, and directed to take Prevacid before bed. One more thing to add to my list.

I know that I am not alone in my nightly rituals. Last spring, I went on a weekend service project where I shared a large sleeping quarters with several men and our sons. At bedtime, I noticed at least one young man put a retainer in his mouth. Almost all of the teenage boys had some sort of acne clearing cream they connected the dots on their faces with. And, I was pleasantly surprised when my friend, Jeff, pulled out a Darth Vader machine of his own.

As the room of about fifteen guys drifted to sleep, no one made fun of me because of my CPAP machine. No one teased the kid about his retainer. Everyone accepted the teenagers and their beauty cream. The only problem was one man. On the top bunk. Obnoxiously, continuously, and loudly snoring away. This time, thanks to the persistent demands of my family, I was not that guy.

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