Wednesday, February 21, 2007

CPAP. CPAP run. My First-Grade Level Ruminations on Sleep Apnea

Oh, the pain, the pain! Tonight I have a splitting headache, but that’s no reason not to write.

It began this morning, just that subtle feeling floating somewhere behind my forehead like a puddle of chocolate pudding shifting slowly around my frontal lobe with each movement of my head. I’m no stranger to headaches; I’ve been battling them for years. But the last couple of weeks have been different, because I found out my blood pressure – always the picture of textbook perfection – was suddenly trying out for a new job in entry level hypertension.

After I got to work this afternoon I was feeling awful, and a couple of folks told me I looked exhausted. One of the inmates said, "Mr. Bohannon, you better go to medical and get your blood pressure checked." Since they had been doing intake (of new prisoners) this morning, there were still a few nurses and a blood pressure machine in the back section of our building, which spared me a walk to medical.

Once securely fastened to the machine, the cuff pumped up and started measuring. When it stopped, instead of a number it pumped up again, tighter. I said to the nurse, "Uh oh. This isn't good." When it stopped, the warning alarm went off and scared me to death. Why do they make blood pressure machines that produce loud noises and flashing lights when your blood pressure is dangerously high? Don't they realize that makes it dangerously higher?

Anyway, my BP was 191/100! I immediately called Cris and asked her to call my doctor and told her she might have to come get me because I was a little unsteady. Impatient with waiting on word to be relayed from Cris to receptionist to nurse to doctor and back up the line to me, I eventually drove to Blandy Hills Elementary, where Cris works. We finally got word from Dr. Duke telling me to go to the ER (oh how those words brought joy to my heart...not).

My blood pressure was better in the ER, but still high, and since I had the excruciating headache and the skin on the right side of my face felt like it was crawling off, they took me back immediately. By this time my headache was excruciating.

The ER doctor was great! She talked with me, not to me. I'd previously been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and sleep studies showed I would have positive results with the CPAP machine. That’s a piece of equipment inspired by 1950's science fiction movies that has a hissing, knob-encrusted metal box that spews streams of air through a montage of flexy tubes capped with a tiny face mask and straps just the right size to traumatize the imagination of anybody prone to claustrophobia aggravated by anxiety attacks (like ME). She seemed to have a more positive view of CPAP therapy and insisted it would most likely make me feel lots better. She agrees with the other docs, each of whom I'd decided must have family connections to the CPAP industry, that my sleep apnea is largely behind my headaches and blood pressure problems, and re-affirmed my need to have a fresh sleep study. She said she's seen people on three different blood pressure medications go completely off meds after a couple of weeks with the CPAP machine. She said I probably don't even realize how bad I'm feeling (although, just between you and me, I've got a pretty darned good idea), and the CPAP would most likely make a world of difference. Sleep apnea deprives your brain of oxygen, and the brain doesn’t like to be deprived of oxygen anymore than I liked to be deprived of Apple-Cinnamon Pop Tarts at breakfast.

CT scans were ordered, blood was drawn, and a urine specimen collected (which, by the way, was still sitting on the table, untested, when I left the hospital). The CT scan indicated chronic sinus disease, but my brain looked fine. (Imagine that!) Finally, after the test results satisfied the doctor that I wasn’t having a stroke, nor did I have meningitis, and the fact that I didn’t remember when I had my last tetanus shot didn’t matter, she gave me a Lortab (7.5 mg) -- I didn't want a knock-out shot -- and a prescription for 15 more of the pills. Earlier she had given me a 50 mg Topral for the blood pressure, and it was down to 135/85 before I left. I have a prescription for that too, and a pack of Azithromycin (antibiotics) for sinus infection, just for good measure. She reiterated once again the need for this sleep study, so I guess I'll go ahead and set it up. She wants me to stay out of work for a couple of days. Fat chance! But if I do decide to stay home from work, I’ll be too scared to sleep. My brain needs the oxygen!

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