And if you have been following, then settle down and read on…
I’d been given a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine to trial. I had to try it out for just one night before the trial period really got started. After this one night, I had to return the following day to see how I got on and presumably iron out any immediately obvious issues.
So, off I went and used the machine that first night. It certainly takes some getting used to. Here is a quick review of my first night’s experience…
I managed to sleep. I didn’t wake up feeling hugely more refreshed than previously. Neutral!
I think my sleep was more thorough, less interrupted with minor semi-awakenings. Success!
Wearing the mask itself was bearable (not particularly uncomfortable but definitely not enjoyable). Neutral!
The mask leaves pinkish indentation marks around my nose where it is held in a tight seal against the skin all night, like the marks that swimming goggles often leave. The marks take hours to wear off. Fail!
I don’t like how it interferes with my night-time routine. Fail!
My usual routine is to get into bed with a book. I read for a while until my eyelids start to droop or I can’t concentrate any more. I put down the book, turn off the light and snuggle down, already almost asleep.
Now with the mask, I had two not entirely satisfactory choices. I could get to the sleepy point as usual and then have to almost wake myself up with putting on the mask, turning on the machine and getting settled into the rhythm of breathing the machine requires.
The other option is to put on the mask as I get into bed and attempt to read with it on, so that when I get to the sleepy stage, I can simply turn the light off and the machine on and go off to sleep without any disturbance. The problem with this option is that the piece of hard plastic that attaches the nose covering to the headband to keep it in place, goes up vertically between the eyes, causing a visual barrier that interferes with reading and a physical barrier that doesn’t allow the wearing of glasses. Having said that, I rarely wear glasses in bed as I read better without.
Once turned on, the machine gradually increases over ten minutes to the correct overnight pressure. Once I put the mask on and turn on the machine, even with the gentle start, it feels distinctly odd. Initially the amount of air blowing into my nose is quite mild – I can barely feel a thing. Nonetheless, if I draw the mask away from my face, I can feel a strong flow of air whistling past.
And if I open my mouth, the air that’s being pumped seemingly so gently into my nose comes rushing out of my mouth with quite some force. It’s the strangest thing, like having a little cold-breathed alien in my throat. This means that I cannot sleep with my mouth open, which I think is part of the plan. It also means I need to have a clear nose, so goodness knows what I’d do if/when I get a cold.
Sometimes, it takes me some time to get into a comfortable rhythm of breathing, just through my nose. I can even get a very slight feeling of suffocating because I want to open my mouth, but can’t comfortably. I dare say I’ll get used to it and it will begin to feel more ‘natural’ (sic).
So, I returned for my appointment with Pik the next day. I thought he would want to check the machine, check the readings on the card, check something. But no, I just had to let him know that the machine and I had got on okay overnight and that I would persevere with our unwilling relationship.
It was rather a non-event, but he did reassure me that most patients get used to and become more comfortable with using the machine over time. He also said that the nose mask marks would become less noticeable and would fade more quickly as time went on. So the next step was to continue using it for a month or so before coming back to clinic to finally see the consultant.
A few weeks into the trial, I shared a room with a friend over my birthday weekend and used the machine. I felt embarrassed. She made the situation easier by making me laugh about it, saying that I looked like a baby elephant. She has such a way with words! Being teased about looking like a baby elephant sounded a lot cuter than Darth Vader! She also reported no snoring from me during the night, which made us both feel better. Success!
Funnily enough, while we were away, I visited an art studio, where I saw a delightful dry point etching print of a baby elephant. I didn’t buy it, but I’m still considering it. I’m not sure if I want that constant reminder, or if the cute factor would win out and allow me to laugh at myself and the whole odd scenario. I suspect the latter.
A few weeks after this initial venture, I went to a rural hostel in Wales with a group of friends for the weekend. I girded myself to be brave and took the CPAP machine with me. This felt like a much bigger deal as I didn’t know everyone there. Would I dare to use it ‘in public’?
As I entered the large dorm room to choose a bed, I looked around for a plug socket, but could only find one in the whole room. I wanted to sleep by the window and this was not only on the other, darker side of the room, but also right in the middle of the length of the room. No way to discreetly hide away with my ‘baby elephant’ mask in a corner.
I had a few moments of dilemma, but in the end decided to go for the bed I wanted and leave off using the machine. I was away for a fun weekend, so why give myself a hard time? But I worried about disturbing people with my snoring, until one friend pointed out that most people would probably snore, especially after a few drinks. After those supportive words, I felt better about it and slept very well the whole weekend. I can’t comment on anyone else’s experience, but I received no complaints, so I’m counting that as a success too!
Time has passed and I have now been using the machine for three months, mostly sleeping alone, thank goodness! I still don’t like it (the machine, not the sleeping alone), but given that at two months there were days when I’d say I hated it, I think I must have acclimatised and accepted it to some degree.
I know this isn’t the point, but it is clearly affecting me… When I’m with other people and use the machine, the experience is undoubtedly better for any room-mate, but the embarrassment factor for me of either snoring like a pig or being seen with the mask is about the same. Am I doomed to sleep alone?
Final instalment expected soon…