Don’t Forget to Breathe

What do you mean I snore?


And how the Hell would I know? I’m not awake when it happens.


A few years after my deployment, I was told by family members and passersby that I snored. Badly. I mean, it got to the point where my son, who was training to be an Emergency Medical Technician, thought he was going to have to establish an artificial airway.


Yeah, I’d say that’s bad. But, I’m not alone. Millions of Americans experience sleep interruption. It’s also been determined that veterans suffer (and their families, let’s be honest) from apnea in disproportionate numbers. The VA’s Sleep Disorder Center estimates that vets are 4 times more likely to suffer from apnea.


A few years ago, I decided to have a sleep study. As I had private health insurance at the time, I attended a private clinic and not the VA’s. I showed up at about 8 pm, and was shown to a bedroom. The clinic had gone out of their way to make sure it resembled a typical American bedroom; that’s if your bedroom had a machine with wires and electrodes coming out of it. The electrodes were attached to spots all over my head and chest. I began to wonder what I’d do if I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I don’t usually walk into my bathroom wired up like a Christmas tree.


I slept fitfully through the night. The next morning, I asked the sleep technician if I snored. He began laughing immediately. “Oh, yeah you did!” he said. “I watched and listened to you on the closed-circuit TV.” He let me know that I stopped breathing an average of 32 times an hour. “Bud, you’d probably get more sleep if you became a truck driver,” he told me.

cpap machine, veteran vs. insurance company




So I was given a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine.


This device sends a steady stream of cooled air down your windpipe in order to keep your airways open. They are very sophisticated and therefore, ridiculously expensive. My insurance company did not like the idea of paying for it. But they did pay for most of it.


In order to ensure a return on their investment, I had to plug a memory card into it. At the end of each month, I had to mail it to the insurance company so that the data on it could be analyzed. The insurance company would be able to tell if I was actually using the CPAP machine.  I was also asked to email them notes about my sleep: if I was waking up frequently, cleaning the machine, letting my dog use it, etc.


I dutifully sent the chip and the emails for 2 months. Then, I started to get annoyed, mainly because I was paying for a good chunk of the bill myself. Before I mailed the chip for the third time, I copied a clip from the movie, The Exorcist onto it. You know which one:





In my last and final email, I told them that I hadn’t been sleeping well, and that I was having terrible nightmares.


I laughed to myself every time I thought about the technician sitting in his cubicle, staring at his computer monitor in shock at Linda Blair screaming and puking green slime. “Hey, Jim. Come on over and check this out!”


Jim: “Holy shit!”


“Yeah, tell me about it! You know, I’m gonna recommend that we just let him keep the machine.”


“Are you sure? Those things are expensive!”


“Yeah, I’m telling you, this guy’s got problems. I don’t want to push him off the reservation.”

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