Keep your colds away from me!

Everyone at work is getting sick. There are 3 people who are so congested and sick with colds and other nasty bugs that they sound like they should be singing “Old Man River.” And yet they come in to work every day, just making everyone else sick.

I’ve been fighting it off as best I can, but I just have this sinking feeling that I’m next. I usually catch this cold crap quickly.

At least I used to.

See, last summer I had my tonsils removed.

Oh that was fun, let me tell you.

I suffered from severe Sleep Apnea. If you haven’t heard of it, Sleep Apnea is a condition that causes you to literally stop breathing while you sleep. It’s caused by any number of things, from a blockage in your airway to a weak respiratory system. Then, after a few seconds of NOT BREATHING, your body suddenly jolts itself into a more awake state so that you can start breathing again.

All of this stopping breathing and jolting yourself awake does terrible damage to your heart, and causes you to have horribly sleepless nights.

My Sleep Apnea was so bad that I was falling asleep at work daily. And I mean not just nodding off. I was SNORING. At work. Sitting up.

When my managers finally told me that the sleeping had to stop or I’d lose my job, I looked into a possible medical problem.

Now I had been told by boyfriends, friends and other bed partners that I snored very loudly at night. I knew wasn’t getting restful sleep. I would wake up every morning with my mouth so dry that it felt like cardboard. And I always woke up on my back, arched up, and my head would be pounding. Sure signs that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen at night.

I was also extremely susceptible to throat ailments such as Tonsilitis and Strep Throat. I would come down with one or both of the ailments more than once a year.

There had to be a connection to all of this.

I asked my doctor about Sleep Apnea, and he thought that it could be a cause. So I had a sleep test done.

Lo and behold, it was indeed the cause. In fact, I was having an average of 70 APNEAS PER HOUR. That means that SEVENTY TIMES during EVERY HOUR of sleep, I would STOP BREATHING. It was rated as a severe case.

Scary.

So I went to an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor (Otolaryngologist). He took one look inside my throat and said,

“WOW”

“Your tonsils are maybe 4x the size they should be. I think we’ve found a major cause of your problems.”

So he recommended surgery. I was to have my tonsils removed (at age 32) and have a portion of my soft palate trimmed away. That would surely open up my airway and allow me to breathe better. If this didn’t work (and apparently, 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t do enough to solve the problem,) I would have to wear a CPAP mask every night for the rest of my life.

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) masks are not fun.

They fit over your nose and mouth and force oxygen into your airway so that you can breathe at night. They save lives, but they aren’t exactly attractive.

So I opted for the surgery before even trying the CPAP. On July 10, 2003, I went in for surgery.

It was the most painful experience of my life.

The tonsils were one thing, but the palate trimming was another. To put it bluntly, I no longer have a uvula. That’s the little swingy piece of flesh that hangs down at the back of your throat. Mine is gone, snip-snip. (You can joke if you want about gag reflexes. I still have that. Sorry.)

The recovery was extremely painful, but the aftereffects were incredible. I started having the most restful sleeps that I could ever remember. And although I didn’t have anyone nearby to confirm it, I could tell that I wasn’t snoring anymore either. That nasty dry throat feeling I would have every morning disappeared. I felt incredible.

About 8 months after my surgery, I had a follow-up sleep study.

The results were enough to shock my doctor. For someone who had a severe case of Apnea before, I now had next to none. He said I maybe did it twice the whole night. And that (believe it or not) is normal.

He said “This is the type of stuff that we write in medical journals about. You’re a lucky man.”

So that’s my story about my sleep problems. And here is the moral.

– If you notice you are falling asleep during the day, even if you have had plenty of sleep at night.
– If you or your partner notices that you snore so loudly that the walls shake.
– If you wake up with a dry throat every morning, or are susceptible to sore throats, tonsilitis or strep easily

Go to your doctor, ask him or her about sleep apnea, and get a sleep study done. It could save your life.

References:
American Sleep Apnea Association
Sleep Apnea FAQ
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)/Palatopharyngoplasty (PPP) Surgical procedure (The kind I had)