Worthless Sleep

Most people are familiar with restless sleep where the night is constantly interrupted by one thing, another, or nothing in particular.  Short periods of unconsciousness are only randomly interspersed throughout the night and insufficient to guarantee a reasonably wakeful and rested morning.  Over the years I’ve dealt with the effects and side-effects of this kind of sleep deprivation.  It would creep up on me frequently during periods of high stress such as points in my graduate studies when my mind would refuse to wind-down for the night and keep me up until I got out of bed and worked through whatever problem it was I was mulling over (a real issue when problems could take weeks to work through).

Lately I’ve been experiencing a different kind of disturbed sleep, something I’ve decided is best described as worthless sleep.  It’s the kind of sleep where you fall asleep almost instantly, are utterly unconscious of anything around you or any disturbance to your peaceful slumber, and yet you wake up tired, grumpy, with a raging headache, and even feeling kind of sick or weak at times.  This is the sleep of someone suffering from “sleep disordered breathing,” or in my case more specifically “obstructive sleep apnea.”  Each night I am forced to sleep without treatment (a.k.a. the Darth Vader Device or DVD) I stop breathing a couple of times each minute that I’m in deep sleep.  This pause lasts until my blood oxygen saturation dips low enough to temporarily wake me from deep sleep enough for me to start breathing again.  I am unconscious of these periods, but they devastate the most critical phases of sleep.  As a result, I’m never in the deep phases of sleep long enough for my body to rebuild and for me to feel rested.

For the last two and a half years I’ve had the misfortune and pleasure of plugging myself into a machine that blows pressurized air into my nose to keep the airway open.  This prevents my throat from closing off and allows me to spend sufficient time in deep sleep to rest and restore in the course of a night.  It has been quite effective for me in spite of the discomfort and the difficulties Liz has associated with trying to share a bed with a machine that blows air in her face and makes funny noises when the seal is slightly off; not to mention the difficulty of cuddling with someone who has what looks like a medieval torture device attached to their face.  Recognizing how rough things were before I got treated, I have been willing to put up with the side-effects and have always been what the doctors call “compliant” — a term not generally used by the medical community to describe my behavior.

Recently, I’ve had the reality of my handicap and dependence on treatment reinforced in a very visceral way.  On a recent trip overseas, I took the DVD as carry-on to avert the likely event that my bags got lost or delayed.  By the time I landed in Washington D.C., I was so sleep deprived due to jet-lag and the long day of sitting in extremely uncomfortable seats (both on the plane and at the airport) that I forgot to grab my stuff out of the overhead bin until after I had cleared through customs and couldn’t turn back.  The unsuccessful attempt to locate the DVD through the airline, the delay getting insurance approval for a replacement, and now the delays associated with the asinine requirement that a respiratory therapist schedule a time to teach me how to properly use something I’ve been using for the last several years have culminated in almost two weeks since I’ve had a good nights rest.   Think of it as being about three to four beers into an all-night bender as far as cognitive impairment goes (or maybe five or six…  judging your own impairment while you are impaired is a highly inexact science), simultaneously like being really hung-over after that all night bender as far as physical condition goes, and overall about as patient and kind as Charles Manson when it comes to emotional stability.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why it is lower risk for the supplier to mandate an appointment and the associated delay in treatment when the delay is akin to telling me to continue driving drunk while being emotionally unstable (mostly just very angry and easily provoked).  Unfortunately, this episode has forced me to concede that I am in fact limited by my condition.  I am beholden to modern medicine.  Had I been born a hundred years ago, I’d probably be labeled a loafer because I would fall asleep all the time or be the scary angry man down the street that nobody dares talk to  for fear of losing a valuable bodily appendage.  I’d also probably die of a heart attack by the time I was in my early fifties.

While I’ve accepted the fact of my dependence, I still can’t come to terms with why it is the case.  It seems nearly everyone I am around is coping with the same or similar conditions.  For millennia, the human race has  gotten along generally fine without having to force pressurized air down their throats all night, every night.   Until recently (that is until my and to some extent my father’s generation began being diagnosed with the disease) everyone I knew who had substantial problems with apnea had other complicating factors that could easily explain it like being obese, airway deformities, or having a very large neck.  However, in my office at work there are five people: all active duty military, all relatively fit, none substantially over weight and only one with anatomical issues.  Three of us have confirmed obstructive sleep apnea and one of the remaining two is being evaluated for it as I write.  Granted, it is a small sample size, but it is somewhat representative of the larger population of acquaintances and associates I have.

There could be an argument that the reason there are so many people being treated now is because we are more aware of the problem.  However, this recent experience confirmed for me that this argument could not be true.  I am functionally disabled without treatment.  There is no way what I am experiencing would have gone undetected any time in the last fifty years and that I only know about it because we as a society are more aware of it.  I am a danger to myself and those around me without treatment, and it is visible enough that those around me are as anxious as I am to get me back on treatment. So the question I cannot answer is “what has changed in the last 50 or so years to make this condition so much more prevalent?”   (to be fair, I have a few theories, but they are generally unsubstantiated and won’t be addressed here)

Being unable to answer my question, I am left to anxiously await that all-important appointment with the “respiratory therapist” who’s only function is to hand me the damn machine and show me how to turn it on (hmmm… let me see… maybe the big, round button with the power symbol on it?!?!).  The challenge will be to not bite his/her head off and make it out of the room with the machine and without a police escort.

Meatloaf and Cabrito

This day has been approaching for some time now, and finally arrived… A gaggle of goat kids, barely over the trauma of having their horns or other body parts removed (as was the case for the males), have been traumatized again. Having reached adolescence, it was time to wean them from their mothers by forcibly separating them.  I’m such an evil man.

Today has been a day of musical goats so to speak.  Atticus (Cocoa’s baby), Patricia, and Stephanie (Nippa’s girls) had to go away today so their mothers could rest and I could get more milk.  At the same time, Meatloaf (Laura and Banny’s only goat kid this year), Dasher and Flash (LInda’s male kids this year) needed to find new homes for the same reason.  Atticus went on an extended holiday to Banny’s place, Stephanie found a permanent new home there in exchange for Meatloaf (who came back here), Patricia went to Linda’s in exchange for Flash (renamed Cabrito),  and Dasher went to Linda’s neighbor.     I’ll go get Atticus back in a few weeks after he’s fully weaned and add him to the flock of future hamburger.

DSCF0491 Say goodbye to Patricia and Stephanie, and see ya later to Atticus.

And, with the caveat that nobody is to get too attached to them, say hello to Meatloaf and Cabrito (Meatloaf is the cream-colored one between Coca and Nippa, and Cabrito is the white and black one behind Nippa). DSCF0493

Poetry is for sissies and the lost DVD

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about the family…  It seems I’ve been on a poetry bender for the last several months, and have left the more weighty matters to moulder.  I can’t for the life of me understand why it is that I feel inclined to make up silly rhymes to go with stupid pictures, but I guess I find it somewhat therapeutic to pull myself away from the world of analytical and sterile language that dominates my days at work.  Unfortunately, that probably means that the three or so family members who have ever read this blog, and did so for the sole intent of looking at pictures of grand-children and hearing stories about them, have probably given up on reading it.

By hook, crook, or miracle we have managed to hit a relatively stable stretch on the road of life.  The kids continue to learn and grow in regular form and fashion.  The animals are doing what animals do.  I go to work every day wishing I could find a way to make being a hobby farmer profitable enough to quit my day job and knowing that wouldn’t really be any better if I managed to do it.  Liz works amazingly hard to make sure the kids have access to an outstanding education.  It feels like I’m tempting fate when I write (or even think) it, but I don’t have good materials to work with when it comes to spinning yarns.  In reality, I am sure life is as interesting as it has ever been, but the creative juices aren’t flowing at the moment.  It’s likely a consequence of sleep deprivation.

A little over a week ago, I was on a flight from Munich (Germany) to Washington D.C..  By the time we landed in D.C.,  I had been up for nearly 24 hours and wasn’t thinking clearly.  I grabbed my backpack from under the seat in front of me (the only carry-on bag I generally have) and headed off the plane towards customs.   About 20 minutes later as I grabbed my checked bag I realized I didn’t have my stupid Darth Vader Device (DVD) – also known as a CPAP.  In fear of having to go without it in the moderately likely event that my bag got lost I had opted to carry the DVD as a second carry-on bag and stuck it in the overhead bin.  That was five days ago…  The dumb thing still hasn’t surfaced.

As a result of my absent-mindedness, not only did I have to deal with the jet-lag associated with jumping seven time zones without being able to sleep on the plane, but now I’ve reverted to the half-zombie state I dealt with for several years before I was diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea.  It’s hard to believe I managed to function at all back then.  I’m pretty sure I was only half-conscious for several years.  It’s really rough going back to that state of being.

I’ve given up on the airline finding the DVD and have had the medical folks order me a new one.  Hopefully the insurance will cover it, but if not I don’t really have much of a choice at this point.  I can’t function like this much longer.  Falling asleep in meetings with high-profile visitors is bad enough (something I narrowly avoided twice in the last two days).  Falling asleep in traffic is an outcome I really want to avoid.


A graying sky comes pressing on
It's twilight at noon day
Air's heavy since the early dawn
Seems a storm is on it's way.

A distant rumble passes by
The horses snort and stomp
A sudden flash lights up the sky
My outside work must stop.

In the barn a drum beat starts
Quick tapping on tin roof
A yearling kid now jumps and darts
Beats dirt under her hoof.

The tapping turns into a roar
Explosions shake the walls
Howling winds pound on the door
The roof makes water falls.

A thirsty earth gapes wide the mouth
To drink and then to drain
While all around from north to south
We celebrate the rain.

Pray for Rain

'Mid searing heat we pray for rain
And hope for cloudy skies
To wet the earth and cool the air
Make shade for squinting eyes

Withered plants cry out for damp
And wilt in summer's heat
On cracking earth with fissures wide 
Growth turned in fast retreat

Dust and sun and baking winds
Blow grit in eye and ear
Peeling skin and cracking hands
Pray that rain is near

The Elephant

Acknowledged but unspoken,
Sitting heavy in this space,
A weight on every shoulder,
Tensile strain in every face.

It's name must not be sounded,
Nor its presence e'en confirmed,
It's substance flat discounted,
It's existence not affirmed.

If aired, the thoughts and feelings,
Formed about the ugly beast,
Would stir it from a slumber,
Then it on my peace would feast.

So better to ignore it now,
accept the stagnant stink,
Give up what was my breathing room,
Turn off my will to think.

Confine myself to smaller space,
Be glad I have some left,
Then hope it won't demand yet more,
And leave me flat bereft.