Sleep Apnea, Men and Denial
In June, we celebrate our fathers. I hope you still have a father to celebrate with. Our family lost our father twelve years ago. Ill health, and in particular, sleep apnea, took him from us three days before his 67th birthday.
We knew he was ill a long time before he sought a doctor’s help. But people, and, I believe, in particular, men, are a strange breed. So many times they are in denial, refusing to believe what their bodies are telling them.
Years before he was diagnosed with apnea, he suffered from restless sleep and he snored loudly and long from the day I first knew him. We shrugged it off, and I admit I was as guilty as he was. Lots of people snore. Besides, in those days, we had never heard of sleep disorders, and neither had much of the medical community.
He was overweight, and still gaining. I did try to help him diet, but he didn’t understand nutritional guidelines. He ate and enjoyed the diet food I fixed for him. It helped to supplement his regular diet of fried food and doughnuts. When I tried to talk to him, he turned a deaf ear.
I began to hear a hesitation in his breathing at night. Sometimes the pause was long enough to frighten me. But then, he’d gasp, flop over and begin breathing naturally again. When I mentioned it to him, he said he suffered from bad dreams and that disrupted his sleep. He was still in denial. I no longer was.
He suffered from extreme daytime sleepiness, often drifting off in the middle of a sentence. He could no longer watch more than a couple of minutes of the TV shows he enjoyed before he fell asleep. He laughed that away. Of course he was sleepy, he would explain. He didn’t sleep well at night.
I made doctor’s appointments for him, but he wasn’t telling the doctor the real story. But then, how could he? He didn’t see what was happening to him like I did. And did I mention denial? The next time he had an appointment, I phoned ahead and talked to the doctor, and my husband was admitted to the hospital. Two days later, he had a heart attack, and then a second. He lost the use of almost half his heart.
After he recovered enough to come home, the doctor blamed all his sleep and sleepiness problems on his heart and advised him to lose weight. He also put him under the care of a home care nurse. It was that good woman who finally figured out what was going on and sent him to the city to a sleep lab where he was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.
But I still couldn’t help him lose weight. He was put on CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) but had a hard time adjusting to using it. He often removed it in his sleep. One morning he didn’t wake up. He’d suffered a severe heart attack in the night, brought on by his sleep apnea.
We miss him. Perhaps we could have done more if we’d known how. Keep a close eye on your father. Don’t let him fall into the habit of denial. I hope he has many more Happy Father’s Days.
Florence wrote for HealthCentral as patient expert for Sleep Disorders.