American in Spain

I have sleep apathy, not apnea

April 9, 2008

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with sleep apnea a couple years ago and uses one of those machines that blows air into your nose when she sleeps. Several of my parents' friends have similar diagnoses and machines. Recently, my wife has started telling me that she notices that sometimes, as she listens to me snore, I stop breathing for several seconds at a time. This, of course, is the definition of sleep apnea. So I went and told the doctor, and the doctor set me up an appointment with a pneumologist. Today I had that appointment. I entered the hospital and asked how to get to neumologí­a. The woman, in perfect bureaucrat form, told me to "walk down that hall until you get to another desk like this one, and ask the lady there." Eventually, I made it to a hallway with a door that said neumologí­a written on it. The hallway was full of people that looked like they were waiting to be called. So I sat down and waited, cursing my lack of forethought to bring a book. My only entertainment was chuckling naughtily as the doctor down the hall came out of her door marked audiologí­a and shouted names at the top of her lungs. After an hour, I figured out that the proper protocol, which is not posted anywhere, is to knock on the door, interrupt whoever is getting a consultation at the moment, and hand in your appointment sheet. There's no computer in the doctor's office, so he and his secretary have no way to know what names to call except if people give in their papers. Sometimes I forget how low tech Spain can be.

Once in the doctor's office, I was asked a series of questions, including this one set of particularly silly ones. Your available responses are A) Never, B) Rarely, C) Sometimes, or D) All the time. The questions were:

  1. Do you ever get sleepy while sitting and reading a book?
  2. Do you ever get sleepy watching television?
  3. Do you ever get sleepy after eating a big meal, with no alcohol?
  4. Do you ever get sleepy when you lie down in the afternoon, should your schedule permit you to?
  5. Do you ever get sleepy in meetings?
  6. Do you ever get sleepy while talking to people?
  7. Do you ever get sleepy while waiting for a traffic light while driving?

Anyone who says "Never" to those questions, at least 1 - 5 is a total liar. I understand that the point of the questions is to flag people that say, "Oh yes, I fall asleep watching the television every afternoon after my big lunch without alcohol!", but still. I wanted to add, "I often get sleepy filling out questionnaires," but the doctor didn't look like he had a humorous bone in his body.

After feeling around my neck for strange reasons why my trachea might be blocked and using a tongue depressor (It's been years since I've had that done. I'd forgotten how horrible it is!), his diagnosis was that I look healthy and there's nothing to worry about. He said that everyone has occasional sleep apnea during REM sleep, and that, as long as you don't have more than 10 apneas per hour and feelings of sleep deprivation, then there's no need for any treatment or further testing. I asked if there was any danger if one were to go untreated, and he said that the only harm from sleep apnea is not getting enough rest and having a car accident because of it. So I feel reassured.

The doctor did give me an extremely low-tech way to prevent snoring, though. He suggested that I sew a little pouch into my pajama top, so that it would be right in the middle of my spine. Then, when I go to bed, put a golf ball in the pouch. This will apparently prevent you from sleeping on your back, which is the position most likely to induce snoring. Ouch! I can already imagine the nice circular bruises such a remedy would produce. No thanks.