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  • Glenye Oakford

Patient Perspective - Barry M

A commercial pilot and military veteran in Atlanta, Barry struggled at first to adapt to CPAP therapy. That turned around when he discovered coaching and remote patient monitoring, which he says helped him “maximize the treatment.”

My wife kept telling me that I was not breathing at night sometimes.

You know, when I was single, I was sleeping alone, and so I didn’t know I wasn’t breathing. I got to the point where I was waking up and I was still tired, having a bad day because I hadn’t slept well. But, you know, I just thought that was normal.

When my wife started telling me, “Hey, you stop breathing on a regular basis,” that’s when we started looking deeper into it.

The fatigue was definitely affecting my work. I’m a commercial pilot by trade, and I did the FedEx subcontract early in my career. We flew from 10 at night to probably 6 or 7 in the morning.  I’d come home during the day and couldn’t sleep, and I was fatigued, and I assumed it was because I was flying at night. But when we started digging into it, we realized I did have sleep apnea at that particular time.

It didn’t affect my relationship with my wife, outside of her complaining about me snoring and not sleeping, but it didn’t affect us negatively.

If you’re a commercial pilot and find out that you have sleep apnea, you’re supposed to seek treatment. So right now I’m not actually in the cockpit because of I’ve got to go through all these treatments. It was like a domino effect; because of the sleep apnea, my high blood pressure was bad, my cholesterol was messed up. It was just a slew of things that followed the sleep apnea.

There were a few treatments they offered. One was an implant, but that didn’t sound like anything I wanted to do. They gave me an option that was a mouthpiece that was electronic, and I definitely didn’t want to do that.

The Veterans Administration put the actual CPAP machine on the table, as well, and I thought, “Okay, let me try that, because I’ve known people in the past who have used that. Let me check and see if this is really what’s going on with me.”

The first month of using it, I’d wake up and the mask would be all on the floor, disconnected, and the machine would be off. I’d be like, “I don’t recall doing that.” As I started going back and forth to the doctor, that’s how I was put in contact with a sleep coach. She started giving me pointers, and it took probably about 40 days for me to start building an effective habit of wearing it.

As I started making myself do it, I started trying to build myself up, like, “If I could get three hours out of it tonight, I’m good.” And then the next week I’d try to get four hours, and then, the next thing you know, my body started adjusting to it. Now I’m getting anywhere from six to nine hours of sleep a night. The reason I know that is that I look at my app every day when I wake up, and I’ll think, “Wow, I got eight hours and 30 minutes last night!” or “Last night, I got nine hours and 12 minutes,” and so forth. I turned it into a challenge/game: let’s see what I can get tonight.

With me being a former military guy with this type-A personality, at first I thought, “Hey, I can figure this out. It’s no problem putting on a mask and breathing.” But as time went on, I thought I might need some counseling or some help on this. That’s how I started progressively involving someone else in this equation. I wanted to maximize the treatment.

I’m a big TV buff; I love watching old shows and stuff. One particular episode of the Cosby Show, Theo found out he had dyslexia, and up to that point he was classified as a mediocre learner. When he found out that he had dyslexia, he jumped in feet first. That always inspired me. I looked at it like, if this is the issue for why I can’t get a full night’s rest, let me maximize everything that is given to me. I’ve got videos the sleep coaching company has given me, I’ve got my sleep doctor backing me up with information whenever I go to him, I’ve got the sleep coach, who calls me on a regular basis. Once I addressed the problem and thought there has to be a solution, the solution came up to be maximizing my resources.

When I first started going to my sleep doctor, he was telling me my numbers, and they were really low. He was kind of like, “Dude, you’ve got to do better than this.” And I really hate disappointing people trying to help me. So I took it upon myself to try to understand what it is that they’re trying to achieve. When my sleep coach called me, she wasn’t hard on me. But she would give me the numbers. She might say, “On a scale of zero to 10, you might be at a 2.” So I’d think, “How can I get to 5?” I started doing some self-auditing and taking it more seriously. I was serious about it before. But I really got serious after they were, like, giving me grades, so to speak. I would think, “Oh, man. I’m coming in with Ds and Fs the first time; how can I get to Bs and As?” I’m very data-driven. Being an aviator, I’m data-driven by default!

A sleep coach can read the data to you over the phone or on Zoom, and they can tell you, “Try this.” If that doesn’t work, you can discuss it again. They definitely gave me pointers that helped me maximize my treatment. When somebody first gets in the CPAP machine, it’s probably not going to be the most comfortable thing for the first couple of weeks, but you want to utilize your team to make sure that you’re going to maximize your benefits.

The most uncomfortable thing for me initially was that they don’t know what your air pressure should be, so chances are at first it’s going to be high. And that can be very hard to breathe. It’s kind of discouraging initially, but then you let the team know, and they can adjust it. It’s kind of like playing with the numbers until you know what works for you, because everybody is different. I think that’s why I struggled the first couple of weeks, and I didn’t know that they had that capability of reducing the pressure remotely. When the pressure issue came up with my sleep coach and my doctor, I thought I’d have to bring my machine in. But they said, ‘We’ll take care of it,” and the next night it was adjusted.

I’m not waking up as groggy as I used to be. Before I had the machine, I might have slept from 10 at night until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then I’d wake up, come down to the office, and just start piddling around until I’d get sleepy again. Then I’d go back and fall asleep. My days were thrown off, because I was tired and dragging and trying to sort out a nap. Now I very, very seldom take naps.

My blood pressure is still high, but it isn’t as high as it was. So I can definitely tell that’s been helped a lot. This has had a domino effect in a positive manner for me.

I try to make myself go to bed between 10:30 and 11:00, and that way I get a regular sleep pattern. Now my body knows that at 9:30, it’s time to start winding down. I sleep until about 6, and that gives me plenty of sleep, because with the oxygen and whatever the machine is doing to me, I’m definitely waking up more revived.

I’d tell other patients, definitely listen to the experts, 100%. You’re almost guaranteed results.

We might be sitting around having dinner with a family member or friend and they might mention, “I’m on CPAP,” and we just casually start talking. The first thing that comes out of their mouth will be, “Oh, I don’t like it.” But they still have issues that they’re trying to correct. Now I’m kind of like an advocate. I’ll tell them, “Hey, man, you need to try this, because this is what happened to me.” I’m not telling them what I heard or what I read; I’m telling them what I’m experiencing.

Article created in collaboration with Alliance of Sleep Apnea Partners.


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