One Terrific Lie


I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea several years ago. In the simplest terms, sleep apnoea is when you stop breathing, so your brain panics and startles you awake just enough to get everything going again. Because this is happening, you never settle into a deep, restorative sleep, so when you awake you feel tired, even if you’ve slept eight hours.

To give you an overview of its seriousness, when I was in hospital with a broken leg, a nurse woke me around 3.00am because she said I didn’t appear to be breathing. On another occasion, after I was wheeled back to my bed following surgery, a nurse said she was watching me fail to breathe for forty-five seconds, and was just seconds away from calling for a crash-cart to resuscitate me, but then my chest heaved.

Sleep apnoea is almost like getting a foothold in dying.

When I took the sleep apnoea test, the results showed I was having forty-seven instances of apnoea per hour. That rated my apnoea as ‘severe’.

Dealing with the repercussions of sleep apnoea through a day is difficult. I don’t feel roused in the morning until I’m fully moving, but then once I get to work I can begin to struggle again. It’s not unusual if I’m performing a repetitive task in front of the computer – something that doesn’t require a lot of mental stimulation – for me to feel as if I could nod off right there, the way you would feel when you’re drifting off late at night in front of the TV. Even getting up and walking back and forth doesn’t help fully wake me.

The treatment for sleep apnoea is using a C-PAP machine. This involves wearing a strap under my chin and over my head which, theoretically, is meant to keep my mouth closed through the course of the night. Then I wear a mask over my nose – this has straps running high (over the temples) and low (over the jaw) that loop around my head. The C-PAP machine pumps continuous air through a long tube (about one-metre), into the mask, and through my nostrils. This is meant to keep my airways open as I sleep, so I don’t have any instances where I stop breathing. The strap that keeps my mouth shut is meant to ensure none of the air escapes. (If this all sounds uncomfortable and restrictive, it is.)

I know people with sleep apnoea who use a C-PAP machine and wake up feeling refreshed and invigorated. The C-PAP revolutionises their life. I wake up still feeling tired. There’s times I wake up during the middle of the night to find the tubing curled around my neck, or behind my head. Other times, I’ve tossed so much, that I’ve pulled the machine from the bedside drawer, where it sits. Also, it’s not uncommon for me to move so much – I’ve always been a restless sleeper – that the Velcro straps come undone.

Other times, They come. I’m unsure who They are – not aliens, I think. But the walls melt away and They rise up – hazy shadows that converge on me. The room drops to a chill and my breath mists into the mask. They reach into my mind – I feel the icy tendrils race through my head, until my thoughts slow, then grind to a halt. I think that’s when I thrash the most, although it’s like my head is pinned to the pillow. Whatever I’m thinking about in that semi-conscious state constructs around me, until it becomes real and alive and immersive. Sometimes it’s nonsense settings, the mishmash of the subconscious. Other times it’s streetscapes, or somewhere scenic. They waver then, studying it all, as a golden warmth gradually, and painstakingly, builds, and washes everything out – the scene, as well as Them. That’s when I wake, gasping for breath, and finding the mask askew. I strap it back into place and try to go back to sleep.

Whatever happens during the night, I wake up exhausted.

And after a long day’s work, it can make sitting at a computer in the evening difficult – especially when you’re trying to think of what comes next.

But I keep trying.

I keep moving.

Last Week’s Lie: I’ve only ever written one poem, and it was as a joke. So, as shocking as it may be, I have no poetry collection about to come out.