The following interview was conducted on 2 February, 2012.
Tell us briefly how you felt before you were told by a doctor that you had sleep apnea.
My wife used to complain about my snoring, but to me, snoring seemed to be a normal part of sleeping. As a result of constant frustration, in 1990 I went to see my doctor to find out what was causing it. I didn’t think there was anything more to it than just the noise of snoring.
What treatment was recommended?
My doctor recommended a procedure that was supposed to correct vibration and snoring. It uses a laser to burn out the tissue in your throat, and they burned from the back of my tongue as far down the throat as they could reach. This process removes the uvula and my throat was black, and I couldn’t eat for two weeks. Even taking the painkillers with a bit of water was enough to make me feel like passing out, the pain was so intense.
Was it successful?
It was not at all successful. After a few months, snoring returned. Unfortunately, as a result of removing the uvula I can choke when eating, as there is nothing to stop food from going into my windpipe. My doctor no longer recommends this procedure.
When did you start using positive airway pressure therapy?
Later that year I went for a sleep test — an overnight test where they put sensors all over you and measure what happens during your sleep — and the doctor at the sleep lab found that I was stopping breathing every 1–2 minutes.
I was shown the graphs showing my heart rate race every time I stopped breathing. The sleep lab doctor prescribed positive airway pressure therapy to treat my apneas.
How long did it take you to get used to being on treatment and using the equipment?
I was amazed that I adapted to [using the device] overnight. I found I was sleeping better straight away. I felt better, and my wife was happy that I’d stopped snoring. I’ve never had any qualms about using [the equipment] since.
Why do you think some people resist the idea of therapy at first?
Some of my friends have also been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and I’ve noticed that it’s the ones who didn’t have a humidifier who complain about sore throats and discomfort. I was using a humidifier from the beginning, and I’ve never had any problems with breathing on [the device].
Can you explain how you feel on therapy today?
It’s very simple. If I don’t use my device, I don’t get adequate sleep. I’m tired by lunchtime and I get hay fever and headaches. I still travel a lot for my work, particularly to China, and I find when I occasionally can’t plug my machine in, I quickly feel quite run down.
Using my therapy equipment, my life has improved, and my wife’s life has improved. If we go away in a social group, such as skiing, it’s much easier to be in the group because I’m not making such a noise at night with snoring. The [device] is portable enough to take with me, wherever I travel. I only wish that all hotels would provide power points closer to the beds. I always take an adaptor, a power board and an extension cord with me now just in case, so I can be sure of being able to plug my machine in.
"You need to try it, and see what difference it makes, before you can really decide about it. In my opinion, I’d also say use a humidifier."
What words of encouragement would you say to someone just starting out on therapy?
I would say, just start using it! A lot of people hesitate or make a decision about something before they even try it. You need to try it, and see what difference it makes, before you can really decide about it. In my opinion, I’d also say use a humidifier. Without it you’ll find it harder to adapt … and it may be a lot less comfortable.
Finally, I would say that you should participate in your treatment as fully as you can. I was recently given a new mask that didn’t suit me, so I’ve had to follow up and find the mask that I can use every night. My equipment provider was very supportive in helping to determine the most suitable mask for me.