YesterdayI had a doctor's appointment. My doc is closing up shop for some semi-retirement, and I'm gonna miss him. He's the sort of no-nonsense guy that I need for a medical professional, because as self-aware as I sometimes appear, I'm the king of denial when it comes to actually living my life. He's been urging me to think about quitting my drinking ever since I first saw him to get out of a really terrible anxiety period, and I was looking forward to telling him about my progress (6 months tomorrow).
He was happy for me, but he had something more serious to discuss. Last year I went to a sleep assessment thing, where they hook you up to a bunch of wires and tubes in a lab and expect you to get a good night's sleep while they watch you through a camera. One of the most uncomfortable experiences I've ever done. I was supposed to go to a follow up appointment, but ended up missing it due to a combination of anxiety and alcoholism. Well, my doc had the results, and now I've got one more reason to stay sober.
I have "Very Severe" sleep apnea, which means that I stop breathing when I sleep. It took a moment for me to process the words "very severe", because my doctor doesn't throw those wordss around at random. I guess during the sleep study I stopped breathing long enough for them to register a dip in my blood oxygen levels over 350 times. In one night. My doc said those periods were all very short (and I answered: "Of course they're short! At 350 times a night, if they were long I wouldn't be breathing at all!"), but because of the related health issues around apnea (including increased risk of stroke and heart disease), it's pretty serious.
Then my doc explained something about sleep apnea and alcohol. When someone stops breathing when they're sleeping, their oxygen levels in their blood start to drop. Most often, the brain detects this drop, says "uh-oh!" and then wakes you up so that you can start breathing again. Now, in the intoxicated brain, this signal doesn't always get through. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how an alcoholic dies in his sleep and then traumatizes his life partner by forcing him to wake up to a dead body one morning.
So, today I have to call the sleep clinic and schedule another session. I'm hoping that the combination of sobriety, getting more excercise, and not smoking pot will all lead to a better diagnosis, but I'll probably have to be one of those guys who sleeps with a face mask for the rest of my life.
But I was drinking heavily for months after that first sleep test, which means I stopped breathing more than 30,000 times, many of those times after drinking huge volumes of alcohol. I have no idea how many times I escaped death, but let's just say I've got another good reason to stay away from alcohol.