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Opinion

Sam Delaney: A CPAP machine is breathing new life into me

No more waking up knackered for Sam Delaney – he’s got a brand-new gadget in the bedroom. If only his family could stop laughing

I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnoea. It’s a condition that causes you to stop breathing in your sleep. I know what you’re thinking: don’t you die if you stop breathing? Well, I’m no doctor, but I think you need to stop breathing for a good couple of minutes to be properly dead.

Sleep apnoea generally interrupts your breathing for just a moment or so, causing you to wake up, adjust your sleeping position and drift back off again without even noticing. The worst symptom is that you feel really tired in the daytime. Even if you think you’ve had a good eight hours, you have, in fact, been awake on numerous, imperceptible occasions. An interrupted sleep like that can leave you not only knackered but – according to the NHS website – irritable and unable to concentrate for long periods.

These are all symptoms that are more than familiar to me. So, something had to be done. The GP put me onto a local ‘Sleep Professor’ who established that I was a big night-time snorer. This, he reckoned, was a dead giveaway in apnoea sufferers.

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Most apnoea is caused by an obstruction in your airways which tends to grow as you reach middle age and your once beautiful head slowly transforms into a twisted, lumpy mutation, both inside and out. 

The prof sent me a test in the post: it required me to stick two small tubes up my nostrils and strap a heart monitor around my chest at bedtime. In the morning, I sent it back to him in the box it had arrived in.

A few days later, he called to give me the bad news: I was balls deep in sleep apnoea. But the good news was that he had a cure: a swishy-looking breathing device (real name, CPAP machine) which gently blows air up your nose while you sleep to keep the old lungs and heart functioning properly throughout the night.

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If there are two things I love, it’s new gadgets and sleeping. The CPAP machine ticks both boxes, so I was delighted when mine arrived later that week, absolutely gratis thanks to our wonderful NHS (and before any uptight fuckwit complains that this is a waste of resources, you should know that (a) sleep apnoea really can kill people in their sleep if left untreated and (b) I can’t generate the tax contributions that help fund the health service if I’m half asleep and/or grumpy all day long, can I?).

The machine is pretty dainty. Inside is a sim-card with a sleep programme created by the sleep professor, just for me. Protruding from the front is a long, concertinaed plastic tube, on the end of which is a plastic mask that sits over my nose and mouth. The mask is held firmly to my face by accompanying head straps.

Admittedly, it is not the most elegant of looks to rock in the marital boudoir. But my wife has been very supportive. She laughed a little bit after helping me fit the mask for the first time. But, to be honest, she is a beneficiary of the contraption as much as I am. I was often oblivious to my own loud, incessant snoring. My wife – as she told me regularly and in fairly robust terms – was not.

So now, at night, after I’ve read a few pages of my book, I attach this mad paraphernalia, press the ‘go’ button and – somehow – submit to the comforting embrace of what Shakespeare once referred to as “nature’s soft nurse”.

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For the first few nights, I woke up a few times to readjust the mask. But now I’ve got the hang of things and I wake up feeling refreshed and full of pep. My wife hasn’t heard me snore for a couple of weeks. My son says I look like a robot elephant.

My daughter has compared me to Anakin Skywalker in his final death throes. When I showed him a picture, my best mate said “people usually wear stuff like that when they’re just about to die”.

They’ve all got a point. But I feel more alive than I have done in years. The last time I felt this energised, I
was on drugs.

Read more Sam Delaney here. Follow him on Twitter here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed, marginalised and vulnerable people the opportunity to earn an income.

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