Thursday, April 8, 2010

In pursuit of elusive sleep -- vol. 1

One good thing about having been sick for 3 years is that I've come to appreciate the most basic human functions. Like, breathing and sleeping. :D

Last night I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, hence, my body aches all over down to my fingers. What I didn’t know until recently was that I must not have gotten much deep sleep in my life.

Believe it or not, Sarah Palin was the catalyst in my quest for sleep (honest).

I'll explain. One day in 2008, shortly before the big election, I was getting an anti-viral IV infusion at the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Center. There was another woman sitting next to me, also getting an IV. She was chatty and was talking about various things. As the conversation turned to the election, she started saying how she thought Sarah Palin was a great choice for Vice President.

…Let’s just say we had some different opinions about Ms. Palin. (I tend to think “She seems like a nice lady” is not a good enough qualification for Vice President, considering where “He seems like someone I can have a beer with” got us.) So our loose, fibromyalgia-based friendship had a rocky start. But we kept talking, and as the conversation turned to the subject of sleep, she said something quite interesting.

Ms. S: My tongue is too big for my mouth.
Me: Come again?
Ms. S: My mouth is too crowded, because I have a small jaw. I was diagnosed with a light case of sleep apnea about a year ago, but wearing a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine didn’t help. So I’m working with this famous dentist in Tacoma (WA).

Dentist? For fibromyalgia? It was an interesting story. She went to see this renowned dentist for an evaluation (which I believe cost several hundred dollars by itself), and was told that what's in her mouth—teeth, tongue and other fleshy parts—were too big for her small mouth, and that was the reason for her apnea, which developed to fibromyalgia.

The doctor’s solution involved wearing his patented custom-made device (in your mouth) at all times, day and night at first, then eventually just when you sleep, in order to “re-orient everything in your mouth.” This supposedly allowed you to breathe and sleep better, resulting in increased oxygen intake. His theory was that increased oxygen intake, coupled with better sleep, cures fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

I thought, huh, how interesting. I thought I'd heard most of the wacky theories and treatments (one even involved a neck surgery), but I hadn't heard that one. The most interesting part to me was that she was thin and fit by American standards. My previous conception of sleep apnea involved slightly overweight people, whose flesh kind of got in the way in the back of their throats. An avid equestrian, Ms. S was clearly in shape.

“How do you know your tongue is too big?” I asked. Ms. S said, “First, your tongue is always touching the roof of your mouth. Second, when you look at the front tip of your tongue, it always looks kind of scalloped because it’s pressed hard against your teeth.”

Hmmm. I’d been called a tongue thruster (someone who pushes her teeth forward with tongue; so much so it screws up the teeth placement) by dentists. I’d also been told by acupuncturists and doctors of Chinese medicine that I had a scalloped tongue almost every time I saw them. I thought it meant I was bloated or something. And my tongue is always taking up much of my mouth space, touching the roof of my mouth at all times (when I have my mouth closed). So I started wondering, “Does this apply to me?”

But her story sounded crazy—she was going to place her faith in this doctor, because nothing else worked, and pay him $20,000 (or something like that) for this treatment. “Oh, but it’s actually a good deal, because it includes all the testing and follow-up appointments, as well as adjustments he makes for this device.”

At that point, my faint interest diminished—what kind of decent doctor asks for $20,000 upfront? I also didn’t know what’s supposed to be the “normal” mouth orientation.

“How did you find out about your apnea?” I asked. She told me she had what’s called a sleep study done at Virginia Mason Hospital's Sleep Disorder Center. That sounded like something covered by our insurance, so I took a mental note. Maybe I could first figure out if I have a similar problem.

There, my quest for sleep began—because we disagreed about Sarah Palin.


(To be continued…)

[I’ll write in Japanese once I get my new laptop!]