By: Brooklyn J
My alarm buzzes me awake; it’s 5:30 and it’s time to get to school. I rub my eyes and drag myself out of bed. It’s too early. I stumble pass my parents room on my way to the kitchen. I can hear my dad snoring louder than ever. “How do I not hear that when I’m sleeping?” I ask myself.
I reach the kitchen and start pouring cold cereal into a bowl. The couch in the family room creaks pulling me from my daze. I’m not sure what made that noise. I walk to the couch to find my Mom sleeping on the couch, again. She’s been sleeping on the couch since last week. Why was she sleeping out here? Were Mom and Dad fighting? My brain flashed back to last night when I overheard Mom yelling at Dad, “I refuse to sleep in the same room as you until you get this figured out!”
The following days consisted of my Dad going to a lot of late night “doctor appointments,” or that’s what he said. He seemed fine to me, just a little more irritated than usual and very tired, probably because he and Mom were at odds. My Mom continued to sleep on the couch. I started to worry. My parents couldn’t be getting a divorce, could they? The worries engulfed my everyday routine as mom continued to sleep in the living room, and as Dad never seemed to engage in any family conversations.
During our quiet Sunday dinner, I couldn’t take it anymore and asked, “Are you guys fighting? Are you going to get a divorce?” My Mom gave me a shocked look. Dad looked up from his plate. After a long, very awkward silence my Mom finally speaks up. “No, why would you even think that?” I explain to her everything I’ve noticed in the past few weeks. When I’m done talking the two are silent, again, for a long time. Dad finally breaks the ice by laughing, hysterically. I am mad now and very confused. My parents are getting a divorce and they’re laughing about it? “Honey,” my Dad starts when he’s calmed down, “we’re not fighting. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea after taking multiple sleeping tests.” It took a second to let the information settle in my brain. Oh boy, let me tell you how dumb I felt! But I still didn’t know what sleep apnea was. I started asking my parents questions. What was a Sunday dinner turned into a sleep apnea fact finding and Q&A session.
Sleep apnea mostly affects older, overweight men. I love my dad with all my heart, but he matched this description to one degree or another. He’d probably debate a few descriptions, but he still matches the profile. My Dad died a little inside every time he went to bed. Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing while you are sleeping. When Dad went to sleep, the muscles in the back of his throat relaxed, which holds up the soft palate and some throat tissue, which creates what I like to call the “air tunnel.” When all that tissue relaxes they close up the air tunnel, so now dad can’t breathe. Luckily, his body realized he wasn’t breathing so it woke him up with a gag or a snort. The crazy thing about sleep apnea is you don’t stop breathing once in a night and then continue on in your slumber; it can occur 100 times in a single night. That lack of oxygen can lead to a stroke!
When my Dad was done explaining to me about his condition, he walked out to his car and brought back some weird, boxy machine, which he called a CPAP machine. He told us this would help stop the snoring and allow him to breathe normally throughout the night. I looked over at my Mom and she seemed more relieved than Dad did. He now wears a mask over his nose every night that creates pressure so the muscle won’t relax while dad sleeps. And now he sleeps like a baby and breathes easier.
After Mom and Dad went to sleep that night–in the same bed–I took out my laptop and looked up sleep apnea to learn a little more about it. I checked out the symptoms of sleep apnea: loud snoring, attention problems, irritability, and more. After scrolling through the list a few times, it dawned on me that the website had missed a symptom: Divorce.