Tag Archives: Apnea

I Remember Sandy (Installment #2)


I didn’t say when I’d get to this unpublished continuation from Super Storm Sandy in 2012. So here it is. It is 2021 right? 😷

Monday – That first day
I kept wondering when the worst would hit. There had to be more, right? Where was the so-called “Super Storm”? Were we just in the eye? But there was no more wind, no more downpours; it never got worse, just overcast, with occasional drizzle. Okay. I thought I would be fine for a couple of days without electricity, even without heat. And I knew for me the hardest thing would be to go without sleep.

I had a dull, deep, throbbing headache at the base of my skull and down into my shoulders. This is the sleep apnea headache that comes from lack of oxygen and lack of real rest. If you know about Apnea at all, you probably associate it with snoring. It amazes me now that I managed with it, undiagnosed, for years, and that anyone would try the CPAP solution and choose not to use it. It makes you look like Darth Vader in bed, but who cares? The CPAP mask, pumping filtered air into your face, stops the apnea and the headache. And thanks to Sandy, I wouldn’t be able to use my CPAP again until I had electricity. I was anxious about the lack of sleep and the potential for an incapacitating, whopper headache, so I located my migraine prescriptions, found the one with codeine, spilled one into my hand House-like, and swallowed.

The apartment was still warm, and luckily, I had city water. But I was isolated. No Internet. I didn’t have a radio. One of those funny little hand crank radios in the LL Bean catalog suddenly seemed like a great idea. I went outside.

The town was quiet; in fact, except for a couple of shell-shocked dog walkers, the streets were empty. I sat in my car, engine running, and charged my phone and iPad. I tested the CPAP. (It worked.) I listened to the reports. Apparently with no damage to the building, no giant tree limbs covering my car, and for now the Delaware river not flooding, for a change, I was in better shape than many. Sandy had slammed into the Jersey shore and ricocheted up the coast to cause major damage in New York and Long Island. The disaster at the Jersey Shore was yet to be fully ascertained or appreciated, but it was clear that my little town had done “well”.

Lambertville suffered downed trees, but it seemed the city had been largely spared. Throughout the damaged areas, time and again, evidence remained of a lucky event – a huge wreck of a tree, lying by the side of a house safely between walls and car, slumbering horizontally, in the driveway, house and auto, untouched. Among the downed lines and smashed and exploded transformers there were many of these near misses. All the stores and shops were closed, of course, but I didn’t see any broken windows. In the street lay the roadkill of two dented “Dish” satellite antennas, the likely source of night-time screeching, as metal was bent, bolts pried from brick and concrete by the wind, until they fell like crashing, grey, sea birds, to be gashed deeply by the concrete and asphalt that broke their dives.

I tried my iPad, but of course there was no WiFi. My iPhone on the other hand, had a good signal – 4 bars of LTE. Who would have known? Later in the week I learned that around a 3rd of the cell towers in NJ had been knocked out, one way or another, but at my location, 4 bars. Then and there I decided it was worth investing in a one month data account on the iPad. I signed up for it, and was off and running, with full access to my email, magazines, newspapers, and other junk on a device with a ten hour battery – if I could get a full charge.

On the radio, in the papers, on Twitter, everybody said, “Don’t go out. Stay home. The roads are a mess, there are wires down.” I had nowhere to go, the office was closed, our network was inaccessible, and that’s what I did. I cleaned, I gathered and arranged candles, I thought about how to eat my food before it all spoiled. Pendar was at his brother’s house up in the hills. My kids were in the South. I checked on them via Text. They were fine. I had a late breakfast.


With one burner, and one frying pan, I cooked a small omelette with some sliced turkey, a little Irish cheddar, a veggie sausage, and an English muffin. I was glad that I had assembled my butane camp stove the night before. I had good coffee, and creamer – which I regard as a necessity for my coffee. It was a hearty breakfast. Much better than the bagel and cream cheese from the local deli that I’d been eating every day for the last week or two. I had nearly a dozen eggs to get through, one was broken, and I used two in my omelette. If I kept at it, I could get through them in a day or two. I had some smoked salmon and lots of crackers. At this point the goal was to use up all the food, so as not to waste it. It began to dawn on my just how much food I kept in my small, and largely empty, pantry. I figured I had plenty to last a few days, and if it got bad, there was always pasta, canned tuna, and oatmeal.

Tuesday I enjoyed another morning omelette and coffee. I started to get antsy, but decided to stick around town anyway. Two nights so far with no CPAP meant that I had to get up and move around and take drugs before I could do much else. I was still optimistic that I would have electicity soon. There were plenty of emails from my work colleagues around the world. They obviously had little or no concept of the magnitude of the crisis. “Hope you are well.” Well wishes along with requests for work that needed to be done. I spent a lot of time answering emails.

I set up a little cellphone workstation in an effort to save electricity, as well as to use my work phone for my work email. I paired my Mac bluetooth keyboard (because my iMac was useless without electricity of course) with my iPhone, and set the iPhone on a little Kensington iPad stand. Voila! A very serviceable workstation. Now I could type, leave the screen in landscape mode, work quickly through email as I located news about the state. New York City apparently was clobbered. Knocked out. The pictures were stunning, especially of the Brooklyn power station explosion and subsequent fire.

By the afternoon, it was clear that I had no heat, and the house was getting cold as the sun lurked behind the autumn clouds and the temperature dropped.

I had offers. Several friends from work had offered their homes. Marc had no electricity, but he did have a generator and a fireplace. I could plug in my CPAP. Robert had lost six big trees, but none had hit his house or car. He had electricity AND he pointed out, FIOS. That was tempting, but he lived pretty far down river. I opted for a third night at home, while the house was still not too cold. As I explained, this could go on for a long time. I would hold out as long as possible.

Wednesday was my day to break free and look around. My third day after a night without CPAP was okay. I wore the mask all night, and maybe, even without the airpump, I breathed differently – that is, in some healthy way. The tube to the mask was dripping with moisture from my breath. My back was getting tight from skull to hips, but there wasn’t much pain on Wednesday. Are you getting the CPAP issue here? For me, everything was pretty much okay, but my big anxiety was about the medical condition. I don’t normally think of myself as a person with a disability, but besides the headaches, apnea can kill you. Usually with heart failure or a stroke. I was just worried about the headache turning into a full-blown migraine. I’d been managing my migraines for almost a year, and the idea of rolling around in agony on the floor in the freezing cold didn’t appeal to me.

I drove North to Flemington. Rt. 202, normally a highway with fairly light traffic, now a disaster because of the huge numbers of cars lined up at the few gas stations that were open. Ten, twenty, thirty, or more cars. I learned quickly to stay in the left lane to avoid tail-ending someone. With almost a full tank, I wasn’t going to worry about gas. Presumably the stations were mobbed by all the people with generators. Lots of people with big red gas cans. Flemington appeared to have power. Chilis, Fridays, Applebees, all the “ees” were open. I drove to the County Library, for the WiFi. A lot of other people already had this idea. The folks at the library had set up a conference room full of tables and extension cords, and these were all occupied. I found a single power outlet and a chair upstairs in Fiction. I worked for hours, until my butt hurt, and I had to move. A young woman claimed my seat before I had packed my backpack. Something was going on in the parking lot as I started to pull out – lots of cops and flashing lights and a big truck. I ignored the hubbub until I saw the woman standing at the exit holding a big sign, “ICE AND WATER”. “For me?” I asked. “Sure,” she said, “If you need it.”

My frig had been off for 3 days. I still had food, and was anticipating dumping a lot of it in another day or two. I made a loop around the lot and the cops threw a sleeve of ice in my trunk. I waved off the bottled water. Just when I thought I was going to lose the rest of my food, I had a chance to get by for another day or two!!

Dropped off the ice, rearranged my food, and headed to Doylestown to find out if gasoline was truly hard to get, and to go to Starbucks and free WiFi. Despite horror stories I’d heard from neighbors and on the radio about standing in line for 4 hours to get gas, there were virtually no lines once you got to the Pennsylvania side of the river. I passed a short line in New Hope, and with nothing unusual in Doylestown, I filled my tank. I headed to Starbucks, and hunkered down with a sandwich and iced coffee and spent the rest of the afternoon there.

When I got back, my apartment was dark. I had hoped there would be a light in the window, but NO. No electricity for me. About that time, Marc texted me that he had electricity at his house in Solebury. Man. Why couldn’t I have electicity? He offered a room and a bed. I told him I would be there around 9. I got my stuff together, grabbed a bottle of wine, and headed over. Sure enough, all the lights were on in his neighborhood…why couldn’t all the lights be on in my neighborhood?? I thanked him for his kindness, he told me I didn’t have to bring the wine, I insisted, and I begged off on his offer for dinner, coffee, and anything else. I just wanted a shower and to go to bed, and I did. It is great to have people who are generous enough to share their homes in a crisis, but I hate to impose, and I didn’t want to interfere with his family life or routine. I slept well, with the CPAP on, and sneaked out the door before 8 AM the next morning.

Now, let me say, all the while that I was just making meals, and staying warm, and keeping my devices charged, it was clear that much of New Jersey and most of Manhattan had suffered tremendous damage and was still dealing with phenomenal hardship. I didn’t have much to complain about, just a great deal of inconvenience. I kept that in perspective, but I was cranky. It wears you down. It makes it hard to focus.

To be continued…

Written on my iPad.




It Sneaks Up On You – A Few Words About Sleep Apnea

At least as far back as I can remember, I was known for being a snorer. Not just a snorer, but a house-shaking snorer. This always surprised me a bit, because when I was snoring, I was asleep and unaware of it. In fact, when I was married, the topic would come up occasionally with friends, and my ex-wife would go on about how I would wake up the children, and could be heard all the way downstairs, even with the bedroom door closed and the television blaring. I joked that the strange thing was, I never snored when I slept alone!

I did have this occasional strange sleep event: I’d wake from a sound sleep because I couldn’t breathe. Not only could I not breathe, but I was suffocating! And I would spring from sleep, often clear out of bed, in a panic, to expel whatever was in my lungs, with a life-saving explosion that opened my sealed throat. You would think that this might generate some concern, but I didn’t think too much about it. I just thought it came from eating ice cream before bed, which caused the insides of my mouth to stick together (even after brushing :-).

There was the exhaustion thing. I loved to take naps, but they were never very refreshing. Yet if I had a moment to lie down somewhere, I’d be inclined to close my eyes. I had a minimum one hour commute on I-95 when I stayed at my girlfiend’s house in Philadelphia, and frequently had a hard time keeping my eyes open and on the road either driving there at night, or heading to work in the morning. And there was the time my son made a poster for his elementary school class. A collage of photos “About My Family”, I was portrayed in the series “My Dad likes to sleep. A lot!” A cluster of photos featuring yours truly taking naps at various locations around the house and yard.

The poking got to me – My girlfriend poked me when I slept with her. My perception—I was annoyingly roused from sleep because I was snoring. And not just from sleep, but from finally just starting to fall into a restful sleep. It seemed like this happened continuously throughout the night. She was harassing me because my snoring bothered her. By morning I’d be full of resentment, unrested, unrefreshed, looking at a long commute, and completely oblivious to her explanation that, “You stopped breathing.” It seems like years, maybe it was years, before it sank in that she was saying, “You stopped breathing. I couldn’t sleep because I’d be lying next to you and I’d be waiting for your next breath, and it wouldn’t come.” You know, (I’d think), I’m a very healthy person. This is ridiculous. Why can’t she just ignore the snoring? Denial is a powerful thing. The poking was one of at least two times Kate saved my life. (Thanks, Kate. I’m sorry I didn’t get it sooner.) It amazes me now how long it took me to realize that I had a real problem.

Headaches – I’ve had headaches most of my life, including occasional migraines. I think they are a learned response to stress. My mom had migraines. Usually 2-3 day events, which miraculously went away when the last of her four children moved out of the house. But I was waking up every morning with a headache. In fact the pattern was: very poor quality sleep, opening my eyes with the absolute certainty that I had been cheated, though I couldn’t explain in what way, a throbbing pain at the base of my skull, the wish that I could go back to sleep and feel better, and the knowledge that the only thing I could do was get up and move around, because that usually seemed to alleviate the pain a bit. For years I’d tried prescriptions for various pain killers for the migraines, but these, and regular aspirin, were usually ineffective for this morning headache. And then, every month or two, one of these morning headaches evolved into a full-blown migraine, complete with vomiting, rolling around on the floor in agony, all that stuff.

Thank You NPR This had gone on for at least a couple years. Chronic pain, sleeplessness, exhaustion, and so on. By this time, my girlfriend had told me quite directly, “I think you have sleep apnea.” And I still did not want to hear it. I think we had even gotten to the point of talking about CPAP, some kind of screwy contraption where you wear a breathing mask to bed. How absurd! Besides, I had more important issues to solve, such as my migraines, and a newly evolving chronic back pain. However, the seed was planted, and I am thankful I had the radio on one morning during a long tiring commute. I wasn’t paying that much attention at first, but I reached to turn the volume up when I realized that whoever was speaking, was describing exact symptoms in precise detail that matched my own. Everything. And the story was about how this person after years of pain, had gone to a sleep clinic, been diagnosed with sleep apnea, prescribed a CPAP machine, and after a few weeks on CPAP, ALL of his symptoms had gone away. All gone away. I don’t even recall if they spoke about the lethal aspects of Apnea—it can kill you after all—because all that mattered to me was that this guy made his pain go away.

I looked into my insurance, discovered the process to get into a sleep clinic, got a referral from my General Practitioner, and was on my way. That could be another blob, but let’s just say, I tried the CPAP. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Basically, you wear a mask that blows air at your nose and mouth. Somehow this keeps the soft tissue inside your mouth from closing off your throat.

Within days, had dreams! One thing I haven’t mentioned, and hadn’t really noticed at the time, is that people who don’t have a healthy sleep cycle don’t dream (or not much, or don’t ever remember their dreams, whatever…) Suddenly my brain was exploding with vivid, memorable, colorful dreams. And, I was feeling rested. And, I almost never had a morning headache! Within a few weeks, I had more energy and my backaches had evaporated. And there were improvements that can’t be measured – I was thinking more clearly. I’ve been on the CPAP now for over 6 years. It is a little hard to get used to; you have to figure out what kind of mask works for you. It’s not perfect. If your partner wants you to live s/he’ll understand and support you putting on this screwy thing before you fall asleep. You can work it out. It is so worth it.

Written on my iPad