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Falling in Love with a cPap On

A Personal Perspective: How to be human one night's sleep at a time.

Key points

  • It's hard to feel sexy when you're wearing a cPap.
  • It's tempting to hide in the dark, no matter how reassuring your partner is.
  • Making peace with wearing a cPap can be a way to make peace with being human.

I have a cPap, a continuous positive airway pressure device. When it's on it looks sort of like something an astronaut would wear. That's what I think anyway.

There are different kinds of cPap masks. Mine has a plastic roughly nose-shaped thing connected to a rubber thing that goes around your head attached to a spiral metal tube connected to a black box. You put the mask on over your face and leave it there all night long while you sleep. The object is to force air through your nose to keep your airways from shutting down, which my airways do otherwise. I actually stop breathing something like 50 times an hour, as I learned after I did two separate sleep tests, one at home—someone called me from the sleep department after that and said, alarmingly, “You have severe sleep apnea!”—and one at the hospital to figure out exactly how much air I needed to have forced up my nose to keep my airways from shutting down.

For the second test, I had to lie in a single bed all night connected to all manner of tubes and skin patches, and other gizmos. There were purple polyester sheets on the bed and I only dozed for about 10 minutes all night, which was enough time for the technician to figure out that I need a mere six pounds of air up my nose to keep my airways from shutting down.

It took some getting used to, wearing that thing on my head, strapped over my face, breathing into my nose, every night, but I knew from the start it was worth it. “Welcome to oxygen,” I said to my body the first morning when I woke up after managing to sleep with it on for about six hours. I’ve pretty much worn it every night since. I was worried that my younger cat, who was barely older than a kitten when I got her, would try to play with it, but that didn’t happen. What did happen was that I fell in love.

I left it sitting in its little suitcase on the bedside table, the first time I stayed overnight at Michael’s house. I knew I should take it out and set it up, put water in the little humidifier tub you stick on the end of the black box, and strap the mask onto my face, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I felt embarrassed; I couldn’t even imagine pulling that weird astronaut thing over my face in this romantic moment. So I didn’t.

I didn’t feel too good when I woke up in the morning, but I was hoping it was the wine I had drunk the night before and not the lack of oxygen. The cPap sat in its case, unused, the next night too, and Michael kept asking me about it, encouraging me to wear it.

At night before we got into bed on the third night he hugged me while we stood by the closet. “I like girls who wear cPaps,” he said. And that’s what made me take it out and set it up, go into his little kitchen and find some purified water to put in the humidifier tub, strap the thing onto my face in the dark, turn my back on him, and go to sleep.

I still put it on in the dark even though Michael has told me he’s proud of me for caring enough about my health to use it. Sometimes he even reminds me to put it on when I’m drifting off to sleep without remembering it. I trust him enough to believe he won’t abandon me for looking like an astronaut at night in bed instead of the woman of his dreams. "Of course, I won't abandon you for that!" he says, looking at me like I'm crazy when I mention the thought to him.

I don’t know why I still think I should hide when I’ve got that gizmo on my face, making me look weird, unfeminine, and maybe even a little alien.

Who am I really hiding from, I wonder. It has to be me. Me with all the messages floating around in my head about what it is to be lovable and attractive, absorbed from the culture and taken in during some of the painful parts of my childhood.

And so I wear my cPap every night whether I want to or not. I think it improves my sleep and I know I feel better in the morning than I used to. And maybe, it occurs to me now, I’m learning something from wearing it, something about humility, about what it is to be human.

Courtesy Mary Allen
Source: Courtesy Mary Allen
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