Harley's Personal Story
My name is Harley and this is a true story. In fact, it is my personal journey into years of suffering, pain and anguish owing to an un-diagnosed condition called obstructive sleep apnea. Many years of incorrect diagnosis and treatment by a number of well-meaning doctors prevented me from getting the proper treatment for my condition.
I tell my story in the hope that physicians and other health workers will recognize the urgency of their learning about sleep apnea and prescribing testing for this most under-diagnosed condition. I hope as well that people with the symptoms of sleep apnea will take this condition very seriously. It could save lives, possibly yours.
I thought it prudent to begin my story at an event in August 1991, an event that changed everything about my life, and for the next 10 years almost ended it.
From 1989 to 1993 I was a radio host of a live-talk program on radio station KKLA in Los Angeles, CA. My program was from midnight to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday. I enjoyed my work and it was some of the greatest times in my life on radio.
My wife was with me that particular evening. After the program, we were driving home to Santa Ana, a bit more than an hour from the studio. About five miles from the house, I felt my heart began to beat uncontrollably, both in the rhythm and speed. Since I was driving, I was very concerned that I might be having a heart attack or stroke.
This was the first time that something this serious had happened to me and I immediately awakened my wife and told her of my condition and that I was going to the hospital. In those years my normal pulse was probably 70. At the hospital that morning it was over 150.
The main objective was to get the heart rate down to normal, which my caregivers managed to do that late in the evening of the first day. I was kept overnight for observation. I asked the doctor what was the reason for my condition. His answer was surprising. He said that he had no idea what caused it. This answer would be repeated over and over again for the next nine years!
I was referred to a specialist two days later and they ran an electrocardiogram and sent me away with medication. Since they did not know the cause, this began the journey of many disappointing “treatments” of different medications.
From 1991 until 2001, my life began to nosedive. I began to suffer off and on from massive headaches, usually in the summer, but not exclusively. These headaches lasted up to two weeks and no treatment would stop them. I was prescribed Tylenol with codeine, as well as extra strength over-the-counter medications. None of them worked. I was also having horrible nightmares, but until I began CPAP treatment many years later, I had no thought that the nightmares and sleep apnea were related.
I had been told that I had cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), atrial fibrillation, etc,. but no firm diagnosis was offered as to the cause of any of these alleged conditions. Not only that, but a heart ultrasound performed in July 1999 showed no heart abnormalities. I had been treated for heart disease; but there was never a connection between the cause and cure.
During all this time I was increasingly irritable, fatigued, gaining weight, losing the ability to concentrate, lethargic, sickly, and the list goes on. I could never get enough sleep and never get to sleep! I took two naps some days and still never felt rested. It was at this time that I progressed to the worst state of my life, with all of these symptoms climaxing in October 2001. That was the day I was subjected to electrical cardio-version to reset my heart rhythm.
This was it. I had no more solutions. The emergency room doctor told me that unless I lost weight I was going to die. I told my wife that I feared the next time I would be in a hospital concerning my heart I would have a heart attack or stroke. I was resolved to face the fact that I was probably going to die.
What Changed my Life
In November 2000, I met Dr. Alex. At this time he was working at St. John’s Medical Center. He had been prodding me to come to a “sleep study.” I had no idea what he was talking about and thought the entire matter of sleep being the cause of my issues was foolishness. I told him that all I needed to do was to lose weight and I would be just fine. In December 2001, he prodded me again with the idea that I might have the disease called “sleep apnea.”
Frustrated, cranky, over-medicated, and with a blistering headache, I went to St. John’s to prove to Alex that his studies concerning me were all wrong. On New Year’s Eve 2001, swerving all over the 405 freeway, I finally got to St. John’s and there he explained to me exactly what sleep apnea was and I began to get more curious as he explained to me that my life was characteristic of someone with sleep apnea. He wired me up, prepared the bed and CPAP machine, and away I went to sleep.
When I woke up on New Year’s Day 2002, it was a rude awakening. The study showed that during sleep my oxygen levels steadily decreased from a percentage in the high 90s to the low 70s. That was serious. Not only that, but he showed me how many times I stopped breathing! It was quite a shock. The very first words from my mouth after I saw the results was, “Hook me up!”
The result of using CPAP was nothing short of astonishing!
The next day, I had tremendous energy! I also noticed that I actually slept throughout the night. The position that I lay down in bed was the same position I was in when I rose from sleep. I noticed immediately that I had no more headaches, no more fatigue, no more snoring, no more nightmares, no more sleepless nights and no more heart episodes!
The proper treatment corrected all of the horrific symptoms that plagued my life for many years. From the day of my delivery from this ill-health bondage, I have been telling people I know, especially those who have similar symptoms that I had, to get tested. I know that for me, the proper diagnosis of my medical condition literally saved my life.
I now can fulfill one of my lifelong desires; weight training and cardio. My exercise program has never been better. I am training better at 50 years old, than I did in my 20s! Whenever I speak of Alex, I always refer to him as “the man God used to save my life.”
Does this story mimic your life?
If you're an Alaskan resident and you believe that you may have symptoms of sleep apnea, call Alaska Sleep Clinic to schedule a free 10-minute phone consultation with one of our clinical sleep specialists. In just 10 minutes we can help you discover whether or not your symptoms warrant a sleep study to help you get diagnosed and treated for your sleep disorder.