Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ignorant Addicts

I was having lunch with a friend recently, and the subject turned to sleep apnea. He'd been diagnosed some time back and was treated with corrective positive air pressure. “It changed my life! I didn't even realize I had a problem until I started treatments.”

That statement resonated with me. In response to elevated blood pressure and my doctor's strong suggestion that I cut back on caffeine, I started drinking a lot more water about 6 months ago. I replaced the 5-6 (or more!) cups of coffee I drank each day with water. My blood pressure hasn't changed much, but I've gotten sick way less often: zero times of any note since I started this experiment, unless you count some sniffles that went away after a night's sleep. I'd heard all the stuff about drinking water, but I figured that I had enough (brown) liquids going through my system on a daily basis to wash out whatever viral/bacterial yuckiness was accumulating. Oh, how wrong I was!

The only thing that makes me sick now are insipid children's books

The thing is, things were so bad that I even thought I had a serious immune system deficiency. I'd been getting sick every 3-4 weeks for years, maybe even decades. Sometime in my 20s, I learned that I could mask the symptoms with nasal sprays and Sudafeds, and I always powered through the bouts one way or another (usually with even more caffeine). A few people noticed, including my wife; but I could always attribute my sniffles to some sort of temporary life circumstance. Stress. A trip to take care of my parents. Dissertation lack-of-sleep. Whenever I've looked for excuses for getting sick, I've usually found ones that sound compelling. Two things started freaking me out in recent years, though.

The first was how readily my son caught my colds. Unlike me, he couldn't just hide the symptoms with a few squirts of Afrin. He got sick a lot his first year. So often, in fact, that the doctors talked about putting tubes into his ears. I don't know if anyone suspected, but it wasn't bad luck. It was bad parenting, and I knew it.

The second was an encounter with my current boss. I met with him to discuss something, and he remarked, “Man, you're always sick!” He didn't mean much by it, but I felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar; and given that I didn't plan to quit or get fired anytime soon, I worried that this stereotype could turn into something awful. It's ok to have issues for a week or even a month. My dad had passed away not long before, so I had yet another excuse for “I'm sick because I'm not sleeping” at the ready. But everyone gets sick of excuses after a while. At some point, life either gets better or you adjust. Either way, the statue of limitations expires after something like two months. After that, you're the guy with the limp, and the ace on the team is never the guy with the limp.

Fortunately, my little water thing solved a decade's-old problem, and it's made me wonder what other modifications would make my life a lot better. This isn't even a new thought for me. I didn't realize I had chronic sinus infections throughout middle school and high school until I was a junior in college. My feet were so painful at times between 1992 and 2000 that I couldn't walk, a problem that disappeared after spending $10 on orthotic inserts. What other problems do I have that I don't even realize? The aforementioned problems really shouldn't have lingered for more than a week or so in retrospect, but one has to realize he has a problem in the first place before looking for solutions. Do I require an intervention? For what? Help!... maybe?