13 September

My Doctor Was Right. I’m Positive For Severe Sleep Apnea. Humbled Again By My Own Stupidity

by Jon Katz

(Bud and Zinnia playing, chewing on each other’s heads)

Well, I’m once again humbled by my own arrogance and obstinacy. And yes, stupidity.  More than a year ago, I went to see a urologist about the prostate issues that almost inevitably catch up to aging men.

I liked Dr. Capello very much. He was smart, funny, and took the time to explain how the prostate and the bladder intersect and work together – or don’t. One of the first things he told me was that he was certain I had sleep apnea, the common affliction that causes a blockage of air to people sleeping.

Sleep apnea is also a source of frequent urination. The heart keeps thinking it’s about to stop, and the bladder gets alarmed.

After a whole night of testing in a sleep lab, technicians can count how many times your breathing is interrupted, and if it’s a lot, masks are prescribed that force air through the nose and throat that helps you sleep. Everyone in my life told me not to listen to people who talked about sleep apnea. I had too much energy for that, they said.

I dismissed this idea of Dr. Capello’s. I work long and hard; I don’t need a mask.

Maria and I both saw no signs of sleep apnea, even though there were a lot of them, we now know. For years, I’ve had trouble sleeping, woke up tired, and in recent years often felt tired during the day, something new for me.

Still, I resisted the sleep lab. I didn’t want to wear any mask at night. I told Dr. Capello I like to have sex with my wife, and  I didn’t want to scare her by wearing a Darth Vader mask all night.  He was not impressed.

“When  you want to have sex,” he said, “take the mask off.”

A few weeks ago, I agreed to take the sleep lab test and went to the Saratoga Hospital to spend the night. Being monitored. I went to sleep with 36 wires coming out of my head.

I heard nothing until this morning when I was told I not only had sleep apnea – an obstruction to breathing at night – but it was extreme! My breath was interrupted at least 80 times an hour.

No wonder I didn’t wake up feeling rested.

I’ll meet with specialists who will fit me with masks that force air through the nasal page and help people sleep over the next few days. People who have heart disease and diabetes – that would be me –  really need their sleep. I’ve learned that when breathing is interrupted, the brain sends out an SOS to the bladder, among other places, and that promotes excessive urination. It can also harm the heart, which thinks it’s having an attack.

If you are open to it, aging and health care can teach more about life than almost anything else., even if you are a blockhead male.

During my health care experience, I’ve learned what women already know: men can be stupid, oblivious, and almost suicidal when it comes to their health and listening to people who know more than we do.

We refuse to believe we are mortals, subject to weakness and change that needs some help. We can’t bear to need help or admit to being vulnerable and needy, even when we are. That is a sign of weakness. No, I’m not having heart troubles; I have asthma or allergies. No, I don’t need prostate surgery; I’m just getting older. No, I don’t have diabetes,  I’ll change my diet, no, I don’t have sleep apnea, I sleep every night.No, there’s nothing wrong with my foot, it’s just a callous.

It seems no amount of humbling, humiliation, suffering, or pain can fix the most dangerous disease men face: stupidity, arrogance, and hubris. Every time I think I get it, I learn later that I don’t get it at all.

I  am learning slowly and painfully.  It can be simple. Go to the doctor when I’m not sure. Listen to the doctor even when I am sure.  I know we all hate the health care system and its irrational inequity and red tape. But every one of my doctors has been right when I’ve been wrong and absolutely would not be alive today if not for them.

Somehow, we have come to embrace the idea of the Big Lies – we can’t trust these people; they are often wrong; they just want our money. Here’s my truth about doctors and nurses. They know a lot; they see a lot. I trust them, period.

And now, the patient and observant Dr. Capello may soon be responsible for helping me to sleep again, which will make me stronger and healthier in every single way. Add helping me sleep to saving my heart and my life.

So I was wrong once again. I have an extreme form of sleep apnea and will soon be sleeping with a mask. If the doctors are right once more, it will help my heart, my diabetes, my sleeping, and my writing too. Old writers need to sleep as much or more than anybody.

My head echoes with lessons once more. Will I ever get smarter? Can I ever learn to listen and trust anyone but Maria? This is the good part, the lucky part.

I have the kind of medical care that helps people and saves lives.  I have before me the chance to get stronger and healthier. I am dumb, but not so dumb that I can’t learn important lessons. This episode tells me again that there is hope for me if I can learn and absorb what needs to be learned and absorbed.

And as I think about it, I once again give thanks for the chance to be healthier while it is still possible. The mask I so dreaded will help me get the rest I badly need. It’s nothing but good news.


  1. When my husband was in the emergency room having had ‘indigestion’ that kept him awake for a couple of hours and was still feeling ‘sweaty & shaky’ – we are going to the hospital NOW. The blood tests came back indicating he had had a heart attack. He told the doctor he thought it was gall bladder. The doctor looked at him and said ‘you can call it that, I am calling it a heart attack.’ Fortunately, my husband did learn to listen and now, 10 years later he is in great physical shape – he will be 75 in a week. As for my sleep apnea, I’ve worn a CPAP for 10 years and am so grateful. It took a bit to get used to it but I sleep really well now. Good luck and thanks for sharing your stubbornness and your willingness to eventually listen and learn.

  2. You will feel so much better. Rem6to ask if a bipap machine would work for you. I love mine. It’s going on 15 years now and I can’t sleep without it.

  3. I remember about two years or so ago, you briefly said something about your doctor wanting to test you for sleep apnea, and you wouldn’t hear of it. I was stunned, as you have had bypass surgery, and sleep apnea is a big strain on the heart. I’m glad you finally got tested. If you can get used to CPAP, and not everyone can, you will feel like a new person. I’ve never even met you, and so many things you have said made it so obvious to me that you have OSA. While it’s become a huge money maker, and is definitely over diagnosed, it was pretty clear that you had it. No surprises at all. Give the CPAP some time, you will get used to it, and you will feel better. As far as sex is concerned, I can’t imagine why that’s even a concern. You only wear your CPAP when you sleep.

  4. Dr. Capello is quite smart, and has helped me, too….I’m glad you went to see him. The entire prectivce is fabulous, and I can’t say enoubh about their care. Bravo for knowing there is more to learn!

  5. I’m glad that you are finally realizing that it’s important to listen to your doctors & other health care professionals. I, too, wonder why men are so determined to not listen to their doctors. My husband wears a snorkel type mask, it works well for him.

  6. 15 years ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and given the mask, which I hated. There was an article in the Readers Digest about the head of the SleepApnea assoc. working in Milwauee, WI. I made an appointment with him and had major surgery to correct the issues. Now at 77 no issues and feeling great

  7. Off subject but don’t know where to turn – CYNTHIA DANIELLO!
    For various reasons I have been WAY behind keeping track of my favorite Bloggers [not you and Maria but missed some blocks of time in Spring. Just checked on her Blog Neverendingstory this evening and saw that the last post was July 31st which sent me bursting into tears with worry that either something happened to her or to Edgar. Do you know anything? I know of your part in her beginning her Blog and had seen your update back in May so I’m hoping that you could update myself & others of us who discovered this dear woman thru you. I’ve followed you for many years now from back when you began. Love to you and to Maria.

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