Written By: Wes Perkins
The purpose of this story is to help inform other veterans, and civilians alike, of the symptoms, diagnosis and ultimately the treatment of sleep apnea, as well as how it relates to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As we all are aware PTSD is caused by any form of trauma, not just exposure to combat.
About two years ago, I began waking up startled and gasping for breath at least every other hour or so. I became accustomed to averaging just two to three hours of sleep at night, and not even REM, restorative sleep. Being the stubborn, military person that I am, I just dealt with it, sucked it up and drove on. My treatment was taking short little naps daily. It came to a head when I was in an inpatient treatment facility for PTSD. We were put two to a room and on the first night my roommate told me the next morning that he stayed up all night to keep an eye on me because it sounded like I stopped breathing frequently. Eventually, the only way I could get any kind of sleep was if I slept sitting up.
I finally got an opportunity to have a sleep study done at my local VA. In order to prepare for the study, the nurse attached many electrodes to various parts on the body to record vitals while you sleep. After I fell asleep, the next thing I remember was the light turning on and the nurse waking me and telling me that she had to put me on oxygen for the rest of the test. I simply asked if I was snoring. Her eyes got so wide that I thought they would pop out of their sockets, and she said "Oh yes !" and "Mr. Perkins, you stopped breathing more than SIXTY times within ONE hour....I have to put you on oxygen." This was the first time I had heard anything like it and quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
The next morning, as she was taking the equipment off me, I asked if I could then go home like everyone else and she replied "No sir, I called the doctor on call and informed him of your test and he's ordered you to stay here until he can review your case." Now this REALLY made me nervous.
About an hour later I was asked to come into a room and have a seat at a table, on which there was a little box with a long hose and a mask of some sort. I would soon learn that it was to be my Continuous Positive Airway Pressure
(CPAP) machine. I will be as honest as I can here, and tell you exactly what the doctor told the nurse to tell me. "Mr. Perkins, you have a very serious case of sleep apnea. You stop breathing on an average of 60 times an hour. This machine is designed to help you sleep by keeping your airway open through the use of a constant air flow. If you do not use this equipment, it's very likely that you could stop breathing for so long that you can suffer heart failure in your sleep."
A full Night's Sleep
The CPAP was set at 16 pressures, which is for medium to high treatment. The first night that I used it, I noted the time that I went to bed, which was at 10:00 pm. I woke up the next morning, took off the mask, looked at the clock and was totally amazed; it was 6:00 a.m. I had actually slept for EIGHT hours through the night! I had not had a full night’s sleep in over a year, and the best part was is that I felt fully rested and refreshed!
Changes with CPAp help
Over the next few months I had blood gases drawn and taken, and oxygen and breathing level tests. My oxygen levels went from dangerously low to above average in just a relatively short amount of time. I lost over 30 pounds because I was finally waking up refreshed and had much more energy to devote to my training in the gym, and added a LOT more cardio. I went from only being able to walk for a half a mile at 1.8 mph max, to now power walking a MINIMUM of three miles at an average of 2.8 mph. Over the last year and a half I have gone from 475 pounds down to 350 and I’m still losing body fat steadily.
Upon speaking to my fellow veterans I learned that many veterans who suffer from PTSD also suffer with sleep apnea in one form or other. Since I have been receiving treatment, four of my fellow veteran friends have had the tests done, and are now being treated themselves.
Wesley Perkins is 40 years old and married to a loving, and very supportive wife who educated herself on PTSD, as well as helped other women to understand their spouses who may suffer from it. He joined the Marines right out of high school from 1989 to 1992. He was also in the Illinois Army National Guard in 1998 and deployed to Iraq for 15 months from 2003 to 2004. Perkins was discharged in 2007. He and his wife Christine have two kids, Bobby, 16 and Ashley,18. He is currently service connected with PTSD, severe arthritis, as well as have been recently diagnosed, and now treated, for sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine.