I ought to have recognized it. Having experienced my first physical breakdown at the age of 13, the unmistakable warning signs should have triggered a screaming brain alarm between my ears. Maybe I was just too wrapped up in my own pain to see beyond the protective hedge I’d encased around my heart and mind to be able to recognize Parker’s suffering, the daily unraveling of his normally happy constitution.
Sleep apnea symptoms were first on his breakdown list. On several occasions during his daytime naps, he appeared to stop breathing, then gagged and choked to get it jump-started again. Often, he’d wake up crying and scared from these episodes, like he’d just awakened from a hideous nightmare. Other times he’d cough several times and then quickly return to sleep. Thankfully, I was present during the first event, and made sure he napped within my eyesight from then on—in my bed—so I could watch and count his breathing. Then I moved his little red toddler bed back into our bedroom so I could hear him more clearly at night.
After a lengthy discussion with her, his pediatrician recommended a preliminary sleep study analysis. The challenge: getting a four-year-old connected to electrodes and breath-measuring machinery, then having him remain in deep sleep long enough to obtain valid data.
So, one Friday night, a respiratory therapist arrived at our home with the necessary bells and whistles, lines, leads, and monitors to hook Parker up, plug him in, and instruct Chris and me in the use of the machinery. For the second time in eighteen months, we were receiving yet another crash course in home therapy and medical telemetry. After several attempts at trying to keep Parker calm and quiet, and from angrily plucking and yanking sensors from his nose and body, we eventually succeeded in getting him to sleep.
Finally, all seemed well, and the therapist departed, after promising to return in the morning to gather the equipment, review the data, and forward the information to our physician and pulmonary specialist. But within minutes of his departure, the first brain-shattering alarm sounded. Our hearts slammed in our chests as Chris groped frantically for the override switch to kill the sound. But every time Chris flipped the switch back to “ON,” the alarm wailed again.
After a speedy machinery assessment, we figured out that Parker’s heart rate was dropping below the monitor’s set threshold. After reaching the therapist on his phone, we learned how to set a lower threshold and restart the measurement. Through all this commotion, Parker slept soundly, without interruption, sprawled like a pint-size skydiver on our king-size bed. That didn’t really surprise us; he never awakened for any of our house-rattling, Southern California earthquakes either.
Then, several minutes into the new threshold setting, the eardrum-slaughtering EEEEEEEEEE!!!! screeched again. Chris ejected himself from the bed like a rock slung from a catapult and then mumbled several incoherent words. He raked his fingers through his hair while stabbing at the phone buttons to call the therapist again to have him okay another setting adjustment. “But,” the therapist warned, “any lower than that, and I’ll need to return to your house, and we won’t be able to conduct the test.” We re-set, murmured prayers, and then repositioned ourselves for the night: Chris flat on his back in bed, me sitting cross-legged on the floor, propped against the wall, regulation notebook at the ready to scribble mandatory log entries. Every time Parker twitched, sniffled, squirmed, toe-wiggled or breathed, I had to make a note of it. How we were going to ensure that he slept on his back—the mandatory position—I wasn’t sure, but I dimmed the lights, settled in on the floor, and kept my eyes glued to the digital data illuminated on the monitor screen.
Just how and why I was relegated the task of staying up all night, I don’t know. Maybe that job just gets automatically invoked under the Mother moniker. Anyway, up I stayed, A-L-L N-I-G-H-T L-O-NG, with the entertaining nocturnal crickets, to take those hallowed notes. Mercifully, we managed to accumulate enough information for a proper evaluation. At daybreak, it took Parker nanoseconds to disengage his airway and toe sensors, his chubby fingers peeling and yanking. I helped his effort by gently removing the EKG pads crammed together on his modest chest. Both of us were relieved to discard the wire and sticky-pad arsenal.
But it wasn’t long before the analyzing specialist informed our pediatrician that further studies were necessary; and this time, “further studies” meant an in-hospital sleep apnea monitoring evaluation followed by an appointment with a pediatric pulmonary specialist.
Like a detonated combustion engine, my mother’s worry gene jerked from zero-to-sixty in five seconds, and the question-that-wouldn’t-die rattled around my brain like a mental pinball against the cranial bumpers:
“God, when will this path of sorrow ever end…?”
Little did I realize that He was using my hurting son to pull my focus away from me.
NEXT WEEK: The next test: Sleep apnea testing up-close and personal…
Until next week,
Thanks for joining me!
PS Tomorrow’s my birthday! Thank you, Lord, for yet another year, to tell another story about You and your everlasting goodness!