Hi, my name is Dan Bates, and Im an apneac.
Of all the annoying chronic ailments to gnaw at me daily, this has to be the grand kicker of them all a disorder that makes me tired, grumpy, unfocused and marginally unproductive. And it pesters me only at night, when Im supposed to be fast asleep.
Its called obstructive sleep apnea, and it causes sufferers to stop breathing for brief moments throughout the night, just long enough to wake them from their favorite dreams. As I write in the lead story of this months Managing Your Business section, little did I know that many business people just like me are trudging through life with the same problem and dont even know it.
I wouldnt have known it, either, if a public relations consultant representing Respironics Inc., a local company that manufactures devices to treat apnea, tried to convince me to write an article about the disorder and its apparent effects in the workplace. As I typically do, I told the guy it sounded interesting, and would he please send me some information.
But as I began to read about the symptoms a long list ranging from daytime fatigue, lack of concentration and irritability to frequent snoring, morning headaches and trouble driving long distances I had a revelation: This brochure was talking about me.
Thats when I talked the public relations guy into sending me to the Greater Pittsburgh Sleep Center at St. Francis Hospital for an overnight sleep study. After all, I needed first-hand information about the seeming humiliation of going through such a study to write my article, I reasoned even if I didnt actually have it.
But a weird thing happened on the way to doing this story. The public relations guy convinced KDKA-TV news reporter and weekend anchor Bruce Pompeani to do a long special report on sleep apnea, and he wanted me to serve as the subject. Always looking to shamelessly promote SBN, I agreed.
So for an entire afternoon and evening, he and a cameraman followed me around my office asking about the potentially debilitating effects of obstructive sleep apnea. They videotaped the couch where, Bruce later told all of Pittsburgh, I occasionally take a short afternoon nap to make it through the day.
Then they followed me to the hospital, where they interviewed a sleep technician while she glued an endless entanglement of wires and electrodes to my head and body. They even taped me as I lay asleep, tossing and turning, throughout the night, and the next morning, when Dr. Sukhdev Grover told me I had roughly 18 apnea events an hour, for a total of 135 that night. Bruce ended his report mentioning that the doctor told me I could stand to lose 20 pounds.
The apnea special report aired several weeks later.
For weeks afterward, people from all over called to affectionately harass me about my willingness to humiliate myself before all of Pittsburgh. They laughed. I laughed. We all laughed. And why not? I have no shame.
But they also asked why I would put myself through that. While I may joke about it, the doctor painted a clear picture of how serious sleep apnea is and how common it is. Imagine an apneatic surgeon with knife in hand. Or a school bus driver. Or a nuclear power plant operator who is too tired to pay attention. The doctor told me apnea can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke in more severe cases. Hows that for serious?
I interviewed two businessmen for the Managing Your Business article who told me the effects of obstructive sleep apnea were devastating to them professionally and personally before they finally sought permanent relief.
For as many people who called to say they saw me on T.V., just as many called to say they hadnt heard of it and that maybe, just maybe, they also have apnea and were going to look into it. I guess I did my job.
And for the rest of you, I think too many of you dont take the time to take care of your own health, whatever the ailment. Youre entrepreneurs, after all, so you dont have time to worry about such details. Maybe its time to take care of those nagging chronic ailments before they get the best of you.
And maybe, just maybe, you can achieve better health and a healthy dose of shameless self-promotion in the process like I did.
But for all of you public relations people out there, Im drawing the line at any stories about the colon. Know what I mean?