Chainsaw Dad

Emily W., Columbia College Chicago

For as long as I can remember, I thought my dad was some sort of monster—family man by day, chainsaw by night. It sounds like a new sitcom, doesn’t it? The brand new show My Dad’s a Chainsaw! Series premiere this Friday at 7! Unfortunately, this is more like my own reality TV show. Growing up, I could often hear his snoring from my bedroom or our downstairs living room. I loathed family trips with my dad that would require us to sleep in the same room as his disturbingly loud and unpredictable snorts for air led to a sleepless night for me. On these nights, there would be a period of silence—a much-appreciated hiatus to the snoring—before a sound so loud would erupt from his gaping mouth it would practically shake the room. The chainsaw-like snore would make me jump, upsetting any attempt I made to sleep. Fed up with my dad depriving me of rest during our family vacations, I practically petitioned he not come on vacations with my mother and I. My mom began sleeping in our guest bedroom, expressing her frustrations and concerns to me, my parents’ relationship suffering.

My dad was unaware of how excessive his snoring was. Sure, he never felt refreshed in the morning and sometimes would wake in the night for seemingly no reason, but it couldn’t have been because of snoring, right? My dad thought it was normal to feel tired upon waking and simply wrote off his symptoms as side effects of being a smoker. My mom suggested to him for years he see a doctor about the snoring. It was not until he learned that his brother used a sleep apnea machine did he decide to finally look into it. After seeing his doctor and experiencing his first sleep studies—one of which involved a brash, pushy nurse named Olga—the results were in: severe sleep apnea. My mom was more concerned than he was. She was terrified at the idea of him having a stroke, a serious symptom of sleep apnea if left untreated.

“It’s not a problem anymore, but the machine was the hardest part to get used to,” my dad tells me, though I am sure it is more pleasant than having to deal with Olga again. “You have to make sure it’s plugged in, fill it with water, put on the mask, and turn the machine on.” A sleep apnea machine, or CPAP machine, continuously increases the air pressure in the user’s throat, allowing them to breathe easier. To keep users from getting a dry mouth during the night, the machine regulates humidity, which is why it is important for users to fill it with water. The machine has changed the way he approaches sleep, saying, “You can’t just fall asleep while watching TV; you have to decide when you’re going to sleep and prepare.” To some this may sound negative, the machine requiring preparation and for users to change their lax sleeping habits. With the increase of technology use in recent years, it has become common knowledge that “screen time” before bed—meaning TV, laptop, and phone use—affects one’s ability to both fall asleep and experience a good rest. By having to take that extra care of turning off the TV and making a conscious decision to sleep, using a sleep apnea machine is actually enforcing positive sleeping habits. Cutting before bed screen time and having a more structured sleep schedule are important steps to a healthier lifestyle.

I am so grateful that my father finally uses a sleep apnea machine. It means that both he and those around him are able to get a restful sleep. It does not sound like someone is trying to cut a tree down using a broken chainsaw down the hall at night anymore. Replacing it is the sleep apnea machine’s surprisingly quiet, peaceful hum. I am no longer bitter about vacation sleeping arrangements and actually look forward to spending time with my dad again. Now if only they had a machine for his sleeping walking…

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