December 26th, 2004, was a sad day in history.
On that particular day we woke up in Siem Reap, Cambodia and took a series of busses to Ko Chang in Thailand with our friends Brent and Dakota. Upon arriving at the port town where we would take a boat the next morning, we were bombarded with people asking us, “Did you hear what happened? Do you have any news!”
A tsunami had hit the west coast of Thailand. Reports were spotty at the time, but rumors and news programs started to broadcast the devastation which hit as far away as Malaysia, Indonesia and even Sri Lanka, off the coast of India. The earthquake was so large that it had sent a wave all the way to east Africa resulting in a quarter of a million dead. For years after, experts and authorities would analyze what happened, improving building codes, warning signs and evacuation protocols in case it ever happened again.
However, thousands of miles away on that same day, another passing would come to more closely impact my life-NFL great Reggie White, who passed away at the ripe age of 43. Despite living in Thailand at the time, Reggie White’s life and death would more closely come to intermingle with my own. Mr. White died of respiratory disease compounded by untreated sleep apnea.
My Entire 30’s-A Decade feeling Tired and Unrested
For all my 30’s, I had never slept well. Even after reducing my fluid intake before bed time, I’d get get up on average of 3 times a night to urinate, 5-6 if I was out late. I always thought that this was ‘the norm’, and didn’t think much of it, or my persistent, chainsaw-like snoring which my more than patient wife had learned to live with. By snoring myself awake (which actually was choking) I was not getting enough oxygen to my body, slowly wearing me down causing me to become addicted to coffee to start my day and waking up feeling ‘unrested’.
When we moved to South Korea, I took advantage of the sleep clinic at Seoul National University hospital and spent the night with electrodes hooked up to my head undergoing my first sleep study. When the technicians confronted me the next morning with my results, they did so with the same tact that all Koreans deliver disconcerting news to foreigners:
“Please see the doctor Mr. Johnston. You could die very soon.” They said.
They pushed my follow up meeting from next week to that morning and when I did see the doctor, he lamented me for not coming in earlier to which I replied that I was living in Vietnam, which was a developing country and for most people, having a roof was a novelty let alone access to a state of the art sleep clinic. My data put my sleep apnea rating way past severe and just outside ‘near corpse‘. After a bit of back and forth, and the obligatory guilt trip, I was issued my own CPAP machine and started using it at 39 years of age.
My 40’s-The Healthiest I’ve Ever Felt
The first night I slept with my CPAP machine, I woke up feeling light headed. I had slept 8 hours straight which I had not done since my late 20’s. Every morning thereafter was like a night of rest that few people save babies get to enjoy. After about week, I noticed a host of qualitative improvements. I healed fasted. My joints ached less. No longer would I drag myself home from work everyday. The bags under my eyes tightened. It was like I had kicked a drug habit and was reborn. The sudden burst of energy allowed me to wake up early and do cardio followed by weights in the afternoon. Soon, my muscles grew, my skin looked better and at 42 years of age, hit personal bests in squats, bench press and every other exercise I attempted. All because my tissues got more oxygen.
For our trip, the behemoth ResMed CPAP machine that was my master would have to stay home. Looking for a new idol to worship, I settled on the ResMed travel CPAP machine which is to much bigger than my hand and doesn’t even have a display.
The coolest thing about this device, is it connects to your phone that monitors your sleep progress. You can see your sleep patterns from the night before and adjust settings accordingly. I’d have to buy 12 humidifier tablets which would be replaced every month, but I had a CPAP device that would pack small, work well and pack in my carry on backpack. I had a crucial piece of hardware that would make this trip bearable.