Okay, this post really is the conclusion to the "Chronicles of San Diego", since it gestated while while I was there, but it's a fresh news cycle now, and I'm not above intimating that my father has supernatural powers in an attempt to garner readership. The truth is that if my father has the Force, he's probably not a Jedi, but a Sith like Darth Vader. Not the kind of Sith that chokes people or shoots lighting from his fingertips, since that's just not his nature, but the comic henchman type Sith, one who uses the Force to make the toast pop before its done or loosen that particular bolt in your 2000 Honda Accord every few weeks so that there's an intermittent and unlocatable rattle at freeway speeds.
To understand why he's like Darth Vader, just sleep in the same room with him. I had this chance as he tagged along at the tail end of my week in San Diego. His sisters live in SoCal, so it made perfect sense. I was happy to have the company, but there was one thing I forgot about him, and that is that when he sleeps, he looks and sounds like our favorite Sith lord, thanks to one of these:
Disclaimer: I'm about to make fun of a relatively serious medical condition. Get over it.
My dad has sleep apnea, which is why he wears a mask similar to the one above. Sleep apnea is where you basically forget to breath while you sleep. While this combination of no breathing and sleep is normally characteristic of a medical condition called "death", a victim of sleep apnea only stops breathing for a short period of time -- basically just long enough for the brain to realize that "death" might actually occur if the lungs fail to resume their normal function. The brain then wakes the person up enough to start breathing again, resulting in, needless to say, really horrible sleep. (In some of the worst cases, a sleep apnea sufferer may stop breathing for up to a minute and wake up 30 or more times an hour.)
The mask and apparatus is known as a CPAP, or continuous-positive-airway-pressure machine. The mask is attached to an air pump, which forces air down your throat so you keep breathing. In layman's terms, it's like running a shop-vac in reverse and sticking the hose in your mouth. Fortunately, it's not quite that loud, more like a dust buster drowning in deep shag.
Looking at the sleep apnea mask, it's pretty easy to see why Darth Vader had his encased in a black enamel shroud. It's much more intimidating that way. Your average CPAP user *might* be able to pass for some sort of fighter pilot, if not for the flannel pajamas and characteristically non-fighter pilot type build. (Sleep apnea is MUCH more common in people of a particular size.)
When my dad first brought the CPAP home, and my fits of laughter died down, I actually gave it a try. It's kind of like wearing an octupus, in a not too unpleasant way, and the air being forced down your throat does actually ease breathing. This is all great, until you open your mouth, at which point all the air being pumped up your nose flies out this new exit and turns your nasal passages into a sort of booger wind-tunnel.
Sharing a room with dad using the CPAP is interesting to say the least. The machine, for the most part, produces pretty much white noise, but the person tethered to the machine will inevitably do sleep type things like roll over, swallow, mumble, etc, which now produce all sorts of interesting gurgles and whistles, much like the geothermally active areas of Yellowstone park. That said, the CPAP is definitely worth it. My father sleeps so much better, and has tons more energy as a consequence. And, now that we know my dad has sleep apnea, it explains all those nights when I would come upstairs and find his 6 foot tall body scrunched into the 4 foot wide loveseat, snoring away.
I wonder if he found a home remedy for his undiagnosed condition. Still, I think he prefers the CPAP to the flower print loveseat. I think he's relatively proud of the cachet this little medical device gives him, even if the TSA always assumes that the hose/pump apparatus is nearly as likely to blow up an airplane as my laptop. The first time I took him to San Diego, in fact, he tried on the CPAP in the middle of the day to show my aunts how it worked. They laughed nearly as hard as I did. Go Darth Dad. And leave my Accord alone.