May 13, 2021
Mask wearing has become pretty common these days due to a certain bug that’s been going around. In many places masks are required, in others highly recommended. They can be a great accessory. I know I’ve had fun incorporating masks into my wardrobe. While the pertinence of masks in our day to day lives may seem new, for some wearing masks is old hack.
Bank robbers, for instance, raccoons, and Z are all well acquainted with masks beyond the scope of Covid-19.
Some people have complained about the fabric or medical masks that we’ve had to start wearing in public, saying that they are uncomfortable, inconvenient, or humid microbiomes in which they could grow a variety of tropical plants. Still, the problems with these masks pale in comparison to those I associate with the Bipap mask that Z uses to sleep at night.
Part of Z’s condition is sleep apnea. This is because his throat and tongue are super weak and he has low respiratory drive. All that stuff leads to blocked air passages, which in turn leads to not sleeping. To help with that Z has a bipap machine, which basically forces air in and out of him as he sleeps. Z was actually struggling for a long time with sleeping because his bipap could not accommodate the high pressures he had started to need to keep him breathing at night. A new bipap machine called the dream station, has been able to solve his issue with lack of pressure, but not the issues with his mask.
In order for the dream station to work, a mask needs to press over Z’s nose and mouth to make sure the air makes it into his sleepy lungs. In theory, Z only needs one mask that works, but in reality he has about 8 or 9 that don’t.
Two issues arise when you are trying to push a mask against somebody's face to make sure that a highly pressurized amount of air can only go into their nose and mouth: one is that the air tends to escape. If the mask doesn’t properly seal it can leak, which means that Z feels small breezes on his face that wake him, the mask makes little fart noises that wake me, and Z is not getting enough air to breath. A proper mask seal is like a unicorn in our home, they are rarely seen and easily scared away. Something as small as Z’s facial hair can ruin the seal, that’s why Z can never have a moustache, which is a tragedy. On the other hand, if we strap the mask too tightly to his face in an attempt to create an adequate seal, the mask can hurt Z and cause sores on his face. The mask we are currently using pushes Z’s nose up to the point where it is nearly in between his eyes.
It’s like a Goldilocks situation, except that there is no middle bed.
This mask issue has caused a lot of anxiety for both of us. Z worries about not being able to sleep and waking up with headaches, still tired, and unable to live his life the next day. Unfortunately, I think Z is also getting used to being let down by supposed mask solutions.
In the search for a solution to Z’s mask issues, we have been let down time and time again. Missy, who works at the bipap supply place and who is an angel from above, will set us up with new mask after new mask, all of which “should work,” but never do. One night we will do some ritual of steps that will make the mask work amazingly. “Ooooh, we say, we just have to tighten this strap, pull this bit out, and sacrifice a lamb to the bipap god, and then this mask will work.” The next night, after carefully replicating the same song and dance, it won’t.
It feels Sisyphysian, pushing the boulder up the mountain each night, knowing that we won’t make it and that the next night we might not even get as close.
I am not used to these cycles of mask struggles.
Each day, while doing other things, I keep the encroaching task of making Z’s mask work in the back of my mind. Depending on the mood of the bipap gods, this task can take us an hour or more. We might need to try switching masks, or locate ones that are lost in the back of our closet, and we always have to make seemingly endless adjustments. This was worse when we were staying up later and only starting the sleep prep process at around 2:00am. It was causing me such stress at night that eventually I had to admit, “I don’t think I can handle this.”
Recently we’ve started trying to go to sleep earlier, which makes dealing with the mask feel a little less catastrophic. Still, the anxiety around it has changed the way that I sleep. At night, I wait until I think Z is asleep and then I just listen. With each Z sigh or sputter of the bipap (which are common) I can feel my heart skip, like “is he going to need me?” I can’t fall asleep because my body is afraid to be woken. Z’s grandmother told me it sounds like the kind of sleep you get when you have an infant, shallowly waiting to be woken by their cries.
Lately Z has been less vocal about his issues with the mask. I hope it’s because we’ve gotten a little bit closer to a solution through the addition of a chin strap and mask wipes, but I fear it’s because he’s afraid to talk to me about it. I hate to think that my stress is making the stress of his mask even more stressful. I’m trying to put a cap on the amount I’m allowed to complain about it and I’m pretty sure this post has gone beyond this week’s complaint limit, so I better call it there.
Feel free to pray to the bipap god on our behalves.