09 September 2017

MediMania: The CPAP Prostitution

I wrote a few posts a few years back regarding the whole concept of hypochondriac profiteering (aka preventative medical care). It is a compelling subject simply because everyone has a story to tell about their own shellacking by the health industry. Allow me to offer up a personal example.

Ever since we got married (nearly twenty fours years ago these days), my endurant wife has lived with the fear of my imminent death. Apparently, when I go to sleep, I stop breathing. I go for upwards of two minutes where my tongue seems to fall back into my air passage, closing it off, and it seems to take something of an act of Congress for mind and body to jar me awake enough to clear the blockage and get some oxygen back in the lungs. Come to find out that this is an incredibly common problem and the official name for it is "sleep apnea". My wife tells me that she got scared of my dying on our wedding night and has remained scared ever since, until she finally convinced me to "see my doctor", as every drug and health advertisement urges one to do.

I was then introduced to the biggest "medical" cash cow I have yet encountered: the CPAP prostitution.
My quasi-doctor (I use a nurse practitioner because I don't care), upon hearing the situation from my wife, prescribed a curious instrument somewhere between an oxygen mask and a brain scanner. It seemed to get used quite a lot because they had several and I had to wait a few days before one became available and a specially trained nurse could instruct me on its proper use. You have to understand that I live in an underpopulated place and this clinic probably serves a population of 2000 at best, so these little "sleep apnea" detectors were getting quite a workout. In deference to my wife, I strapped this contraption to my head which confirmed what my wife had been saying for years: I didn't breathe very often at night. This highlights Rule #1 of the medical/insurance cabal: Use very expensive tests to establish the incredibly obvious. This would not be the first time that rule would be employed.

After the obvious results finally came in, I was scheduled for the mandatory "sleep test" which was scheduled at a pleasant little building some hundred miles from where I lived. Even with my pathetic insurance that charges me a lot and pays out very little, I would be getting to sleep in a nice enough bed while hooked up to dozens of sensors and an air pump that kept me inflated like a hot air balloon. Of course, my insurance only paid for part of this, as I am sure many scammers do these tests just for fun to watch me lose the better part of a night's sleep, so I ponied up my co-pay and after the might ended, I was basically told exactly what my wife had been saying for years and for free: I didn't breathe much at night.

I guess I need to say something positive about my health insurance, as they must have thrown piles of money at these "sleep centers", which seem to spring up everywhere. The guy who ran me through the process was very talkative and ultimately revealed that he had gotten into the business after his own "sleep test", perhaps seeing a lucrative career as I seem to recall that he was a truck driver previous to becoming a "sleep tech". Although he seemed small potatoes in the field, he did well enough to afford a nice little building with two suites that stay full every night he chooses and he even gets a lot of repeat business, as the insurance companies likely demand a recheck of your lifelong condition to prevent aforementioned scamming, as if anyone just magically starts breathing better at night.

So, my quasi-doctor and my certified ex-truck-driver sleep tech were satisfied, so my insurance company released the monetary floodgates and I was rented a CPAP machine by a chain smoker who had a certificate as a respiratory therapist. It seems like a lot of victims of various breathing ailments decide to jockey their troubles into a career, as it seems the "sleep" industry doesn't require much more than a background in bail-jumping to begin training. I was dutifully read a paper, as my therapist seemed to be new and hadn't properly memorized things yet in order to look "professional". It seems that everyone involved with this procedure were suffering from my "apnea" in one form or another, just like apparently 98% of the population. I was introduced to my new nighttime buddy, a "quiet" CPAP machine, and instructed in its rather simple use.

At first, this was all payed for by my insurance, so I played along. My wife reported that, when I did sleep, which was difficult in a full face mask that rarely made a usable seal onto my head, I indeed didn't stop breathing. Of course, I doubt is was necessary to breathe as I was swollen up like a bloated porpoise with all the air being pumped into my gastro-intestinal tract and every other empty internal cavity!

Well, I was dutiful about using the CPAP but was also planning what to do about my hiking and backpacking activities and how such a machine would fit into this. There were some incredibly expensive battery-operated units that a person could get, but I am cheap guy and a began looking for alternatives. Most of these were either worthless (variations on jaw-jutting mouthpieces) or practically illegal in the USA, but obtainable over the internet. I tried a few cheap "solutions" that didn't work and I was discouraged. I was also doing my typical job of ignoring the fact that all of these "sleep aids" were absolutely not recommended for sleep apnea sufferers and was told that I was taking a horrible risk with my life by trying such things.

Then, the reality hit as I received my first bill for this "therapy" that my insurance was supposed to pay for. I would pay $50 a month for the rental of my CPAP machine from here on out. Needless-to-say, I was "disappointed" and promptly took all the stuff back before I could be charged again. Of course, I was warned constantly that this action was dangerous, as if I were going to die within hours of the discontinuance of CPAP use. I am accustomed to being lied to by TV hucksters but it is interesting to see the same tactics used by "licensed" "health-care" "professionals". In fact, to this day, I get some harassment from providers over ending my "therapy".

I finally settled up on the wonderful AVEO TSD device, which sucks onto your tongue and keeps it pulled a bit out of the mouth while I sleep, opening the air passage and letting me breathe at night. I got mine off of eBay for around $80 that another person used and didn't like. Normally, you must have a doctor's or dentist's prescription to even touch one of these, but you know how much I love feeding the medical/insurance industry!

In all of this, I had one criteria for dealing with this problem: does it let me breathe at night? That actually was the only original problem and in spite of likely thousands of dollars spent to poke at things, I ultimately solved the problem myself for about $80. I could have skipped the whole sorted process described above by doing one simple thing: Stay away from doctors.

Now, I certainly don't recommend avoiding medicine if there is something causing you extended pain - that is what the system is there for. Sadly, we hypochondriacs are encouraged to see the doctor about every little thing and often see them when we have no problems at all, just in case. My advice is to avoid the "if you had just come in earlier" syndrome, promulgated by a media that loves to tell horror stories about people who are dying that may not have if they would have spent their lives running between waiting rooms. It is a trick: if we had perfect and real-time knowledge, we would also likely never have troubles, but you can't live like that. I choose living a life, perhaps even an allegedly shorter one, than giving myself over to the "life managers" of the medical industry.