Monday, June 23, 2008

A Master Teacher

I went to see my neurologist last week.

Last year, I was diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea. In many ways, the diagnosis was a relief. It was certainly better than what my over-active imagination had conjured up. Best of all – there was something I could do for it: I could wear a CPAP mask to bed.

With the mask on, I slept beautifully. Most of my symptoms disappeared. I felt better. I woke up refreshed. As time wore on, I also woke up with painfully dry skin and occasionally dry eyes. I glopped myself with skin lotion – before bed and when I awoke. It was marginally better, but messy. The mask also made it difficult for me to shift positions in the night – and I began to wake up stiff. Somehow, this had stopped being fun. In my mind, the cost began to outweigh the benefit.

And then one night, I decided just to try sleeping without the mask “for just one night.” Before I knew it, I was sleeping more without the mask than with it. Eventually, I stopped wearing it altogether.

When I saw my doctor last week, I told him what my current practice was and how I reached my decision.

He listened. He asked questions about how I was feeling, about my productivity, about other stresses I’d shared with him earlier. He was concerned about my dry skin and dry eyes. He looked back at the results of my sleep test.

And then he gently said, “I see you had over 60 interruptions an hour a year ago. You are getting some deep sleep now, but you probably are still awaking several times during the night. Every episode of apnea puts stress on your heart. Ultimately your heart will stop. That’s what causes death: the heart stops. That happens eventually to all of us. I don’t want your heart to have to work any harder than it must.”

He waited. I mentioned diet and exercise. He smiled (again gently) and said that although those things help, lack of restorative sleep causes the most damage. Would it be possible, he wondered aloud, if I could wear the mask two nights a week? Could I handle the dry skin, if it was only two nights a week?

HOW he was saying it made it possible for me to hear WHAT he was saying. Instead of pushing for maximum compliance, he was able to commit me to what I could do.

So I’m back on the mask….two nights a week, I can deal with dry skin and dry eyes and stiffness in the morning when I awaken.

What powerful lessons I learned from him:

  • The manner of delivery is crucial if we want people to “hear” us.
  • It’s equally important not to allow yourself to get diverted with side issues.
  • Don’t minimize the difficulty the student is having.
  • Negotiate to come up with a result both parties can “live with.”

I’ve found a new master teacher to model myself after!

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