I usually attend daily Mass at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria. The church is about three blocks away from my office, so I ordinarily walk to Mass every day. On most days, Georgette joins me at Mass, and we’re able to have lunch together after Mass about once a week. It’s a great way for us to break up our day, while receiving the spiritual boost that we need to adequately handle all the issues and problems that come up in our lives.
A few months ago, while I was at Mass at Sacred Heart, I dozed off while the priest was giving his homily. After Mass, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You need to get more sleep at night!” I turned and looked at her and replied, “Yeah, you’re right about that.”
I’ve known the woman — I’ll call her Margaret — for most of my life. She’s of Lebanese descent, and while I’ve never looked her up on our family tree, my best guess is that she’s my fourth or fifth cousin. Margaret is in her early 80s, but she looks and behaves like a much younger woman. She’s smart, energetic, and sassy. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind, and she loves teasing other people. She periodically has the urge to put me in my place, and at times, she behaves as though she’s my mother by lovingly telling me what I should be doing.
A week after Margaret told me that I needed to get more sleep, I was at Sacred Heart Church again, participating in the Mass. I didn’t see her come into the church, but she apparently entered the church after the Mass had started and sat down at the opposite end of the pew that I was sitting in. At one point, she looked over at me and saw that I was sleeping. She quickly came over to me and asked if I was okay. Then, while attempting to hand me some water, she asked if I needed a drink.
She had a worried look on her face. I think she was concerned that I had passed out, or that I had a serious medical condition that was interfering with my ability to function normally. I whispered to her that I was okay and that I didn’t need any water. I told her that I would talk to her after Mass and explain to her what was going on with me. She nodded her head and walked back to where she had been sitting.
After Mass, I told Margaret that I’m always tired because of a medical condition — severe obstructive sleep apnea — that I’ve had all my life. I told her that the sleep apnea hinders my ability to get good quality sleep at night. She told me that she was familiar with the condition because she knows several people who have sleep apnea. I told her that my condition had gotten worse over the past few years, and that I had consulted with a doctor at Mayo Clinic about scheduling a surgical procedure that I hoped would permanently correct the condition. She thanked me for explaining my condition to her and assured me that she would keep me in her prayers.
The first memory I have of falling asleep during Mass was when I was nine years old (1966). At that time, I was in fourth grade at Saint Mark School in Peoria. My brother Jerry was in eighth grade and my brother Mike was in seventh grade. They had both been trained to be servers at Mass and whenever they were on the list to serve, my mom would drive them to church, and then she would stay for the Mass.
During one particular week, my brothers were assigned to serve the 6:30 am daily Mass for three consecutive days. When I heard that they were going to be serving, I told my mom that I wanted to go with her and my brothers. She woke me up on the first morning, so I could attend Mass with her while my brothers served. During Mass, I dozed off. When Mom noticed that I was asleep, she put her hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear that I needed to wake up and pay attention to the Mass. She had to do the same thing the following two mornings, after I fell asleep during each of those Masses.
As far back as I can remember, regardless of how many hours of sleep I got the night before, I always had problems getting out of bed in the morning. It was my dad’s job to wake me and my brothers and sisters up every morning, so we could get ready for school before the bus arrived to pick us up. He would walk through the house and wake each of us, and then he would circle back to my bedroom to wake me again. I got into the habit of getting out of bed and beginning the process of getting ready for school while I looked out my bedroom window. When I saw my dad drive away from our house to go to work, I would crawl back into bed to get the 10 or 15 more minutes of sleep that I craved.
When I was in college and law school (1975-1982), I did everything I could to avoid classes that were scheduled to begin at 8:00 am. There was nothing I could do to keep myself awake during those classes. It was during my college years that I purchased a second obnoxiously loud alarm that I always placed across the room from my bed, so I would be forced to get out of bed to turn it off. To this day, I still use two alarm clocks to help me get out of bed in the mornings.
I could give you several more examples of how my sleep disorder negatively affected my life. Needless to say, every time I sat down and my body was at rest, I would fall asleep.
It wasn’t until 1996, when Georgette was pregnant with our seventh child, that I learned that there was a name for the condition that I suffered from: sleep apnea. At that time, my office in downtown Peoria was only eight minutes away from where we lived. By then, my sleep apnea had gotten so bad that I could not drive home without starting to doze off.
At that time, I had a client who told me about how he had been diagnosed with a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. He explained the disorder to me and told me how it affected him. Everything he told me mirrored what I had been experiencing. I did some research and learned that people who have sleep apnea actually stop breathing while they are sleeping because the muscles in the back of their throat relax and their narrow airways close off and deprive their body of oxygen. When that happens, their brains sense what is going on and quickly arouses them enough to cause them to start breathing again. When this happens repeatedly, their bodies are deprived of oxygen which keeps them from going into a deep sleep, which is what is needed to get genuine rest.
After I learned that I had a sleep disorder, I scheduled an appointment with a doctor who was a specialist in treating sleep apnea. The doctor scheduled me for a sleep study which showed that I had severe obstructive sleep apnea. The doctor told me that I needed to start using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine whenever I slept. A CPAP machine is designed to blow air through a tube into a face mask that is attached to a person’s face. The increase in air pressure helps to keep the person’s airway open so it doesn’t collapse during sleep.
I immediately began using a CPAP machine while I slept and it did what it was supposed to do. It helped me get more restful sleep. A couple of years ago I noticed that even though I was still using a CPAP machine, my symptoms had returned. I went to the doctor, and he ordered a new sleep study which showed that my sleep apnea had gotten much worse.
It has been well documented that severe obstructive sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems, Type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels, and liver problems. It can also lead to sudden death if a person stops breathing while sleeping and the brain doesn’t immediately arouse the person to start breathing again. At the age of 62, I am at a much high risk of developing these types of problems.
After doing some additional research, I discovered a YouTube video of a doctor who was promoting a surgical procedure in which a person’s jaw is surgically moved forward. By doing this, the person’s airway is widened. In most cases, the widening of the airway eliminates the condition of sleep apnea. I later learned that the Mayo Clinic offered this type of surgery, so I made arrangements to have the surgery done there.
Last week, I wrote about what I went through as a result of the surgery. When I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit on Friday (November 8) — four days after the surgery — with a breathing tube in the right nostril of my nose and a feeding tube in the left nostril of my nose, I was told that I was hooked up to a ventilator. I was confused and disoriented. What had happened to me? Why was I in the Intensive Care Unit, hooked up to a breathing machine?
All I could think of was, “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” I was supposed to be out of the hospital by Thursday, and now it was Friday, and I was hooked up to a machine that was designed to help people breathe.
The same question kept repeating itself in my mind: “Why would God allow this to happen to me?” I felt guilty about what I was thinking, but the question was still there, waiting to be answered. Then I thought about the time that Jesus was in the boat with His apostles, and He chastised them because of their lack of faith:
And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” Mark 4:38-41
So there I was, afraid. Afraid that everything had gone wrong, and that I was now dependent on a machine for my breathing. What was going to happen to me now? Why didn’t I have the faith that God was still in charge and that everything that had happened to me was a part of His divine plan for me? Why didn’t I have more faith in Him? Was my faith only available to tap into when everything was going my way?
As Christians, we believe that when we are baptized, our souls are infused with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These three virtues are supernatural powers that are given to us as gifts.
When you and I were baptized, three different flames were ignited within our souls — the flames of faith, hope, and charity.
With regard to the flame of faith, it can never be extinguished during our lifetime. Even when a person turns evil, the flame of faith still burns — ever so slightly — within that person’s soul. The difference between an evil person and a holy person is that the flame of faith in the holy person continues to increase in size throughout that person’s lifetime. In fact, it must increase in size, so that the person is able to cope with and endure the challenges that lie ahead.
We must play an active role in increasing the size of the flame of faith within our souls — so much so that the flame becomes an unstoppable, raging furnace within our souls that will quickly consume all our doubts and fears. How can we do this?
There are two primary ways in which we can guarantee that the flame of faith that is within our souls will always continue to grow and that our faith in God will always increase.
I’ll cover those two primary ways next week.
Here’s a quick update of my condition: Every day I’m a little bit better. I’m still struggling with pain, swelling, and a lot of numbness in and around my mouth. The doctor said that it’s going to take three months for all the swelling to go away and six months for most of the numbness to resolve. I’ll probably have some permanent numbness around the area of my chin. I’m talking a little better, but after I talk for a while, I have additional pain and a burning sensation in the areas above and below my mouth. I’m still taking pain medication which helps to a certain extent. I’m also still drooling all over the place, and I’m still not able to chew or open my mouth very much. I’m not a patient man. I want everything to be better, NOW! My best guess is that this is God’s way of teaching me how to be more patient. On the bright side, the quality of my sleep is much better, and I believe that this is a permanent fix to the sleep apnea problem that I’ve had all my life. I’m continuing to benefit greatly from your prayers. Thank you.