My dentist, the competent and honorable Dr. J. P. St. Clair, has been pestering me for more than a year saying, “You snore. I can tell by looking down your mouth. Do something about it!” So I finally did. I took a “home sleep test” and the sleep clinic people said, yes you should do something about it. Plus Carolyn tells me I sometimes stop breathing when I’m asleep.
So, with the help of the sleep clinic I did something about it. They wrote an order for me to get a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device. They got me a gadget made by ResMed branded AirSense 10, and the associated tubing and mask stuff. This post is all about my figuring it out and learning to use the gadget.
First of all, it works. When I use this thing while sleeping, I sleep better. And, I have more energy when I’m awake.
The ResMed device is a really nice integration of respiratory hardware and firmware. It has a humidifier, an air pump, and pressure sensors. It pushes air into a tube that has a heating element in it. That tube connects to a mask on the user’s (my) face. And it has a little microprocessor with a display and One Big Wheel to control it.
The microprocessor is set up to provide fine-grain control to the air pump and the heated tube. From my perspective it works really well.
It can tell when I start using it. Inhaling or exhaling with the mask on activates it. It pushes enough pressure so I know it’s there. Then, it can sense when I fall asleep (probably by detecting a regular breathing pattern) and gradually pushes more pressure. When I’m asleep it monitors my breathing rate, and supplies the prescribed amount of pressure. And it detects if I stop breathing. When I’m not breathing it wobbles the pressure a bit. I guess that’s supposed to help restart the breathing.
The air pressure it delivers is measured in centimeters of water. My device delivers from 6cm to 15cm of water, prescribed by the sleep clinic. It’s the amount of pressure in a vessel with that much water pushing down on it. It’s not much pressure at all: by comparison, one atmosphere of air pressure requires 10.3 meters of water.
And, it uploads its observations every day over LTE. There’s an app that delivers a summary to me the user. I get the usual dumbed-down data that the medical-industrial complex trusts its customers with. I’m sure the people at the sleep clinic get many more details. And, apparently they can adjust the machine from afar. To their credit, they told me they would not do that without my permission. (That’s good, huh? They ask permission before they virtually enter our bedroom and fiddle around with my breathing.)
I measured the electric power this thing uses. It takes about 340wH per day, or just over 1 kilowatt hour for every three days. The power company here sells kilowatt hours for about $0.26 each, so the electricity cost is a less than a dime a day. That’s thrifty in a device with an air pump and heating elements in its tubing and humidifier. It draws about 5w when it’s not hooked up to me and about 33w when it is hooked up. That’s about four LED lightbulbs while in use.
I guess this is all part of becoming post-human. www has kind of sneaked up on us. We don’t really notice how it’s become a vast collective consciousness lurking at the edge of each of our minds. Now ResMed and the like are bringing our autonomic nervous systems into that collective. I’m monitored and maintained by cloud-controlled software.
I have to say, I wish that software were open-source. I don’t think I’d try customizing it, but I’d sure appreciate the ability to inspect it, considering it controls my lungs. I’d like to see how it handles security. It’s one thing for cybercreeps to clone my debit card. It’s another for them to goof around with my breathing when I’m asleep.
When I lie awake with this mask on, I get an uncanny valley vibe from it. It’s there, responding to my breath. The responses are close enough to physiological-quality to fake a sleepy man out and startle him once in a while.
Does all this sound a little creepy? It’s a new experience for me, that’s for sure. This ResMed thing is a smart augmentation of my body just like the www is an augmentation of my mind. And, yes, it’s a little startling to realize what’s going on. But, it has to be said, this particular augmentation make my life a little better.