Six years ago, I found out that not only was I a snorer (industrial strength buzz-saw), but I also discovered that I had sleep apnea. That is a condition, often connected with snoring, in which the breathing airway is occluded during sleep. In the space of an hour, a normally healthy person will have fewer than 15 times that their airway is occluded during sleep. More than that is called sleep apnea. More than fifty occlusions in an hour is considered severe apnea. In my case, when they connected the electrodes to me they discovered that my breathing was being obstructed more than 120 times an hour. That meant that not only was I not getting the right amount of oxygen, I was also not getting restful sleep. Weight loss helped, but it doesn’t usually eliminate apnea. Sometimes even quite slender people have sleep apnea.
There is a surgical fix for apnea that involves taking a chain saw and dragging it with a Volkswagen through a person’s throat. That has limited appeal. It also has limited success. The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is to have an air pressure machine called a CPAP that pumps air through a face mask that supplies enough air pressure to keep the airway open during all phases of breathing, but many people find the big face masks cumbersome. I actually use a mouth guard that I bite on that conforms to my teeth. The mouthpiece holds soft nasal “pillows” under each nostril. It is very comfortable.
In general, a CPAP machine is a pretty big device. Not convenient at all for travel. For my travel, I have a tiny CPAP that is about the size of a soda can. It has a battery that can run it for twenty hours. The whole thing is tiny and effective, reducing my apnea episodes to only 5 or so an hour—completely within the normal range.
The downside of sleep apnea if it is not treated is an increase in instances of death (from all causes). On the upside, when using a CPAP machine, the risk of death is dramatically reduced. In my case, the dangerous factors from sleep apnea are eliminated by the machine. Now, whether on planes traveling from continent to continent or at home, I am able to use the machine for sleep any time and have gotten completely used to it.
One of the other impacts of discovering sleep apnea is that a pilot’s flight medical is cancelled. That means that though I still have a license, I cannot legally fly without the medical clearance. Until recently, this meant that one with sleep apnea couldn’t pilot a plane anymore. The FAA developed a test, though, as a pathway back to fly again even with sleep apnea. The point is that they want to insure that pilots don’t fall asleep while flying. The test involves four, 40-minute sessions lying down in a quiet, dark room during which there cannot be any sleep. Any more than 90 seconds of sleep causes a fail.
Monday this week, I went to Baylor Hospital to do that test. It took all day because there has to be hours of separation between the 40 minute sessions. It is quite challenging, but at the end of the day, I had gone through all four sessions with no sleep during any of them. As a result, the paperwork from that test will be presented to the FAA which means I should have my medical restored within a month or two. Then, I can get back to piloting. From the time I was 16 until six years ago, I had a lot of flying experience (more than 5,000 hours of flight time) and am really excited about getting back in the air as something other than a passenger!
The cheapest aircraft that is capable of flying non-stop across the ocean costs about $40,000,000, so I don’t think that I’ll be flying that route, but for zipping around the US, smaller planes are a great tool.
Getting back to active piloting is an encouraging development for me—actually quite miraculous. Many of you have prayed for me and I greatly appreciate it.
Syria and ISIS
This week I had the opportunity to spend time with a Syrian Orthodox Christian from Damascus named Gabriel. He shared gripping detail about the children who had refused to deny their faith in Jesus Christ and as a result were martyred, one after another. The youngest was only seven years old. It really puts in perspective how easily we sometimes shrink back from an environment of hostility toward us. Of course it is nothing like what they are experiencing in Syria and Iraq, but even so, many people essentially deny their faith when they come under criticism that isn't violent.
Gabriel also told me about things that are happening in the Saydnaya area just outside Damascus. In Saydnaya, there is a mountain with a church and monastery at the top. Saydnaya has attracted more than 50,000 Christians from all over the Damascus area and other parts of Syria where it is unsafe for Christians. At Saydnaya, a volunteer militia of young men has taken up arms and ringed the mountain to defend the 50,000 Christians who have gone there for refuge.
While Christians rightly pursue peace, sometimes the intensity of evil is such that a more forceful approach is adopted. Some assume that Christians must necessarily be pacifists, but that has not been the case historically. In the case of the terrible violence from the Islamic State, many Christian leaders have identified this as a time where the use of military force is appropriate. In this case, ringing the mountain at Saydnaya with armed Christians has stopped the slaughter that has been taking place over the last several years. In some place,s virtually all the Christians have been wiped out. Now, with the stronghold at Saydnaya, there is a measure of security that has been a long time coming. Sadly, there are many other places in the world where Christians are very much under the gun (literally) and there is a great need for prayer and security support for them as well.