Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Speaking Positively About Negative Tech

Posted on: September 10, 2016

by Fred Marx

If this were another screed about new technology, it would be titled “Why I Hate My Fancy-Schmantzy New Smartphone.” Or, “Sliced Bread Has Fewer Crumbs Than Windows 10.” This is not about that.

This is about the love/hate relationship I have with tech that’s keeping me alive and fully functional. Overly dramatic? Not to me.

I think of myself as healthy; maybe even healthier than most people my age. I eat (mostly) good foods, get a reasonable amount of exercise, and more than enough fresh mountain air and sunshine. I have none of the health risk factors for anything.

Yet, I stop breathing about 52 times per hour while I’m sleeping. Yep … Obstructive Sleep Apnea. And that serves up the first of two examples of what I’m calling negative technology: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. You know it as CPAP.

If ever there was a perfect medical/mechanical concept, it is this one. If the airway closes during sleep, the CPAP machine rests quietly at your bedside and gently pushes some humidified air into the nose to keep the airway open. Simple! Just an innocuous machine, a 6ft hose and a little mask to cover your nose and mouth. But that’s where the problem begins.

Half of everyone for whom CPAP is prescribed — stop using it. Some people never even acquire or use the blessed thing (God only knows why). Others are claustrophobic about having a mask separating them from perfectly good room air. Others never find an effective and comfortable mask from among the myriad styles and sizes available. I’m in this last group.

It took months to find a mask that worked even moderately well. It took years to find the mask that actually works for me now. Huzzah! Or maybe not so much.

Just try to sleep in a position other than flat on your back. Wanna roll over? You have to half-wake up, drag the hose to wherever you need it, reposition the mask on your face and try to fall back to sleep. In my case, this ritual takes place several times a night. Need to take a little stroll down the hall at 2:30am? Take it all off, stroll, get back into bed, put it all back on, and try to fall back to sleep. Wanna cuddle with your honey? Fuggedaboutit. Can’t be done. Why? The answer is blowing in the wind. CPAP users well know the song.

In business, there’s something called ‘The cost/value proposition.’ It applies to everything, really. If I put out this amount of energy, I get that benefit back. If I invest in this enterprise, I am likely to receive that return-on-investment in three years. If I spend this amount of money at the store, I get that number of Snickers® bars.

In the Obstructive Sleep Apnea business, the cost/value proposition is easy: use it and you don’t die.

The mask that works for me is not really a mask at all. Rather, it looks and functions like a nasal canula … the kind of contraption you see strapped to hospital patients’ faces to give them oxygen. It’s perfect for me. Except that it isn’t.

My canula requires a seal in order to deliver the goods. For months, the skin at the tip of my nose objected to the overnight attachment of this foreign invader; objected to the point of developing blisters and scabs. Ewww. It was during this period that I began working for a new employer. (Yes, I know I’m retired. But I’m doing a very bad job of it.) Anyway, the scab on the tip of my nose was so evident that I had to explain to the boss that I am not, in fact, snorting cocaine. Embarrassing. For all I know, cocaine would be better.

So, that’s the cost part. The benefit part is that I wake up in the morning without feeling like I’ve had 52 heart attacks. Honestly, it hurts. And the hurt stays with you all day.

* * *

A million years ago, I spent lots of time on flight lines, the areas of an airport where (usually military) aircraft are parked and serviced. Can you guess how many decibels of sound are generated by a fighter jet ramping up its engines? That’s right, a gazillion decibels. Hearing protection? Not me.

My job was to visually document certain flight operations and practices. For this, I shouldered a 40lb television camera with a 9lb telephoto lens all tethered to a 15lb battery belt and a nice set of headphones. Headphones? Don’t they amplify sound? Why, yes they do. If the engines generated a gazillion decibels, my headphones generated five gazillion. It goes with the job. Hearing damage? Oh yeah. Just ask my wife.

I didn’t actually know I was impaired until years later when someone who’d seen my profile asked, “Hey Fred, how’s your hearing?” “Huh?”

Wikipedia tells me that the first hearing aids were developed in the 1600’s. They were called Ear Trumpets EarTrumpet.jpgand they looked weird and nobody liked using them – so they didn’t. Two hundred years later,bluto.jpg electronic hearing aids were invented, but you had to hire a big burly guy to carry them around for you. Nobody liked the smell of burly guys, so nobody used the hearing aids. (Note: deodorant hadn’t been invented yet.)

Yet another two hundred years later, I was introduced to my first hearing aids. By then, technology had improved the devices and shrunk them to a size that you could hang behind your ears. But, if, like me, you wore glasses, the parts that hung the glasses on your ears rubbed against the hearing aids causing horror-movie sound effects all day long. I didn’t much care for that, so I stopped using the hearing aids. And I haven’t watched a horror movie since.

Just this week, I got the latest greatest technologically zip-a-dee-doo-dah digital hearing aids by ReSound. They were crafted specifically from moldings taken of my ear canals. They are a fraction of the size of the old devices. ThReSound Hearing Aid.jpgey have hidden microphones that face forward (unlike the last pair). They have some noise cancellation. They have push-button settings for female voices, male voices, and rock ‘n roll. Seriously! I can raise and lower the volume in either or both ears, take phone calls via Bluetooth, and they make my eggs-over-easy. Okay, not really that last part.

Sounds great, huh? (Pun intended.) The value in the cost/value proposition seems pretty obvious: I get all these benefits and I can hear better. The cost part of the proposition is that they are not completely invisible, and they are slightly uncomfortable. Maybe I’ll get used to them. Maybe I won’t.

I’m expecting a delivery from FedEx any day now. The package will contain accessories: a wireless microphone my wife can clip to her blouse so I can clearly hear every golden syllable she speaks; and an actual real live remote with which I can control ambient sound, the directionality of the mics, and the size of the bubbles my CPAP machine blows to amuse the cats at night. bubbles.jpg Okay, not really that last part.

(Personal note: please don’t tell my wife about the FedEx package. If she ever finds out about the mic, she’ll make me wear the hearing aids. Thank you.)

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