WC_sleep_apnea_PAP_crop_t640Bless the Silent Generation. They’re some of the kindest, most patient people. But how is that patience faring in today’s complex healthcare environment?

My father, you may remember, is wheelchair-bound with Parkinson’s. He also has sleep apnea, which can cause interrupted breathing and lack of oxygen. He uses a CPAP machine to increase air pressure so that his airway doesn’t collapse when he sleeps at night.

Where’s the story?

For someone like my father, a CPAP machine can be the difference between a sound night’s sleep and constantly interrupted sleep resulting in extreme fatigue and mental confusion the next day. It’s a blessing, but not without the occasional hiccup.

Recently, my father developed a very raw sore on the bridge of his nose from friction caused by the CPAP mask. The visiting nurse instructed my mother not to place the mask on my father’s face until the sore heals. She cautioned that the skin on his nose would break down further and may not be able to heal.

So my mother stopped using the CPAP, which caused my father to have a terrible night’s sleep and, as my mother explained the next day, “Your father is a dishrag, unable to help with any of his daily activities like sitting up or moving from his wheelchair to the couch.” At 170 pounds to my mother’s 90 pounds, his dead weight is too much for her.

The solution to this problem lies in a new CPAP apparatus that doesn’t cover the nose. The visiting nurse suggested my mother call the medical supply company that provided their current mask. Turns out, they went out of business.

Next my mother called their general physician, who agreed to write an order for a new mask. She then called the insurance company to find a new provider and was told the closest was an hour away and that my father must go there for a fitting.

Given his current level of fatigue, my father is in no condition to make an hour’s drive, so my mother tried another supplier. Yes, they could do it, and they are only 15 minutes away. But they need the doctor’s order.


One day goes by, then the weekend, then another two days. My mother says she is “waiting for a call back from the company once they receive the order.” In the meantime, my father’s physical condition is worsening from lack of sleep.

As boomer children we are encouraging (i.e., demanding) that my mother emphasize the urgency of the situation and insist on an immediate appointment even if the order is not yet in hand. My lovely, patient mother is reluctant to do this in case per chance she offends someone or “gets them in trouble.”

It’s times like these when we adult children want to swoop in, take over and fix the problem. We are ready to do battle with a system that often feels impossible to navigate, even for the most mentally competent seniors.

But we decide that our encouragement might be enough to spur my mom to make that call. And it does.

Now I’d like to share what happened next, something that does not happen every day and gets me emotional when I talk about it.

Upon hearing my father’s dilemma, the woman who fits masks at the new company instructed my parents to come in the next morning, even though she had not received the paperwork.

After the appointment, my mother explained, “If that woman tried one mask on Daddy, she tried on 25. She spent two hours with us and we left with two new masks. Daddy can use them interchangeably with the one he has currently so that a pressure sore won’t be created in the future.”

I asked my mother how much it cost and she told me, “Nothing!”

Last week my father had his first good night’s sleep in over 10 days.

I hope that woman realizes what a huge difference she made in the life of a senior who dared to speak up. Please encourage any member of the Silent Generation you know to do the same—it can make all the difference.

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