Monday, August 17, 2009

Get Some Sleep--You're Grounded

Well there is a new development in the continuing saga of an airtraffic controller with sleep apnea.

Since the "wakefulness test" that I recently took didn't include a stimulant screen test (including caffeine) I have to retake it. Also, my 4 hours and 11 minute per night average of using my CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) machine is not "aeromedically acceptable" according to Central Region Flight Surgeon, Dr. Wilson.

I tried to explain to him that I don't usually sleep more than 4-6 hours per night and that when working mid shifts, I basically sacrifice a night's sleep to get back on a normal schedule. I gave him an example from this past week:

Wednesday night bedtime about midnight.
Thursday--up at 4 am, work 5:30 am to 1:30 pm. Late in the evening, I took an hour long nap then went back to work at 10:30 pm.
Friday--get off work from the mid shift at 6:30 am. Once home I chill for a bit in front of the TV, have a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee. I doze off on the sofa and miss 45 minutes of the movie that was on. Then I'm on the computer for a little bit before taking a shower. After that it's out the door to get gas for the lawn mower. I mow the lawn, work in the yard tearing out some overgrown landscaping and finish my day pretty much the same way everybody else does--dinner with the family, watch the Cardinals win another baseball game, read for a bit, play on the computer and a slightly earlier than usual bedtime of around midnight.

Having pretty much missed a night's sleep, I slept until 7 am on Saturday morning. I had a morning meeting with the American Christian Writers and a pretty normal kind of day. We met some friends for dinner and they came over to the house until about 10 pm. Then I watched some UFC fights with Aaron until a little after 11 pm.

I worked for one of the other controllers on Sunday morning from midnight until 8 am. When I got home, I showered, changed and went to church. After church, we went out for lunch and then came home and watched the Cardinal's ballgame until they went into a rain delay after 7 innings. I slept from 4 pm to 6 pm and was up a few minutes before company arrived for dinner.
I will say that I went to bed early Sunday night--about 10:30 and slept until 7 this morning.

Now if you total the sleep from Wednesday night through Sunday night/Monday morning (five nights) it comes out to less than 24 hours...and that's counting the 8.5 hours from Sunday night. If you throw out the 8.5 hours (since that woiuld be a "normal" night's sleep), you have about 15 hours in four nights. Truthfully, I just don't sleep that much. Besides, if 4 hours of sleep is not "aeromedically acceptable," I would think that most controllers across the country would need to use sick leave for all of the 8-10 hour turns that we do on a weekly basis.

The end result is that I'm medically disqualified until I retake the wakefulness test with the stimulant screen (including caffeine--which is stupid since you can drink coffee, tea or colas at work).

While all of this might bring comfort to the flying public (yes, the FAA is really concerned about your safety...either that or they're just covering their legal butts), the sad truth is that far too many controllers refuse to seek medical help for this dangerous illness because of all of the hoops you have to jump through once you have a medical diagnosis and are receiving treatment.

But don't worry. I'm used to this kind of's all a part of working for the federal government.

John <><


Bilbo said...

I'm flying to Colorado Springs on September 1st...make sure you're back on duty before then!

Sicilian said...

John. . . . you described my sleep patterns for 8 years. I did exactly what you are doing. . . . my goal was 5 hours a night, but usually I did not get it. My children now remind me of how I would pick them up from school, get them fed, clean up the kitchen, sit them in front of the TV and sleep on the couch for an hour or two. I'd put them to bed, and get ready for work.
While they were at school, I'd try to get 4-5 hours.
It is a hard way to live. . . . . but you do what you got to do.

Mike said...

I knew a guy at the phone company that never slept more than 4 hours. He would go to bed at 1am and get up at 5am. And he could talk your arm off all day long.

I think "legal butts" pretty much covers what's happening.

Amanda said...

I'm sorry to hear this. It must be very frustrating.

I also know plenty of people who only sleep 4 or 5 hours a day. Its very common in Malaysia for people to watch Chinese serials until 2am and then be up for work at 6am again. EVERY day.

Hope it works out for you soon.

Kevin said...

Your schedule and sleep patterns sound a lot like mine. I have noticed though that in the past few years I'm not able to pull this self inflicted sleep deprivation off as well as I once did. It must be the years catching up with me.