I’m always keen to learn of people’s subjective experience of a treatment or procedure that raises doubts about its usefulness. Many will have heard of the disorder known as obstructive sleep apnoea, whereby breathing is interrupted during the night. Its two main knock-on effects – stentorian snoring and chronic exhaustion – can be eased by surgery to the back of the throat.
But some sufferers are understandably not very enthusiastic at the prospect, so opt instead for a CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) device, which involves wearing a face mask at night through which air is pumped to keep the airways open.
Last year, Danish medical researcher Peter Gotzsche – who likened his snoring to “the roar of a ferocious animal” before a kill – was keen to give it a try. “When it started, it blew me up like a balloon,” he writes in the British Medical Journal. “It was very unpleasant, and after a while my throat dried out.” He consulted the 100-page manual that came with the device, but was unable to locate the relevant passage that would allow him to turn the pressure down.
The following night was no better, at which point he decided to read the manual thoroughly. To his dismay, he found buried in the text a warning that there was no guarantee that the CPAP device might not be lethal.
“I decided any inconvenience of my condition did not justify the risk of dying of the treatment,” he said.