By | October 31, 2000

Readers of my weight journal will know that I have sleep apnea. This is something which I have had all of my life, but I just had it diagnosed last year. A thought occurred to me just yesterday: if I had had my sleep apnea corrected while I was in college, would I have a degree in Microbiology right now?

It’s an interesting question. I graduated Salutatorian from high school, and silver cord from junior college. I then went to Colorado State University, where I majored in microbiology. However, not very long into my academic career at CSU, I ran into problems.

My grades for my first semester at CSU were very reasonable. I pulled down a 3.5 GPA for my first semester at the big school. I thought that that was quite an accomplishment. I had had a little bit of trouble in my microbiology class, but I attributed that to problems balancing work and school. I would work from 5:00am – 8:30am, then have class at 9:00am. I found it very hard to stay awake during the microbiology class, and would often doze through parts of the class. Then, come time for the test, I would not remember a key point, and end up with a not-up-to-my-standards score. I ended up just missing a “B” by a couple of points, which pulled my GPA down from a 3.7 or so to the 3.5.

My problems really appeared in the second semester. I started having more problems staying awake during classes. Changing the hours that I worked didn’t really seem to make a difference. I just could not stay awake during class. For some of the classes I took, it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was getting by in Immunology, was cruising in SciFi, understood the basic concepts in Physics II, and thought I had everything down in Shakespeare. Biochemistry was my big problem. For some reason, I just could not grasp the concepts being taught. At the time, it never occurred to me that sleeping through half of a class makes it difficult to keep up with a good course, let alone a challenging course like Biochem.

Then came the big shocker: the Shakespeare midterm. Up until midterms, I thought I was doing fine. I was getting consistent feedback (in the form of tests and papers) from my other classes, and I knew that I was in pretty good shape. But the Shakespeare class did not have any tests or papers or anything: we went over three or four plays, then had a major midterm. I thought that I was sitting pretty good, took the test, and suddenly realized I hadn’t the faintest idea what we had gone over the past 8 weeks. It was a scary feeling. Not even the fact that, out of the 35 students in the Intro to Shakespeare class, 17 others besides me got an F on the midterm was enough to console me. I had failed a class! I had never gotten an “F” on a test before. NEVER! I didn’t know what to do.

So I ended up tanking the rest of the semester in ALL of my classes. I stopped going to class regularly, started drinking more, and started staying out late with friends whenever I could. I basically turned my back completely on school. It wasn’t a very wise decision, but I was only 19 years old at the time. I didn’t know how to deal with that disappointment, with the thought that I had just failed at something.

I meant to drop all of my classes. I really did. But somehow I just never got around to it. Come finals week, I knew that I had two choices, and they’d both lead to flunking: 1) take the tests and try to salvage something out of the mess I had gotten myself into, or 2) blow the whole thing off, move back to Trinidad, and forget school. I decided to study, and take my chances. All in all, it didn’t make any difference. The rooms or times (or both) for both the Shakespeare and Physics finals had been changed; I missed them completely. I couldn’t bring myself to step into the room for the Biochem final. I did take the SciFi final, because I was pretty sure I would pass it. And I did. I ended up with a C in that class, even though I had missed approximately 33% of the class meetings. For every other class on my schedule that semester, I received an F.

I’ve always blamed the drinking and the going out with friends as the things which caused my educational disaster at CSU. But now that I think about it, I am not so sure that this is true. I’ve been selectively remembering what happened there, I think. Because I have been remembering the drinking and partying as happening before the academic problems. But the more I reflect, the more I work my memory on this, the more I am certain that the academic problems happened first.

So that leads me back to my original point. If I had had treatment for my sleep apnea, would things have been different? I realize now that the answer is: Absolutely! The Intro to Microbiology course is the main reason I think this. For my first semester, I did well in all of my classes, except for Micro. I could not stay awake during this class, and that led directly to me getting a “C” instead of a “B” or an “A”. If I had been getting full nights of sleep, I would’ve been able to do much better in Micro. But the big differences would’ve been in the second semester.

By the second semester, my sleep problems were really mounting up. I also had most of my classes later in the day; the sleep deprivation from the apnea would always kick in later in the day. By lunch time, I was starting to get sleepy. By 2:00 in the afternoon, I was asleep, no matter where I was. There was no way that I could stay awake in the classes I was taking. And that spelled disaster.

I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I think I am a somewhat-intelligent man. I have never had a real problem with schoolwork, as long as I could actually study and absorb information in class. Because I was mostly-asleep through these classes, I didn’t have the chance to absorb any information. I basically had to try to teach myself this subject matter. Teaching one’s self Intro to Sociology is pretty easy: teaching one’s self Biochemistry or Physics II is not easy (or at least not easy for me).

Being able to stay awake would’ve made a huge difference. I would’ve been able to stay ontrack with the subjects I was studying. It wouldn’t have been easy, but I am sure that I would’ve been able to earn a degree in Micro.

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