SleepNet / BreatheNet

Being bionic

In science fiction movies, a bionic person is someone who has special powers, such as the strength of 100 men or the ability to run at the speed of a bullet, because parts of their body have been replaced by electronic machinery.

In real life, people who are dependent on electronic machinery to perform certain physiological functions are often termed disabled or handicapped. But in my 12 years’ experience as a medical equipment supplier I would label my patients as BIONIC rather than disabled. Let me tell you why. 

We can define being bionic as having a normal biological capability enhanced by an electromechanical device. The patients I deal with use electromechanical type devices to not necessarily enhance their capabilities, but rather to simply allow normal capability, like the ability to breathe.

Take my patient Mike, a 61 year old, with a double knee replacement and diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which means his upper airways (throat) collapses in his sleep and he has to sleep with a special machine (CPAP), to help him breathe. Mike has a bucket list and it includes climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with his two sons

Mike knew that this was going to be a huge feat, both physically and practically. He was not at his fittest, and his knees were a big concern, not to mention the challenge of how he was going to get his sleep machine to work on a 19,341 ft mountain at sub-zero temperatures, without electricity. 

But Mike was determined. His attitude from day one of the planning was positive and indomitable. Mike Googled every trick in the book and eventually approached me with a plan of action. Fortunately the technology available to us today is advanced and although we pushed the boundaries of the device specs, we managed to get Mike to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro with his 2 sons and his trusted CPAP machine.

Mike is one of my more fortunate patients, he only needs a machine to help him breathe when he sleeps, unlike 7 year old Elizabeth who was born with a neuromuscular condition requiring her to be on a breathing machine (ventilator) 24/7. As with Mike, Elizabeth and her family have the most amazingly positive attitude and are neither deterred nor hindered by this  machine, to which she is permanently attached.

Much has been published about mechanically assisted patients and quality of life, with mixed schools of thought. The question has been asked as to whether one should even initiate mechanical assistance in some cases, or whether allowing natural death would be the better option. 

My experience, anecdotal as it may be, is that like Paul the Apostle (2 Cor 12:7-10), my patients may have questioned the hand they have been dealt, may even have asked that they be spared from this burden, but ultimately, through grace, have found strength in their weakness.  


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  • European Respiratory Journal, 2008; 32 1328-1336, W. Windisch
  • BMJ Journal: Survival & QOL outcome after mechanical ventilation…” C. Foerch et al
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