And now for something totally different…
For those of you not familiar with CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), it is a device used to treat sleep apnea (a condition where the airway to the lungs collapses during sleep, causing extreme snoring, which causes frequent nocturnal wakeups, interrupted sleep and loss of REM sleep). A CPAP is an electrically operated air pump that forces high pressure air through a hose and mask to the sleeper. They are widely prescribed and used by millions. Both my wife and I use this equipment. My CPAP is equipped with a water reservoir that provides moisture to the airstream. This prevents the mouth and throat from drying out over the course of the evening. Air is drawn in from the ambient environment, and pumped over the reservoir, which is kept warm by a heating element. The water evaporates and the vapor is inhaled. It sounds dreadful, but it works, and it is really helpful. If I don’t use mine, I wake up with a sore throat, a headache, and a very bad night’s sleep.
The reservoir is cleaned thoroughly before use, and refilled with distilled water each time. In spite of these precautions, in the morning, I see signs of bacteria in the water. (The technical term is CPAP snot). In the morning, the water left in the reservoir shows little flecks of a transparent, gelatinous, fibrous goo that I suspect are colonies of microorganisms. The stuff forms a slick film that sticks to the side of the reservoir, It isn’t present in large amounts, but it is easily visible. The question is, what is it? And how does it get there? It can’t come from my mouth (the human oral cavity is a hotbed of bacterial growth) because the face mask and the reservoir are separated by 6 feet of hose, and the air flow is in the wrong direction. Does it come from the air in the room? Possibly, there is an input dust filter but I doubt it can stop bacteria-sized particles. But how does bacteria survive and multiply in distilled water? Supposedly, that stuff is completely sterile, and even if its dark, warm and moist, the bugs can’t find anything to eat there. There shouldn’t even be any dissolved mineral nutrients.
Yeah, I know its gross, but the Zone is filled with interdisciplinary scientific talent. Where else can I find an answer to such a question? And if you can answer it, I’ve got an even more challenging question for you.