It all started last October. I was at the doctor’s office with a stiff neck. Having self-diagnosed it as a severe case of meningitis, all I needed was the doctor’s signature so I could get some medicine and perhaps reacquaint myself with my toes, whom I had been unable to see all week.
It had been months since my last checkup, so the nurse started my exam with all the trivial procedures to verify that I am, in fact, a real human being with ears, a nose, throat and kneecaps that protest with a jerk whenever bopped with a rubber mallet.
She continued with the blood pressure cuff, which she routinely wrapped around my arm and started pumping.
Then she looked at me with the type of expression a person general reserves for a corpse that doesn’t know enough to shut up.
She finally found the words to politely tell me that my blood pressure was abnormally high, and skittered out to find the doctor before I collapsed right there in the exam room.
Never mind my stiff neck—it went away the next day—all I was given was a prescription and a caution sticker that said, “Warning: Contents under pressure.”
And so began my adventure in hypertension, a journey of frequent doctor visits and healthier meals and a daily dose of one orange pill and half of a pink pill.
The knowledge of my high blood pressure is not knew to me. I’ve been ringing the bell on the arterial carnival game since I started donating blood in high school. The difference is the only thing the Red Cross can do to lower a person’s blood pressure is take out a pint or two.
The blood drive technicians always chalked up my high blood pressure to something called White Coat Syndrome, a psychological condition that causes a person’s blood pressure to rise only in the presence of a person wearing a white lab coat.
I was more apt to believe I really suffered from Sharp Needle Syndrome, a condition of apprehension that causes a person’s BP to spike in the presence of people wielding needles the size of a harpoon.
But my doctor took it more seriously, and since last fall I’ve been seeing him quite regularly, occasionally assisting in lowering his stock of sample hypertension meds.
And I was making good progress: when I went to see him a couple weeks ago he told me I was looking good—my BP, that is—and that he didn’t want to see me for another six months.
This was actually sort of disappointing, since one of the receptionists and I have developed a friendly relationship: I know she likes beef jerky, and she knows I like to have my exams on Fridays in the late afternoon.
I bring all this up only to share a bit of irony from this last weekend, when wife Hanna and I took a quick trip to Colorado, which is when I fell off the wagon.
I ended up leaving the meds at home. That probably would have been manageable, except for the anxiety that immediately followed that realization. Images of sealed bags of ruffled Lays in high altitudes began flashing before my eyes.
I’m nothing if not incredibly efficient at making matters worse.
But I did make it home without any diabolical diastolics, although I’m going to have to find that warning sticker again.