Ever since my doctor diagnosed me with high blood pressure, he’s been telling me to remove stress from my life.
Hello, they’re called relatives.
No, I’m just kidding, if I know what’s good for me. But I can’t remove stress. Not only is stress an essential part of deadlines, it’s also an essential ingredient in the humor of my articles. Every article, if you remove the punch lines, is actually just about stress. For example, this one.
So in general, I’d been hoping to reduce my blood pressure between doctor visits by losing weight. Because unfortunately, I’m overweight. I blame the nature of my job. It’s a desk job. Whatever you do in your adult life, your body will say, “Well, if that’s what we need to do all the time, I’m going to adapt to it.” So if you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods, your body will adopt a shape that is harder to tip over. And also harder to accidentally start exercising, as that would take away from your work.
And it happens to be that overweight people have high blood pressure. How do I explain this? Okay, the way blood pressure works is that it’s a measurement of how hard your heart has to work to pump blood to your entire body via all the little tubes. It’s like water pressure in a hose. So let’s say you’re trying to force water through a hose, and there’s a fat guy sitting on it.
So this morning, when I went to the doctor for my semi-annual checkup that is not my idea at all, he told me that my blood pressure was once again high.
So I blamed him. I said, “Of course it’s high now. I’m at the doctor.”
I’m not even sure how much the blood pressure numbers mean in the first place, because the nurse took my blood pressure, and then the doctor took it a couple of minutes later, and it was ten points off. Points? I don’t know what to call them. Are they points? Pounds per square inch?
Basically, the doctor told me that, at the moment, I had a hundred thirty over ninety blood pressures. Which, if you know math, can be reduced to 13 over 9. So that’s not so bad.
Nevertheless, he said he wanted me to wear a 24-hour blood-pressure cuff. This is a cuff that inflates itself at random times over the course of the day, often at inopportune moments, such as when you’re carrying groceries. The idea, he explained, was to see if my blood pressure would be high when I was asleep, when I wouldn’t be full of excuses.
And I thought to myself, “I hope I don’t have any bad dreams that night. Like a dream where a giant is suddenly squeezing my arm.”
But at least it would give me the opportunity to prove that my blood pressure was lower when I was at home.
Doctors are always trying to find things wrong with me. They feel like if they don’t, they’re not doing their job. They don’t want me to walk out and say, “See? I don’t need doctors.” They want me to walk out and say, “It’s a good thing I went to the doctor! Look at all these things he caught!”
Case in point, the doctor had been talking about sending me for blood tests for things that we don’t yet know I have, which I was really not so in the mood of, and then he brought up the blood pressure thing.
He was actually surprised that I agreed to the cuff as fast as I did: “None of the other patients say yes so fast.”
Well, none of the other patients have an article to write.
I was also saying yes to get him to forget about sticking me with needles. Hey, I’m not a scientist or anything, but if my blood pressure is very high, wouldn’t you not want to prick me with needles? Wouldn’t it be like jabbing a needle in the side of a seltzer bottle?
So I asked, “When are we doing this?” and the doctor said, “We have to coordinate a day that no one else is using the cuff.” It’s not like I can share.
So I asked, “Would it be easier for my wife to just use the one I have at home to take my blood pressure when I’m asleep? Like I’ll go to bed with the cuff on, and in middle of the night my wife will randomly push the button? And I’ll scream and fall out of bed?”
But they wanted me to use theirs, so that’s the plan -- Plan A was to lose weight, but this one – Plan B – is to wear a cuff for 24 hours, and if I can’t control myself from panicking when the thing turns on when I’m asleep, the doctor will add another pill to my regimen, and I won’t have to lose weight! So that’s good news, right?
And by the way, I wouldn’t be taking this new pill instead of what I’m taking now; I’d be adding it on top of the original. If the original pill isn’t working, why on earth would I still take it? But doctors don’t like to admit they were wrong. They never take off a pill; they only add pills. It’s like when you add a choleh to a list, and then he or she gets out of the hospital, and you’re like, “I can’t take them off the list. Who am I to judge if they’re better enough?” So you keep them on. That’s why every shul’s cholim list is depressingly long. How does a minyan of 20 people know 400 people who are sick?
But I don’t want to take any pills, ideally. I don’t like to be dependent on anything specific, because of this ridiculous desert-island mentality that I have. I’ve read enough books about people stranded on desert islands, and the first problem they always run into is the one guy who doesn’t have his medication or something. Somebody has to learn to live without his inhaler. So the lesson I always walk away with from these books is, “I don’t want to be that guy.”
So generally, when doctors take my blood pressure, I try to skew it low. I try to beat the test. I close my eyes and picture myself in a relaxing setting, only my brain is scrambling to find the first relaxing setting I could think of before the readings kick in, so I basically always picture myself on a beach chair looking out over the ocean, with maybe a single palm tree over my right shoulder. I don’t know why that’s my go-to place. I have never in real life brought a beach chair to the ocean, or even really relaxed on a beach. Are the crowds about to show up? Why don’t I hear my kids? How am I going to clean all this sand out of my car?
Plus, I’m constantly thinking, “Low numbers. Low numbers.” And the number’s always different between when the nurse does it and when the doctor does it five minutes later. “The doctor’s doing it! Run back to the beach chair!” I don’t know; they don’t take my weight twice. Also, when they do take my weight, they say, “Let’s subtract the weight of his clothes.” But when they take my blood pressure, they don’t say, “Let’s subtract the fact that he’s trying to imagine that he isn’t here when he’s clearly sitting upright on a noisy piece of paper!””
And what’s with the single palm tree? Is this a desert island? Is it possible that every time I try to have less stressful thoughts, I think I’m picturing some tropical paradise, but I’m actually picturing a desert island, which is making me even more stressed? I need to come up with a new place.
So naturally, I asked him what I should do over the course of the day that I’d have the cuff on. Do I want to live normally over these 24 hours or not? Should I try to keep my numbers low? Should I specifically not do exercise, like always? On the one hand, regular exercise lowers your blood pressure. But on the other hand, it raises your blood pressure while you’re doing it.
But the doctor said, “Do what you normally do over the course of the day – nothing special.”
This is not going to be a normal day. I’m sure that during these 24 hours, a bunch of stressful things will happen every time right before the machine inflates. And the downside is that I don’t really sleep enough. He’s going to say, “Um, it shows that at 2 o’clock in the morning, your blood pressure was still high.” And I’d say, “That’s because I wasn’t sleeping. I was trying to make a deadline.” And he would say, “What time did you go to sleep?” So I’d tell him, and he’d say, “Maybe if you went to sleep earlier, you’d have lower blood pressure.”
And I’d say, “But then I’d be tighter on deadlines. It’s lose-lose.”
So pills are clearly the answer.
Either way it’s not going to be a totally accurate reading. If I really want an accurate reading, I should probably not tell my wife about the blood pressure cuff. Or my kids. But that will skew it high.
That said, maybe the desert island isn’t the worst idea. Just for a day.