Cardella: Me and My BP

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the glory of being a worry wart. I lied. There is a huge problem that often happens when I worry excessively. Something that’s not good. My already high blood pressure increases even higher. I’m a head case when it comes to taking my blood pressure. I have faced difficult surgeries bravely, but place a blood pressure cuff on my arm and I need a change of underwear.

There’s a term for my problem. It’s called “white coat syndrome.” “White coat syndrome” is defined as when a patient tightens up in a doctor’s office when his or her blood pressure is taken. The result is often an inaccurate reading. My problem has gotten so acute that I even experience the problem when taking my own blood pressure at home.

It’s not unusual for doctors to ask a patient to check their blood pressure at home. Doctors often tell ME to STOP taking my blood pressure at home. They worry that I’m going to worry myself into a serious health problem. “Calm down,” they tell me. Have you ever tried to calm down when someone tells you to calm down? That’s like saying, “Try to ignore your eyes blinking for the next hour.” The more I try to ignore my blinking, the more conscious I become of it. The result is disastrous. I come away feeling like a failure. I obsess over the next time I’m going to be asked to take a blood pressure test.

I have tried to come up with a strategy for remaining calm while my blood pressure is being taken. I feel like the guy who studies for a urine test — silly and inadequate. My doctor has a lot of patience (no pun intended). She tries to bolster my confidence. She reassures me that she’s not worried about my blood pressure readings. But the problem is not HER worrying, but ME.

She tells me to try taking my blood pressure 30 minutes after I take my BP medicine. I should sit on the couch and think happy thoughts. I follow her recommended approach without success. Maybe it’s because no happy thoughts occur. At least in the doctor’s office, my blood pressure goes down to normal levels when the doctor takes it a second time – after we engage in small talk. But at home, the second time I attempt to take my blood pressure, the reading goes up — are you kidding me!

I check the internet for tips on how to remain calm while my blood pressure is taken. I’m instructed to sit up straight — no slouching. Check. Don’t exercise before my pressure is taken. Check. Don’t drink anything with caffeine in it. Check. But nothing works. I’m considering submitting fraudulent readings to my doctor. What’s the penalty for lying to my doctor about my own blood pressure readings? Is it like passing counterfeit money? Showing false proof of vaccination?

I thought about starting a criminal enterprise. ID cards with false blood pressure readings. Add a forged signature of a doctor. Maybe include false cholesterol readings, too. Make it illegal to eat in French restaurants unless your blood pressure is no higher than 120 over 80. Then sell the fake “certified” BP readings. There’s an entire army of folks who would pay big for “proof” of a good BP reading. But the thought of me breaking the law increases my blood pressure.

The problem with telling a man to let his brain wander into a meadow of happy thoughts is sex. Sex is the happiest thought I can think of. But thinking about sex raises my blood pressure. You can prescribe the happy thoughts remedy to females. They can think of countless things that make them happy -– WITHOUT raising their blood pressure. Why is that? Because in the range of human experiences, sex comes in at number 37. But give me or any male five minutes of free thinking and we conjure an entire scenario featuring Halle Berry. So where am I here?

Quick aside: I had a recent cardio exam. Surprise! It showed the creaky arteries of an 83-year-old man. Nothing unusual. No evidence that there’s anything drastic going on. “But I have trouble walking,” I complain to the cardiologist. “Wear support hose,” he says.

Think about how frightening the rudimentary procedure is for taking blood pressure. They fit that cuff carefully on one of your arms. After first asking the question, ”Which arm?” I ask myself, which arm might give me an edge? Can I get a lower reading in my right or left? The decision is mine. The question is answered. The cuff begins to tighten. I can feel my arteries throbbing. The damn machine is about to betray me again. The truth is that there is no edge. I’m helpless. And scared. Very scared. No matter who is taking my pressure, their face assumes the same questioning expression. Finally the cuff deflates. That person stares into my eyes for a moment without revealing the reading. I take their expression to mean, “Why aren’t you dead?”

I head down a familiar path. Prescriptions are changed. Start taking the little oblong pink pill again. The one you stopped taking several months ago. Stop taking the even smaller white round pill you began taking several months ago. After two months, begin taking your blood pressure at home again. Keep a record of the readings. Call the doctor. I hang up the phone after dutifully promising I will heed all instructions.

Oh hell! I forgot to ask whether I can stop wearing the support hose.