Sunday, 1 March 2015

I'm fine, honest

There comes a point in every person's life when the march of time begins to stamp quite firmly on your toes. When you start needing more regular maintenance, a little more attention from the specialists. When you begin to be more than just a nodding acquaintance to the receptionist at your doctor.

Quite frankly, the fact that it's happening for me now is a mixture of disappointment and amazement. Disappointment that as I face my 45th birthday next month my inevitable descent into decrepitude is underway. Amazement that it didn't happen sooner, given the poor choices I made over the last few decades.

But I'm fine, honest.

I say that because there's a chance someone who reads this will know my mother. And while she's busy enough lighting a candle for my immortal soul every week, quite frankly she doesn't need the additional hassle of worrying about my body too. She'd need extra matches. I've told her much of what follows anyway, but if worrying were an Olympic discipline she'd win gold, silver and bronze, so let's keep this between ourselves, shall we?

It all started when I had my semi-regular medical check about a month or so ago. The typical run of tests, proddings and samples. (They actually gave me the choice of not having 'the-usual-test-they-give-to-men-of-my-age-involving-a-thumb' and I declined. You'd at least need to buy me dinner before I'd let that happen.)

I was in relatively good shape - well, for me - at that point. I'd lost about 25 pounds in the previous few months, had started up regular exercise and wasn't eating so much beige food. Most of the numbers from my tests were ok, or at last heading in the right direction. There was one problem. My blood pressure was high, and no matter how often they tested, it remained stubbornly elevated.

They sent me on my way and told me to make an appointment with my GP, who would prescribe me something to bring it down. Of course, later that day I did what every person does nowadays, and googled the potential impact of hypertension.

That was a silly thing to do, and certainly didn't do my blood pressure any favours. I made the appointment.

I'm no medical expert, but by all accounts, a resting blood pressure reading of 230/170 is a Bad Thing, so my GP tells me. So now I'm a diagnosed hypertensive. God knows what it was like when I was carrying two stone in extra weight last year, when I was doing sponsored bike rides (ironically, for the British Heart Foundation) and hauling my sorry arse around the lanes of Birmingham and Solihull, going red in the face and breathing like a bronchial locomotive. Best not to think about it, eh?

My instructions are this: just keep taking the pills, and avoid strenuous exercise. So I'm off the bike for the moment. But I'm fine, honest.

That was until the chest pains.

It turns out that when you present yourself at your GP again, complaining about chest pains, it's a cause for some concern. Especially if you're male, middle-aged, overweight, with high blood pressure and a family history of heart problems. Lots of boxes were ticked that day, I can tell you. I ended up going to A&E (ER for our American readers). There was no real drama at this point, apart from the looks emanating from She Who Must Be Obeyed when I told her I'd had the chest pains for a week or so. My telling her that it therefore "probably wasn't a heart attack" did not go down too well.

At the reception to A&E, there's a sign that essentially says: "If you have chest pains, come to the window IMMEDIATELY", however this is England so I queued. On explaining my symptoms, I was given a bright orange card and gently told to make my way through the door on the left.

This was how I ended up in the Resuscitation Room. I understand now; if they'd made a fuss at the front desk, rung alarm bells, shouted the word "STAT!", or, for that matter, mentioned the words "Resuscitation Room," chances are that wouldn't have helped matters.What with me being an unknown quantity, cardiac-wise.

Over the next seven hours I had more proddings and pokings. Three ECGs, two blood tests, a chest x-ray and cup of NHS tea. I'm not sure that the tea was the best part of the experience, but needs must.

The analysis showed that I wasn't, in fact, having a heart attack. Which was nice. It was probably a muscle strain in the chest wall. But I am off to see my GP again next week, to see what we can do about my blood pressure, which still shows numbers previously only seen by NASA.

It's ironic, though, isn't it? I'd hoped I'd turned things around. I'd found a form of exercise that I didn't actually hate, I'd begun to think about what I put in my mouth (behave yourselves) and consider how nice it would be to have a long, undramatic retirement in 20-odd years instead of another pie. Because the last thing I wanted was to be part of the healthcare system, other than shelling out a chunk of money in National Insurance every month so it can look after other, more needy cases.

But I'm in the system now, and on reflection it's the best place for me. Hopefully we'll get past this relatively minor nuisance and I'll be back, holding up traffic and picking up where I left off on that '1,000 miles in a year' thing. I look sadly at the bike and SWMBO tuts disapprovingly. It is, to quote Dylan Thomas, "a bit of a bugger".

But I'm fine, honest.


Tom Asby said...

Fully understood. As a man who turned 45 in January and who had also begun considering my own mortality, and attempting, in some small way, to rectify the years of abuse I'd put my body through, that would be a bit of a downer.

Our wives (and mothers) can worry so much about us at times, my own mother ferried me to a pretty standard outpatient surgery as my wife was elsewhere and couldn't. (I think it made my mother feel good that I let her do that, since I don't like pampering much)
The surgery was for a common form of cancer known to many middle aged white folk as a basal cell carcinoma. I wasn't allowed to call it cancer, or even by its correct medical name so I was reduced to calling it The Spanish Inquisition, because "no one expects ect ect...
I'm glad yours was something simple and not life threatening but the non-biking lifestyle seems counter-intuitive, but this is the way of the medical intelligentsia.
I also appreciate your having queued rather than taking them up on their offer of faster access to pokes, prods, tests, and NHS tea. I would have acted similarly.
As far as the hypertension, I have done a little study on meditation practice and it appears to have a very good effect on that medical concern. As a nice side effect, it helps with anxiety and other mental health concerns as well.
You can't go anywhere yet anyway, because I still haven't made it to England, that's on my bucket list! So keep getting healthy, you may need your health to avoid me.

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