The pressure's all mine

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Not too long ago, I went to an urgent care clinic for a cough and got into trouble over my blood pressure.

I'm not going to tell you what my blood pressure was, because I don't need you to send me a fruit basket. Let me put it this way: If the two numbers were the IQs of your kids, they would graduate from MIT before they could drive.

I was instructed to surrender samples of several bodily fluids and my chest was X-rayed. There was nothing wrong with me, it seemed, except that I was in imminent danger of bursting.

Turns out over-the-counter decongestants are notorious for driving up your blood pressure, which everyone knows except those of us who take them out of a childish and headstrong desire to breathe. I'd been knocking back multisymptom cold medicine for a week.

The nurse said my blood had too much potassium, and I needed to go to the emergency room. So I did. I surrendered my clothes, my free will and more of my bodily fluids for retesting and was hooked up to a bank of monitors and an IV. I became a helpless lab rat. Without cheese.

I tried to close my eyes and relax, but I was disturbed by a woman in a nearby exam cubicle vomiting hopelessly. Periodically someone would come in, interfere with me and disappear again. They wrapped my arm in an automatic pressure cuff, which abruptly went off -- RRRRRRRRR! -- at 15-minute intervals. They covered me in fruit stickers with wires attached for an EKG.

The nurse emptied into my open vein two syringes of something she said would reduce my heart rate. And it did. That was unnerving. As I watched my heart slow down, I wondered whether the beats would level off or slow till I flatlined and they came in with paddles to reboot me.

The attending physician asked if anyone had ever suggested to me that my mother's dementia was caused by hypertension and zillions of tiny strokes, which, no, no one had, thanks, but that news was unlikely to help get my blood pressure down and RRRRRRR -- there goes the cuff again.

The nurse came back and said that according to the new blood work, my potassium was not high. It was actually slightly LOW (clearly they're just making things up now), so I was given a cup of chalky Tang to drink, as long as I was sitting here doing nothing but running up an astronomical bill. I probably just could have eaten a banana, but where's the fun in that?

The only good news I got all evening was when the doctor came in and announced my chest film was "great!" "Did they tell you at urgent care that it was great?" No. They said it was clear and I didn't have pneumonia. She shook her head.

"It's GREAT," she crowed.

I was pondering that when the nurse came back to check my oil or replace a fuse or something, and I asked what would make a chest X-ray "great." She looked baffled. "Who said that?" she asked.

What could that even mean? "Wow, your ribs are really all in the right places!" "Look at that sternum! Now that's a sternum!" I had only glimpsed that X-ray from across the room, and I thought my heart looked awfully low. Like maybe my heart sank enough times in my life that it had physically descended.

After 31/2 hours, they released me with some prescriptions and an order to take my blood pressure daily and see my regular doctor.

I paid $50 for a BP cuff at Walgreens and took my pills, which made me dizzy. A week later, I saw my doctor.

He put me on different pills, which don't make me dizzy, and told me, "Don't take your blood pressure every day. It'll just make you crazy."

Spending $50 on something I don't need makes me crazy. But my BP is fine. My cough cleared up. I eat more bananas. And next time I get sick, I'll keep it to myself.


Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:


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