‘A stroke is the worst of all,’ my GP said to me once many years ago. Her words have stuck. ‘Imagine it,’ she said. ‘You’re alive, but paralysed. At best you might get back your ability to walk, to use a knife and fork, to speak again, but at worst you’ll sit like a vegetable, brain damaged and unable to care for yourself for the rest of your life.’
My older sister takes good care of herself these days. She meditates first thing in the morning. She eats a balanced diet, does not drink too much, or smoke, and is physically active. Recently she started to feel dizzy to the point she dared not even drive her car.
Next a visit to her GP who told my sister it was lucky she had arrived at the doctor’s surgery when she had. She could have suffered a stroke.
Besides the dizziness, my sister’s blood pressure was up. The doctor then urged my sister to take blood pressure reducing drugs.
This then is story one: my sister’s blood pressure, and given she is my sister I go out in sympathy with her. I watch as my head starts to feel dizzy and my blood pressure rises.
Story two: my sister in law who last week took herself off for her regular two yearly visit to the optometrist.
‘There are signs of a stroke, here’ the optometrist said to my sister in law after he had examined her eyes. Best you take yourself off to your doctor to get it checked out.’
My sister-in-law’s doctor then sent her off to a specialist for tests. She’s yet to get the results but her GP had tried to reassure her that these are signs only, not facts. Besides people can sometimes have tiny strokes and not even notice. Still it’s a warning.
A warning of what? I have this tendency to identify with people and their ailments. In any case, I’m off to see the doctor tomorrow to check out my own rising blood pressure.
I bought a blood pressure monitor from the chemist so I could take my blood pressure myself away from the anxiety producing doctor. ‘White coat hypertension’ they call it. You see the doctor and the minute she applies the cuff around your arm and pumps up the monitor your blood pressure increases.
Now it’s happening to me. I can feel my heart race as soon as I consider the possibility of trotting off to the kitchen to check my blood pressure. And it has not registered at 138 or less systolic since I started checking a week ago. So now I’m panicking.
Story three: my mother’s heart began to fail over eighteen months ago now. Medication has kept her going but there’s only so much more her heart can take before it gives out altogether.
The blood pressure monitor sits on the kitchen table calling to me. It calls to me, ‘come now and try again’. You never know it might be normal once more and then you can sigh a sigh of relief and when you go to the doctor tomorrow you can tell the doctor it has been high at times but it has also been normal. And the doctor will say, these things happen, not to worry.
Or the doctor, my doctor, will be like my sister’s doctor and whack me onto blood pressure reducing medication.
I’m happy to self medicate from time to time with alcohol. I’m happy to buy over the counter herbal remedies, but I do not enjoy the thought of taking the medication that western medicine produces unless it is for short term purposes. Nothing of the long term variety for me and yet I know there are times when it is essential.
Until ten years ago my mother boasted that she needed no medication whatsoever to keep her going. Even in her early eighties apart from a calcium supplement and the occasional use of painkillers to help her with her arthritis she took nothing. Now she takes lolly bags full of the stuff, pink and blue, yellow and green, large pills and small, morning, noon and night.
There are worse things could happen, says my optimistic self. So what if you need medication to reduce your heart pressure? But the me that prefers to have a body that goes on regardless, that needs almost no attention whatsoever beyond eating, drinking and sleeping, and the occasional walk or exercise, hopes to be spared.
My mind split off from my body however, is a different matter. It needs all the attention it can get.