Follow one crying eye on

No pressure

Now that my epic walk is ended, a few grand plans are lurking in the back of my muddled mind: noble initiatives; exciting (but sustainable) travel ideas; thespian and musical dreams. Quite a list, for sure, if somewhat vague as yet.

But, in the short term, it’s back to reality and a few rather more prosaic hurdles to leap. 

A follow up from a recent routine health-check provides me with some some light relief. I know I should take these things seriously, but…

In the interests of decorum I won’t describe the first procedure I undergo – suffice to say that I am not at my most elegant, although to my credit I am triumphantly less screamy than I may have been with similar episodes in the past. However, it is always something of a challenge when I have to go into a hospital environment for any reason at all, and this is no exception. The scheduled appointment having been cancelled at short notice a couple of days earlier, a new appointment is made for me in Teddington, the scene of my recent knee investigation. No longer limping, I present myself at the self-same counter and am this time directed to the Blue Zone. I didn’t notice the colour-coding on my previous visit, and am immediately grateful that I am not destined for a Black Zone, as that would be far too sinister with its pestilential connotations. Although I notice in passing that the Urgent Treatment waiting room appears to be Green and with its proliferation of disposable masks and plastic chairs I’m not sure how green (eco) it actually is. (Writing this, I’m briefly now thrown back to Green Wing one of my all-time favourite TV shows – a hospital-based comedy from the early 2000s. I’ve had to stop myself watching an episode in the interests of ever publishing this post.)

Back in the Teddington Memorial Hospital Blue Zone with fifteen minutes in hand, I retrieve my latest paperback read from my trusty handbag and throw myself into Salman Rushdie’s 1950s India (Midnight’s Children – my long-overdue first reading of this author) to take my mind off matters corporeal.

This is no criticism of Mr Rushdie, but I am insufficiently immersed in his protagonist’s world to ignore the NHS world immediately around me. After a couple of minutes, a door opens across the corridor and my interest is piqued further. A nervous young lady on the other side of the waiting room is summoned to Room 1, leaving her male companion supportively chewing his nails.  

Back to Bombay, but no sooner do I turn a page than the nearby double doors noisily open and a youngish chap plonks himself down on the chair just in front of mine. His hand is bandaged enormously as though in a comedy sketch show and he carefully wields it above head height. Oh lord, this is just what we need. Try hard to ignore, fearing another Boots’ floor episode. Rushdie’s powers of description draw me back – phew!

However, I relax too soon. A passer-by recognises Mr Bandage-fist and comes over to enquire what he’s been up to now? I have been telling myself it’s nothing, although clearly it’s not just a more serious version of the nail-chewing going on opposite. He proceeds to cheerily explain how he has removed the tops of three fingers with one of those macho carpenter-y tools which appeal so much to Mr J on his visits to B&Q. OK, this is not ideal. I am, fortunately (?) distracted by the reappearance of the young lady from Room 1, as she scurries through the double doors looking straight ahead and with sobs welling visibly. Her cuticle-nibbling friend lopes concernedly after her, and I debate whether I feel better or worse now – when I am summoned by my full name (nearly always a bad sign)… to Room 1. Deep breath.

Although I don’t wish to go into this further, I would like to point out that, in place of fainting, or screaming, or crying, I keep up a constant patter of inanities during my procedure, until in desperation the radiographer – if that is her correct moniker – asks me if I am enjoying Midnight’s Children which shocks me so much that I cease all fretting. Good call, doctor! I suppose these people are trained to be eagle-eyed. Here’s hoping her perusal of my insides is as thorough as her general observation. And also that she isn’t expecting degree-level lit-crit right now.  (I could have made this section a great deal funnier if I could bring myself to be more graphic, but I don’t think I could look you in the eye again. You’ll have to trust me on this – and be grateful!)

Results are not immediate, so I return home and resume my routine, unconcerned until I receive a phone-call the next day from my GP surgery and I begin to quiver. However, this is something else – a follow-up from a routine health check at which I had delivered a blood-pressure reading marginally above the ideal for my age etc. This getting older malarkey is tedious sometimes I find. The fact that I’d just galloped up the hill to the surgery where others my age would have strolled or arrived by car counts for nothing of course. But it’s always best to humour them, and I am prepared to undergo some investigations if it brings peace of mind. This particular follow-up quite intrigued me – a 24-hour blood-pressure monitor. I imagined this would be some exciting electronic gizmo akin to my Fitbit, and my only concern was that I might have to abandon said Fitbit for a day and thus lose valuable data. However, I have been told that I can continue to do everything I would normally do, including my Pilates class, so curiosity conquers any worries and I accept an appointment.

I present myself at the surgery to see the nurse and am called bang on time. This will be a good day, methinks. But within seconds my heart sinks (and my blood-pressure probably rises). There on the desk is a blood-pressure cuff which looks exactly like the Boots version we have at home, alongside a monitor which is only a fraction smaller than the Boots one and housed in a shoulder bag. I have a theatre ticket for a sold-out show this afternoon. I am told that the cuff will inflate every thirty minutes throughout the day and take a reading. Hopefully it will not make that irritating ner-ner-ner sound the Boots one makes when inflating the cuff. We try it on for size and the nurse takes an initial reading. Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner… And a loud deflating exhalation hiss. All preceded by three high-pitched beeps. 

I’m afraid to say that whilst I am prepared to undergo tests in the interests of my health, I can’t see how I can sit through nearly three hours of top-class drama as part of a capacity audience whilst intermittently making these intrusive sounds. Especially when I don’t believe I have a problem with high blood-pressure. As a result, and rather unusually for such an obedient soul as me, I refuse to take the monitor. I am hugely apologetic, but the statement that I can go about my usual activities is clearly a mis-selling of the situation, and I won’t get another chance to see this particular play which closes in three days’ time. I can also not imagine how I could do my Pilates class with the monitor over my shoulder, but this is perhaps more a (justified!) lack of confidence in my personal coordination skills.

A somewhat bemused nurse accepts my bleatings and – wonder of wonders – simply tells me to come back at the same time next day. For which I am most grateful and scuttle away to ready myself for the afternoon’s matinee. As penance, I deny myself ice-cream in the interval. (Disappointingly, the play Dancing at Lughnasa at the National Theatre was not my cup of tea and whilst I appreciated the quality of the production and acting – and particularly loved the luscious set – I found myself close to nodding off more than once. Perhaps after all I could have used a few beeps and ner-ner-ners to keep me awake.)

And so it is that I return to collect my monitor the following morning and am strapped in, with rudimentary instructions not to get the device wet and a reminder to be careful when going to bed at night to place the monitor under my pillow so as not to strangle myself with the connecting tube. I don’t know why I find this funny, but the thought that people are being issued with devices which could easily strangle them if not used sensibly just touches a funny bone.

I stride off from the surgery in a positive frame of mind. Although I am a clumsy person, I suspect I will manage not to tie the tube around my neck, and I’m nerdishly (or ner-ner-ner-dishly) looking forward to seeing my results which can be glimpsed briefly on the monitor each time a reading is taken. Before I am even at home, the beeps beep out and the cuff inflates – exciting stuff. The silly noise is not too noticeable out of doors, so I don’t get any more strange looks than I normally do as I strut around the local area. I surreptitiously check the reading. Hmm, I think that’s quite low actually. Of course, as soon as I am home, I fire up the lap-top and ask Mr Google if this reading is ok. I am informed it is at the low end of normal.

Each thirty minutes throughout my mainly sedentary morning I get the same readings. Maybe if I worry about it more, the pressure will rise?

Instead of worrying, I decide to be more active and I march off to the other side of town to do a supermarket shop. Aside from a self-conscious ner-ner-ner moment in the cereals aisle, and some discomfort as the cuff squeezes my overactive bicep whilst carrying the too-much-purchased-as-usual load home, all goes well and I am energised to mow the lawn. Of course, by this stage I have lost interest in the readings which have become tediously unremarkable, and I throw myself into lawn-mower wrangling – a pastime which seems somehow unusually complex with the addition of a tube emerging from my left sleeve and a swinging shoulder-bag. It’s bad enough having to be careful not to tie myself in knots with the mower’s electric cable, but added tubing threatens to blow my mind completely. (I know, I exaggerate, but this was a genuine concern at the time and I hope I was not observed making the tricky rearrangements at each end of what I pompously refer to as the ‘lawn’.)

Fancy lawn art

Mr J obligingly ignores my sofa-bound ner-ner-ners whilst watching TV and I suggest I should occupy a spare room for the night to avoid possible sleep disturbance for both of us. I am surprised that my Fitbit, which has been allowed to remain on my wrist throughout and seems to have weathered any potential jealousy of the larger and more showy device I have temporarily adopted, records my sleep as pretty much as good as ever, and I can only recall waking briefly a couple of times to experience the mildly painful squeezing of my upper arm. 

I find I have not strangled myself during the night either, a cheery bonus for the morning. I eagerly rush up to the GP’s practice to drop off the device. The only instruction from the nurse, apart from the strangle- or water-related warnings, was to press a small blue button once my 24 hours was up to store all the data. Despite attempting this three times, I cannot see that anything is happening and the device continues to ner-ner-ner gently to itself every half-hour. The receptionists en-masse are none the wiser and between us we conclude that my success in the other two instructions should not be wiped out by failure to store/download/not-wipe-out the data I have diligently collected and the final task should be reassigned to the nurse herself. Blood-pressure now free to rise unobserved, I scuttle away from the surgery before any definitive discovery is made, and leap excitedly onto a train to buy myself a new car*

One week later, I am summoned to the GP and offered an immediate appointment to discuss my blood pressure results (which I have already reviewed online in my medical records – how very modern). Goodness, perhaps I’ve misread them and need urgent treatment after all!

Arriving at the surgery with minutes to spare, I am instantly called in to see the doctor – a young chap I’ve never met before. This is making me nervous now, but not for long. He’s confused as to why I need to be seen at all, but gamely studies the blood-pressure results and confirms that I have borderline low blood-pressure, and that perhaps I might need to be concerned if it stays like this until I’m in my eighties when I might find I fall over a bit.

In relief, I determine that I should at least try and salvage something from this otherwise rather wasted encounter and point out to him (gently – this is the first time he’s ever had anything to do with me – I am scrupulously fair) that we still have not cracked the chronic migraine situation, nor – despite finding nothing sinister in my hospital investigations, which he has just re-confirmed for me – determined what is causing the slight abdominal symptoms I have been experiencing. Ha – I’m on form today I think. I explain that I have an extensive headache spreadsheet which I could talk anyone through at the drop of a hat. Sensing panic behind the doctor’s tired eyes – and likely a consequential raising of his own blood-pressure – I walk away with the promise of a re-referral to a migraine specialist.

So, I skip off home happy in the knowledge that my marginally high blood-pressure is in fact marginally low, the odd pain in my abdomen is neither of the scary things we thought it might be (although it could be one of many marginally less scary ones but let’s wait a bit longer and see if anyone suggests another exciting procedure to rule those out) and the medication I am still taking for my headaches is still putting me at increased risk of a stroke even though my health check gave me a very low risk. Just thinking about it threatens to raise my blood-pressure…

Best not think about it then. (No pressure!)

Time to book another holiday instead. Simples.

*New car!!! (Not new new, but newer and greener even though it’s red.) I know this sounds odd just hanging here, but I may write about this more another time so this is just a teaser. I’ve banged on enough for today already.



Follow one crying eye on