Or, we could say, vicissitudes vs. your health…
Okay, so here’s what happened:
1) A friend noticed the post in which I whinged at great length about Cardiodoc and the crazy blood-pressure reading in his office taken, after a nightmare drive down there, by a clerk who didn’t know what she was doing and…oh, hell, on and on and freaking on. She remarked that stress indeed does jack up your blood pressure, and that you can often bring the numbers down by deep-breathing for a few minutes before allowing yourself to be subjected to the test. If you’ve ever taken LaMaze or yoga or voice classes, you know how to do this breathing technique.
2) I think…oh, yeah? That sounds like woo-woo. A brief Google search shows it is not woo-woo and that indeed, a study has been done that shows a five- to ten-minute period of controlled breathing indeed can lower blood pressure numbers. Yea verily, no less an authority than Harvard University reports the results of said study. Indeed, there’s a gadget — which the Mayo approves(!) — that can help with this scheme. Alternatively, silently repeating a mantra about 100 to 150 times will also do the trick. One such mantra is the Ave Maria, in Latin (not the English version), which I can rattle off as easily as my usual mantra, “Quit that damn barking!”
3) Izzat so? think I. Okay, let’s test that little fucker. Why ohhhh why do I not believe it? So along about 5:30 in the afternoon, I take the usual series of three readings, one after another, as instructed by the cardiodocs who have harassed…uhm, seen me. Then I try a brief period, about three to five minutes, of deep breathing, the kind I was taught to do in LaMaze classes and then later by a yoga instructor. And… God help us, here are the results:
Got that? Systolic pressure — the one that really counts — dropped from 136 (on the high side of “moderately elevated”) to 129 (on the low side of “moderately elevated”) after just a few minutes of relaxation exercise. That’s seven points. Diastolic, interestingly, rose a point…
4) I think that is batshit crazy and prepare to disregard it. But still: I’m kinda impressed.
5) A night goes by and the next morning SDXB shows up at the door with NG (New Girlfriend). This alone is enough to raise my blood pressure, but, as usual, that’s another story. We go out and walk for an hour or so behind North Mountain. Then we go to a restaurant, where I have a cup of iced tea and they reveal their right-wing tendencies. Which is OK, but…blood-pressure enhancing. On the way, we have been discussing the craziness that is Phoenix-area traffic…and…just as we’re all agreeing that given our choice we would stay off the roads here, the sounds of brakes and a CRASH erupt behind us. The woman behind us has been rear-ended by the chucklehead behind her. By the grace of God, she was far enough behind us to miss rear-ending SDXB’s car. But it was a close call, and it was evident that her passenger was injured. In the Suspicions Confirmed Department: charming.
6) So I am stressed when I get home. Also very hungry. I fix a fairly hefty meal of a couple lamb chops, grilled potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach braised in butter with almonds and pine nuts. And I have two glasses of wine and a fistful of chocolate chips. (Bad!) Then I start to tear around to pick up the backyard, the kitchen, and the house, test the pool, cope with barking dogs, dodge the daily cop helicopter buzz-over, pay the bills and…and…
7) As all this controlled chaos is going on, I think “What would happen if I tried the deep-breathing thing with the BP monitor, right now in the middle of all this hectic racing around?
Hmmm…. As noted in this spreadsheet, I did not wait several minutes to “rest” before running the BP monitor. Between the first and second test, I did about three or four minutes of deep breathing. The second test, interestingly, registered a 10-point drop in systolic pressure; five points for diastolic. Trying again without the fancy breathing maneuver got a rise in PB of four points. That notwithstanding, 125 is within the permissible range for an old bat like me.
Average BPs were 132/80.8 last night and 125.7/81 this afternoon. Last night: after sitting quietly before testing, and including one (1) test with deep breathing. This afternoon: no rest before the first measure but with deep-breathing before the first and second measures; with no deep breathing between the second and third measures.
Normally, if I did not sit and rest before the first measure, my blood pressure would be several points higher. I simply hate, loathe, and despise the blood-pressure test — not because it’s uncomfortable especially, but because it’s a damned time-suck and because it makes me nervous. I just really, really do not enjoy this procedure, whether done at home or in a doctor’s office. It stresses me out every time, and I suspect that alone elevates my blood pressure.
So what is implied here is that deep breathing before the first effort this afternoon, done — against all advice — directly after eating a large meal, after drinking alcohol, and after hassling around physically, probably pushed the first measure down significantly, to 131/80. Since my average blood pressure readings over the entire month of December was 133/83, always taken on an empty stomach and after resting, that is very probably a nontrivial difference. Certainly 121/75 is nontrivial.
What if my belly were not stuffed and I had not just scarfed down two glasses of wine and I had been sitting quietly as usual and then had tried the LaMaze/yoga/chanteuse breathing maneuver? Welp, we’ll have to wait awhile for that part of the experiment. But…it’s interesting, isn’t it?
By the time I got to Cardiodoc’s office the other day, I was in a rage. I’d encountered two truly crazed drivers, one of whom tried to get me to break the law before doing so himself. I was trying to balance a computer and a blood-pressure machine in my arms when the receptionist shoved a bureaucratic form in my face to fill out — one that I’ve filled out three times already, identically every time — and then demanded that I dig out a bunch of Medicare and insurance cards that she also had photocopied three or four times already in the past and that had not changed. Before I could fill out even half a page of the damned form I was called into the back office, where an apparently oblivious underling took my blood pressure incorrectly — clearly had no training (or if she did, it hadn’t registered in her pea brain…).
So, if stress and annoyance affect your blood pressure — and they most certainly do — then it was not surprising the figures elicited at Cardiodoc’s office were outrageously high.
Do they justify putting me on a medication that will make me sick? Possibly, if the numbers were consistent. But they’re not.