Hypertension: the personal and the political again

Here’s how I’m answering the “How are you doing?” question these days:

Well, Trump is still president.


I’ve been officially diagnosed with hypertension. I’m at the early stage apparently but the blood pressure has been climbing steadily since summer 2015. New guidelines have made my level–over 130/90–the beginning of treatment. I’m “elevated”. Treatment to my doctor of course means drugs. He is, I found out from one of the residents, one of country’s experts on hypertension, one of the mysterious characters who helps write the rules of treatment. So there is good reason to believe him.

Still, I’m having trouble believing I can’t lower my blood pressure without drugs. Drugs might be the only way, I understand, but I want to at least try to avoid them. It took me a month to get over the fact that I probably had to change something in my diet or activity level, but then I started going back to the gym, limiting salt and sugar, limiting processed carbohydrates, embracing water, green vegetables, reducing red meat. I’ve lost about five pounds, which is a beginning. My goal is to lose 10 more, to weigh 185 again.

Once the weather is better, the dog and I can walk more and more regularly. Much of this winter has been short bursts of activity and then getting back to the couch as quickly as possible.

I am almost certainly going to have to cut down portions and maybe even get rid of bread and butter, pasta and all dairy to see if that will help get me down toward my goal weight. I’m not however a fundamentalist or a martyr, so I will have to try a number of things, I expect.

I keep thinking: if only Trump ¬†weren’t President; if only the Republican agenda to ruin America for anyone not making $250K a year ¬†would disappear; if only the rich felt they had enough money; if only the American people could throw off the shackles of their poor educations, impoverished imaginations, their fear and panic and habit of projecting their own worst traits onto others and vote out the Republicans; if only I’d win a prize or have a book accepted or could find time for a residency or just win the lottery….

In the meantime, though, I think I actually need to deal with the present as it is and as it has been apparently since 2015, before Trump. The temperature of the country has been rising for a while now, just as my bad eating habits have continued. Do I want to be one of those men who won’t take advice or ask for help because they’re sure it’s a problem with a simple way out?

I have finally bought myself a blood pressure cuff and begun the work of self-monitoring. I have already found out that my blood pressure spikes between 5 to 10 points between home and the doctor’s office. Today when I went in to have blood drawn fora blood glucose test and a prostate screening test (a precaution at my age), my pressure was at 140/95, as high as I think it’s ever been. The nurse who took my blood suggested a 24 hour monitor, so they can rule out White Coat Syndrome, in which just going to the doctor’s office can raise some people’s bp significantly.

But come on. Isn’t it time to change? Slowly the pull away from the fast, the easy, the processed whites of salt, sugar, milk, breads, and pasta. Slowly replacing of coffee with water and morning tea. As the crimes of the president pile up, as the attacks of the Republicans on the working class and middle class become clear to us, as the foolishness of voting them into positions of power becomes clearer and clearer, America itself may finally come to grips with its bad choices and aim for less self-destructive alternatives–ones that embrace sustainability, community, and large-scale environmental health rather than short-term greed, quick policy patches, self-protective defensiveness. I want to believe the nation can do it. I want to be here long enough to see if it can, to do my part.