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Can Too Much ‘Pressure’ Turn You Into An Ostrich?

In my case, the answer to the above question is, “Yes, too much pressure (in my case blood pressure) led me to indulge in not so smart (actually stupid) “avoidance” behavior. Thus this column is not about the pressure, stress or aggravation part and parcel of having a pulse, but rather about our pulse and other parts of the human physiology that can go awry – and how we deal with that reality.


Those fortunate to be currently breathing experience daily excitement of both the bad and good variety – like getting a flat tire, missing the train by a few seconds, or kvelling over a child’s or grandchild’s latest achievement. All this bad and good stress can wreck havoc on our bodies over time. And sure enough, family genetics and life’s daily grinds, plus a few extraordinary, long-term, out-of-the-park aggravations over the years, have taken their toll on me. I have now joined the ranks of the millions of North Americans who have high blood pressure.


In retrospect, it is not surprising that such a stress-related affliction finally caught up with me. What is surprising is that it took so long. I got the news of this status change back in September when I underwent a routine checkup. My doctor took my blood pressure three times to ensure that there was no mistake. And there wasn’t. My numbers were quite high. Really high.


He told me to wait and see if this was an isolated incident due to some stress factor, or if indeed genetics or some underlying medical issue had caused this new reality. He advised me to have my blood pressure checked for several weeks. I knew that I could easily buy a blood pressure monitor and test myself without having to schedule office appointments.


So I obtained a blood pressure cuff – and left it unopened for months.


I had taken on a “head-in-the-sand” approach, not too uncommon with people facing potentially bad news. This silly behavior is very likely a leftover from our childhood manner of dealing with “monsters.” You close your eyes in the irrational (for an adult) but logical (for a child) belief that if you can’t see it, then it’s not there; and thus it can’t “hurt” you. The adult equivalent is, “if I don’t know about it, it does not exist.” Hence, the comforting but totally baseless belief that if I didn’t take my blood pressure, I have nothing to worry about.


This very childish way of thinking would be amusing if its consequences weren’t so tragic. I have friends who died or became invalids because they thought that closing their eyes (being oblivious of the facts staring at them) would make the “monster” disappear. And so they ignored the lumps, the headaches, the shortness of breath, the pounding heart, the tingling in the fingers, etc.


Unfortunately, refusing to face a possible “nasty” situation does not make it go away if it’s there. However the relief you get when you deal with a potential problem is incredible. Most of the time, what we were terrified of finding out wasn’t even there. The mammogram, colonoscopy or prostate exam that men and women loathe having, or the blood work or urine test we anxiously undergo, usually results in good news. “You’re fine, come back next year, or in two years, or in 10 years ” we’re often told.


But if the news isn’t so good, finding out earlier rather than later (or, God forbid, too late) can mean that although you may have a tough “parshah” ahead of you, you will triumph over it. And you need not feel guilty or grieved that your lack of due diligence caused extra tza’ar (hardship) and burden on your loved ones.


I know that I wasn’t so much afraid of finding out that I had high blood pressure (after all, it’s treatable); rather it was the inconvenience and investment of time in finding out why. While hypertension often has no discernible reason, with aging and genetics being the likely culprits, sometimes there is an underlying medical factor that needs to be uncovered. Baruch Hashem,I am in thebubbe parshah, and since my kids live in three different states, I have become somewhat of a “wandering Jew” – trying to be an “equal opportunity bubbe” by lending a needed hand to pre- and post-baby daughters-in-law. So going for tests was not a welcome diversion.


But mild headaches and a heart I could hear beating while sleeping convinced me to start using the blood pressure monitor. And the numbers were even higher!


I am now on medication, which,Baruch Hashem, is helping, and I plan very soon to go for tests – increasing the odds of my being a helpful bubbe for even longer.


It was time to take my head out of the sand, and stop being a stupid ostrich. The same goes for you too!

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