Relationships aside, I consider my heart broken in a physical sense, a medical issue I will never escape and was always destined to carry for the whole of my life.
Ever since I was a teenager, whenever I’ve had my blood pressure taken, it was always slightly higher than the considered normal levels of approx. 110 over 70. But, having said that, these measurements were generally always taken after a period of exercise, where naturally the heart is working that little bit harder.
Back in March 2000, one night I developed a problem where I suddenly became so short of breath, I could only take very small breaths and found the problem got worse the next day, so I booked into the Doctors and was diagnosed as having the possibility of my first asthma attack, in short my lung capacity at the time was half that of a normal adult, I was prescribed steroids and instructed to return in a week. The next week, my lung capacity had improved but not greatly, so another week of steroids.
Believe me, if you are ever put on these things, when they say take first thing in the morning, please make sure you do, one Sunday I forgot, took them at tea time and I could not get to sleep that night. I remember watching the Oscar Ceremony at 1am UK time, I watched the whole thing, then watched a film, before finally going to sleep at around 8am, I didn’t make that mistake again.
After two weeks of steroids, my lung capacity was on it’s way back to normal, so the Doctor decided I could come off the steroids, fantastic, no more sleepless nights. But he also decided to give me a check up, including Blood Pressure, the levels were seriously high, around 180 over 118 if I remember correctly, levels considered as Hypertensive Crisis. The Doctor at the time considered that the steroids may have a factor in that, so I was asked to return a month later for another test.
I returned as asked, but the levels remained the same, each time I went back it was still high, never coming back down to anything approaching normal, so I was sent for an ECG test, an ECG is used to measure the rate and regularity of heartbeats, as well the presence of any damage to the heart. I went back to the Doctors again to find that my blood pressure was still extremely high, despite taking a few different tablets to try to reduce it, the ECG results weren’t good either, they showed signs of a heart strain.
It was never explained to me why or how I had suffered a strain, I often put it down to two years earlier in September 1998, when I suffered bad chest infection, I couldn’t eat anything for two weeks, this coming only a matter of days after being made redundant from my first job.
But the words the Doctor used that day have stuck with me, he said if I was a 56 years old man, this would be quite normal and not a great concern, but at 26 years old, relatively fit and active, this should not be happening, he refered me a heart specialist.
I spent six months with the specialist, returning once a month for further tests and changes to my medication, during that time he started to get the blood pressure down through a combination of tablets, but he couldn’t get to the bottom of the cause, he tried every test, but there was no underlying medical reason.
Both my parents have high blood pressure, not as high as me, but it’s high. My grandfather died following a heart attack in his fifties, my Uncle suffered a heart attack in his early forties, the Specialist conceded that this Hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) was hereditary, it ran in the family, it was just there, he said if I take the three tablets he prescribed each day, then hopefully I would never meet him again.
So for the last twelve years, I’ve taken these three tablets a day. I had a period where I couldn’t afford to buy the tablets for a few months, the blood pressure went from the high normal levels that the Doctors were happy with, all the way back towards the severely high levels, so taking these tablets was imperative to my long term health. I had been given a warning, as a good friend once told me, many people go through their life without being diagnosed as having high blood pressure before they suffer a heart attack, at least I have the chance to avoid that possibility.
Over the years as my drinking got worse, I never admitted it to the Doctors each time my prescription was due for renewal, as long as I was on the tablets, the blood pressure always seemed to stay at high normal levels, the Doctors were happy, I told them blatant lies about how much I was drinking, I could never admit it, the blood pressure was OK, so what was the problem?
But back in March this year, when my life was falling apart, at a time when I was rock bottom, my prescription was back up for renewal, I knew this time I had to tell the Doctor everything.
I entered the consultancy room sat down and let it all out. Before he took my blood pressure, I told the Doctor everything that had been happening over the last few months, even years, I told him I was expecting it to be high, even though I had not missed more than a days tablets for a long time.
Well it was high, higher than even I expected, 160 over 112, I had set myself back twelve whole years, twelve years of taking tablets, I was back at square one. The Doctor offered help in my attempt to go sober, which I declined, I wanted to do it on my own, but I had to return almost weekly over then next few months for further tests, I dreaded the worst here, that I would be seeing that Specialist again.
One tear in the dropping rain
One voice in a sea of pain
Could the Maker of the stars
Hear the sound of my breaking heart
(Hold My Heart by Tenth Avenue North)
Very slowly over the coming months, the blood pressure came back down, not anywhere near the levels they been had before, but close to that high normal level the Doctors were happy with. I was mad at myself, extremely mad, after all that I had set myself back all the way to the start again.
I consider that I’ve now had two warnings, the first back in 2000 when I was first diagnosed, a warning to sort my life out or head for a heart attack, then this second warning, sort it out or else. I don’t think there will be a third warning as such, if I don’t learn from this, then the next time it will be third strike and out, heart attack time.
At least now, I never have to lie to the Doctor again, I never have to withhold information which may have helped with my treatment, I still haven’t had a drink since 29th March 2012 and I don’t intend to, I’ve had my two strikes, I don’t want the third strike, I don’t want to be struck out, I chose to live.
High Blood Pressure or Hypertension, is known widely as the “silent killer”, left undiagnosed or untreated it can lead to fatal heart attacks, if you have never been tested or maybe you have, but like me you hide any possible reason for it being high, I urge you to go to your Doctor, get it checked, be truthful, don’t hide anything, especially your drinking or smoking or whatever tension that is happening in your life, don’t leave it, you may never live to regret it.