May 17

World Hypertension Day


A tightness in your upper arm reacts to each rhythmic pump of air.  The pressure cuff squeezes and squeezes, and you wait for the tell-tale hiss as the cuff deflates.

Sometimes, you think the machine will forget to deflate.  As the nurse technician chews gum and stares blankly at an informative poster about high blood pressure, the cuff will cut off all circulation to your arm.  You look down, the underside of your forearm turning white, then red, your bicep fighting back but the cuff winning, a painful tearing sensation in the muscle followed by the crack of bone beneath.

“You okay?”

The nurse tech isn’t ignoring you.  She’s staring into your face, noting the beads of sweat forming over your brow.  The cuff hisses, and the pressure loosens.

“I’m fine,” you say.  “Just a touch of medical anxiety.”

“Over a blood pressure cuff?  You must be crazy.”

Actually she doesn’t say that aloud.  But you can almost see it in her expression.

She turns to the indicators on the machine, records the figures in your chart.  “Is it always that high?”

“Just when I come here.”  It really doesn’t make sense for them to take measurements at the doctor’s office, when your nervousness affects the outcome.  They should sedate you, play meditation music, give you a hot stone massage — then sneak the cuff on when you’re not looking.

“I wonder what would happen,” the tech says, “if we measured your blood pressure when something really scary was going on.”

It’s a joke, but you think she should be more sensitive about your phobia.

Maybe she’s thinking of a blood pressure reading on a roller coaster ride.  While you’re watching the latest found-footage horror movie, maybe, or while you’re in the teller line and a bank robber fires a warning shot at the ceiling.

And there it goes.  Those simple scenarios aren’t dramatic enough.  You can’t stop your mind from straying along the darkest path…

You’re on a deserted road.  A blood pressure machine on a metal post stands beside you, about at the level of a parking meter.  A corded cuff is already tight around your upper arm, and then the machine beeps.  As the tightness begins, the earth trembles beneath you.  Flashes of light and fiery clouds form in the distance, a terrible rumble reaching you a few seconds later, as the cuff tightens.  You’re on land, but a sound like the rush of waves begins to build from behind, and you’re afraid to turn around, and your upper arm feels like it’s going to burst.  Then the deserted road is no longer empty, and inhuman things are running towards you, hungry things with claws and sharp teeth, almost upon you, the cuff tighter and tighter, until you realize the cuff is around your neck instead of your arm, strangling you, you can’t breathe, you can’t —

“The doctor will be in shortly,” the nurse says as she steps out of the exam room.