“Your blood pressure is very high,” the doctor said, looking several degrees sterner than usual. “I think we need to increase your meds.”
“But until now it’s been just fine,” I argued, truly vexed at his radical contention. “I’m skeptical about this reading.”
And so we arrived at a compromise: I would purchase a blood-pressure cuff on Amazon, monitor my vitals regularly for a month, then come back to see him. And that’s how I learned that doctors aren’t fools whose advice should be reflexively scorned. In the end, he put me on a new, stronger medication and I departed with higher blood pressure, yes, but also renewed respect for the medical profession.
As well as a great deal of annoyance and concern.
Perhaps I should put this in context. Back in September, my family and I subjected ourselves to the considerable rigors of leaving our permanent home in the Philippines to spend a few months in Southern California where we own a second home. The major reason was to allow my wife, Ivy, to keep her medical technology license active by exercising her skills in that field. Not to mention thickening our depleted pocketbooks, refinancing our property, retrieving some things we’d left behind and taking care of such routine annual chores as the aforementioned medical checkup.
Which brings us back to our story.
A man with high blood pressure is apt to wonder how it got that way. What cause would it have to remain within normal bounds on the northern coast of Mindanao, only to become devilishly troublesome on the western coast of America? Contrary to all appearances, this is actually a question both complex and profound, so let me begin with the most obvious answer.
The Philippines loves old people. It features a culture imbued with respect for someone who has reached—as I have—a ripe old age nearly three years beyond the country’s average lifespan. So how does that translate into lower blood pressure? Simple: by reducing an elderly life to one composed largely of leisure. Everyone calls you sir and does virtually everything for you including cooking, cleaning, errands and childcare; a tendency dramatically enhanced during the recent Covid lockdowns that saw people over 60 literally confined to their houses.
Which, in my case, meant spending inordinate amounts of time on a veranda overlooking the ocean consuming inordinate amounts of wine.
But there’s a more serious reason my blood pressure soared after entering the USA; the deep and abiding malaise from which that country suffers. Much of it became obvious during the run-up to the recent presidential elections, revealing unprecedented political and cultural fissures in the nation’s psyche. Viewed from the Philippines, it was all just a distant thunder and roar; here in America, it’s happening outside my front door.
Occasionally, in fact, the darkness enters not only the house but the very hearts and minds of its occupants. It usually comes in the form of beloved friends and relatives with whom one disagrees. To avoid major conflagrations, we have all learned to keep our mouths shut before exercising elaborate sets of subtle hints designed to determine whether we stand on the same—or opposite—sides of the national barricade. Though that determination can help avoid unpleasant confrontations, it also exacts a heavy toll on the rate of one’s heartbeat and the pulse of one’s soul.
To an amazing and unfortunate extent, even the nature of one’s reaction to the Covid crisis has become a perceived purveyor of political allegiance and moral character. “Downright disturbing,” is how someone once considered a close friend described a recent column of mine suggesting that we ought not allow panic-driven fear to control us. The column, he insisted, amounted to “unadulterated extreme right wing dog whistling” likely to inspire death threats to doctors and politicians. “Just chilling,” concluded the man from whom I have heard nothing since. “… inexcusable.”
Which didn’t help calm my nerves.
So how does my battle against that burgeoning blood pressure fare? Two weeks into the new medication regimen, I’m sorry to report, the pumping of my heart is still way too strong. Ah, but have no fear; I shall see the same doctor again in a year.
To get Expat Eye delivered to your mailbox every week sign up here.
David Haldane is an award-winning American journalist, author and radio broadcaster. His latest book, a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street,” is due out in January. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, Haldane spends most of his time these days in Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their two children.
Published Originally in Mindanao Gold Star Daily