Do NOT skip your yearly check-ups ...
... No matter HOW healthy and fit you think you are.
Seriously, don't do it.
Okay, some background information first. I've always been an active person; I walk and hike a lot, I exercise often -- in short, I'm in pretty good shape by any reasonable measure. I generally eat well -- I prefer fruits and vegetables, and usually avoid fast food, soft drinks, and processed foods. I weigh a bit more than I'd like, but few people would consider me overweight.
The last time I had my blood pressure checked was 2 years ago. It was 110/70 -- "perfect," as my physician stated.
On the other hand, I have a family history of high blood pressure, and I know it. A few years previously, my bp rose to unhealthy levels, and my physician put me on medication to lower it. But only for a month, because the experience inspired me to increase my exercise levels, and I was able to bring it back down through vigorous exercise and proper diet.
So anyway, I have a relatively new job; this is the second year at this college. The first year, I was busy putting together new classes, and I neglected to get my yearly check-up. "I'm fine," I reasoned. But, what with being so busy with new classes and all, I didn't get as much exercise as was normal for me. And as a consequence, I've gained a bit of weight. I kept thinking to myself, "I've got to get back into a regular exercise routine." But with all that's been going on, other than lots of weekend hikes and occasional visits to the gym, I haven't done so.
Since I know I have a predisposition to hypertension, that really wasn't very smart on my part.
And as it turns out, it was very nearly fatal.
Thursday evening, I went to the bathroom and found that there was blood in my urine -- quite a lot of it, in fact. That's never a good thing, but I actually felt fine on Friday morning, and there was no recurrence of the hematuria. So, I decided that there was no reason to cancel classes or any such thing. I figured I'd see if I could perhaps get an appointment to be seen by a physician after my afternoon classes were done.
So, one of my colleagues gave me the number of her favorite physician at a local clinic. I called up, and the receptionist told me that he wouldn't be in until Tuesday, and asked if I wanted to schedule an appointment. I said "yes," and was about to hang up when the receptionist told me that there were other physicians available, and that I could come in that afternoon, if I wanted. So, I said "Yes, I'll be there at 4:00."
[In retrospect, I realize that I clearly wasn't thinking entirely clearly on Friday. In fact, I can barely remember anything that happened to me on Friday. I'm kind of surprised that none of my students or colleagues said anything.]
Anyway, I drove to the clinic, and reported that other than the blood in the urine, which was a one-time thing, I felt fine. They took my history: a bit of extra weight, but not obese or anything; never smoked; never drink; fairly active. Then they took my blood pressure.
The nurse who took my b.p. couldn't believe the reading she was getting could possibly be correct, so she took it again and got the same result. So she called her supervisor, who got the same result. My b.p. (both systolic and diastolic) was more than double what it should have been.
The doctor came in, took one look at the results, and sent me straight to the emergency room. And honestly, I don't remember much more of happened to me on Friday -- other than being stuck full of IV tubes and given quite a few injections, that is.
So, I got to spend the next several days in the hospital while they tried several different drug combinations to bring my blood pressure down -- and went through lots of tests to try to figure out a.) what had happened, and b.) how much damage I'd done to myself.
Apparently the high blood pressure has been going on for a few months at least, because I've some damage to my kidneys, and some hypertrophy of the left ventricle -- both of which are typical symptoms of malignant hypertension.
The working hypothesis is that something triggered a "spike" in my blood pressure, causing the blood in the urine. I don't have any kidney stones, there's no narrowing of my renal arteries or aorta that might explain the hypertension, and my heart function appears to be normal.
So, the only explanation so far seems to be that I have a genetic predisposition to malignant hypertension, and a poor ability to eliminate sodium. As such, what this basically means is that I have to be in exceptionally good shape (in terms of maintaining a proper weight, maintaining a vigorous exercise regime, and keeping my sodium levels low) in order to have any chance of maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
My physician insists that I'll be on blood-pressure medication for the rest of my life, but I intend to prove him wrong. I maintain that I can establish and maintain an exercise and diet regime that will get me off the medication -- I certainly intend to try.
[I did find it darkly amusing that so many different physicians and nurses -- every one of whom looked like they weighed considerably more than I do and got less exercise -- were telling me I need to lose weight and exercise more.]
Anyway, my colleagues were extraordinarily good to me. Sharon [Mathematics] came by on Saturday and brought me gifts of toiletries and reading material. (The Girl on the Train; she said that the reading selection at Wal-Mart was rather limited, and didn't think I'd want to read a Harlequin Romance novel. That's okay; while The Girl on the Train might not have been my first choice, it's actually rather well-written.) Sharon and another colleague (Marsha -- History) promised to stop by my house and make sure my cat was okay.
Monday night, Steve (Physics) and Della (Education) came by to keep me company for awhile (I was pretty-much climbing the walls by that point, I think), and to catch me up on the latest news.
I was released yesterday afternoon, with strict instructions to avoid anything remotely strenuous for the next few days -- including standing up for more than several minutes at a time. So, I came home and sat with the cat for a few hours. He was very happy to see me, and so he was content to sit in my lap and purr loudly while I petted him for quite awhile.
I came back to my classes this morning, but hey, I'm no wimp. I'm not going to let a little thing like this make me change my habits. So I walked up the 4 flights of stairs to my morning class as I always do -- and I quickly came to seriously regret that decision. Still, I made it through the first 2 classes, then went and sat down for a few hours. I then went to my afternoon class and made it through, but I was feeling seriously bad after that, so I came home to rest and pet the cat for a few hours.
As it happened, I ran into my favorite 7-year-old while walking home. She ran up to me, gave me a great big hug, and told me how happy she was to see me -- definitely the best part of the day. Then she told me that she'd heard that I was having heart surgery, so I guess the rumor-mill is up and running.
One of my colleagues told me that, for the time being, under no circumstances am I allowed to do my typical weekend thing of going off by myself for a hike in the woods without letting anyone know exactly where I was and when I would be back.
So anyway, it has been an ... interesting ... experience. I have a follow-up appointment next week, and the week after, I'm seeing a nephrologist to ensure that I haven't done any permanent damage to my heart or kidneys.
Of the 3 doctors who've examined me over the past few days, 2 of them flat-out told me that if I hadn't come in on Friday, I might very well have died.
So, that was a rather sobering experience.
And you can bet that, in future, I will not neglect to get a yearly physical, just because I feel fine and seem to be in good shape.
“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”