I'm going to live.
If you can believe medical science, that is.
My blood pressure Wednesday was 122/80 and Doc Bollywood (she's a mellower, less glam version of Divya from "Royal Pains") was pleased that my month-long log of home readings were generally good.
Except for one.
"That's the one I took last week in the midst of a panic attack," I said, pointing at the 137/93 scribbled in ballpoint blue.
"Any idea what brought it on?"
"Um ... life?"
She asked me about my history of attacks.
I had always thought they started in my mid-20s, but recently I realized I could trace them back to about the age of 7. I got sick at the local Friendly's, probably on a rancid Fribble, and as a result I had a morbid fear of eating out in restaurants for a while. Hey, if one is going to pass out and die whilst puking, there's comfort in falling face forward into a familiar toilet, know what I mean?
I remembered this long ago incident because, well, I had a panic attack in a restaurant this summer in New York City. It was the one hot and stifling day of the entire Northeastern summer and I think the 15-block expedition in search of Mexican food, whiny Things in tow, wore me down.
And gave me a sudden onset of advanced cancer. Things like that happen, don't they?
Actual scene in the restaurant this summer:
MY LOVE: "Are you checking your pulse?"
ME: "Uh, no. (Fingers instead start scratching common carotid artery in neck rather feeling it up.) Mosquito bite. Zit. Herpes. I need to use the bathroom. Back in a flash."
"How frequent are these attacks?" Doc Bollywood asked.
"Sometimes I'll go months without one. But in the last few weeks, they've actually be happening every few days. Even when I was on vacation, lying in the pool on a floatie having a beer. I had one over the weekend while grilling out on the deck with some friends. They don't paralyze me. I still can walk and talk and breathe and function physically -- though I did overcook the steaks -- but upstairs (points to head) and in here (points to chest), I'm a total mess for a hour. Or three. Five hours once actually."
"How do you handle this when they happen?"
"Sometimes I lie down and do deep breathing while watching home decorating shows on TLC. Most of the time I just try to go about my business while telling myself it's all in my head. Not out loud, though. That would be crazy."
"So this has all been happening more often in the month since you started checking your blood pressure," she said.
She then asked me to describe the symptoms.
Alternating hollowness and tightness in my chest that sometimes climbed into my sinus cavity and out my ears.
The occasional lump stuck behind my lungs like a swallowed hockey puck.
The magnification of every teeny ache, itch, twinge and tingle.
The feeling of uncertainty and dread, like from an impending Jeb Bush presidency.
We looked over my recent blood work (Cholesterol down! Vitamin D up!) and the complete, totally clean physical I had last year.
"What you describe doesn't sound like a cardiac event or anything," Doc Bollywood said.
"I know," I said. "I keep telling myself that. Unless my entire physical condition has changed drastically in a year."
"That couldn't have happened," I said, "could it?"
Doc Bollywood probably started regretting her career choice.
She said, otherwise, I appear perfectly healthy. Since my family has a history of high blood pressure, I should continue to monitor it, but only every other day or so instead of three times a day like I had been doing. Watch the salt. Keep a journal of my panic attacks to see if we detect a pattern to what sets them off. Get some more serious cardio work in three times a week to bring on the endorphins and release the imaginary stresses I've created in my life. Come back in two months and we'll take it from there.
"Let's see if we can stop this before it really starts preventing you from living."
"Living your life. Not 'not breathing.'"
I left her office, walked over to CVS, bought myself a little "freak out" journal to keep around with me and -- 48 hours later -- it's still stone blank.
Unless I've developed Alzheimer's ...
My Uncool Past
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