Enough to Raise Anyone’s Blood Pressure

A few days ago, I received a text out of the blue from my doctor, requesting a series of blood pressure readings from me, to be taken over a period of five days, morning and evening.

Shome mishtake, shurely?  I’ve never had any blood pressure problems; have no way of measuring it at home, in any case; hadn’t seen the doctor himself for at least a decade.  A case of mistaken identity?  I rang the doctor’s surgery to check.

No, I was told that it was definitely me who was the intended recipient of the text; me whose blood pressure readings were required.

How?  I asked, not unreasonably, I thought.

There were two options: either come into the surgery twice a day for a week and use the self-service blood pressure machine in the reception area; or buy for myself a home blood pressure testing kit, and take the readings myself.  Given that a visit to my doctor’s surgery requires a 4-mile roundtrip walk, the prospect of doing this twice a day for a week did not fill me with enthusiasm.  But then given the cost of a home-testing machine was twenty-five quid, that didn’t fill me with enthusiasm either.  Particularly when I was suspicious that the entire proceedings were simply a tick-box exercise for the doctor.

In the end, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, I opted to splash the cash and buy the home-kit.

Once home, I viewed my new purchase with scepticism.  The apparatus itself looked perfectly simple, although the instruction manual served to mystify and alarm.  I decided to ignore the instructions, in favour of native intuition.

Essentially, there were two components to the apparatus: a cuff, which went around the arm; and a plastic box with a big START button clearly marked on the front of it.  Simples.  I attached the cuff and pressed START.

The cuff began to tighten around my arm, whilst on the screen of the plastic box, a series of numbers grew ever higher.  Finally, both activities stopped, and the screen smugly displayed three figures.  I jotted them down.

The first figure was apparently my systolic pressure; the second my diastolic pressure; the third, my pulse.

My numbers were: 158: 126: 74.

What did they mean?  I consulted Dr Internet.  The result was alarming.  According to my results, I was in the middle of a hypertension crisis; needed to see a real doctor immediately; was practically a walking blood pressure impossibility.

I wasn’t greatly surprised.  I was still stewing about forking out £25 on the apparatus in the first place; it was little wonder if my blood pressure was high.

It was my wife who brought a cool head to the situation; who bothered to read the instructions thoroughly; went to the trouble of watching an online tutorial; realised that I had attached the cuff incorrectly; was obtaining a false reading as a direct result of this error.

I did the test again.  My new readings were still slightly high––still haven’t completely let go of that twenty-five quid; where is that free NHS I’ve paid into?––but they were not off the Richter scale.

It got me thinking, though.

To me, this seemed like another example of the DIY dereliction of the modern world: like the self-checkout tills in the supermarket; the self-service machines in the post office; and in the library and the bank.  Except, this was worse.  Far worse.  This did not concern such trivia as goods, or stamps, or library books, or money.  This was a matter of health.

I wondered, how many other non-instruction reading, £25-fuming, home-blood-pressure-recording idiots like me have supplied an incorrect set of blood pressure readings to their doctor, only for them to then be prescribed a lifetime of tablets, which are not required?

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: let the professionals do the jobs they are trained and paid to do, and consign DIY amateurism to safe arenas where it can cause no harm.

© Simon Turner-Tree

Simon Turner-Tree tries to remain calm.

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