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Under Pressure

When you move to a new town you will, if you are wise, register yourself with a doctor. The only downside to doing that is that sooner or later you will actually have to go and see your new doctor. New doctors won't issue repeat prescriptions without examining you first. And so, one fine day, I found myself in the doctor's surgery.

He donned a stethoscope and listened to me breathe.

"Say Ah!" he said.

"R!" I replied. "S, T, U, V, W. Arrr, Jim lad. Polly wants a nut."

"That's enough of that," he said. "Nice clear tubes. Steady heartbeat. No problems there."

He poked and prodded me hither and yon and then he took my blood pressure. He frowned, and then he took my blood pressure again. "I think I'll stop poking you," he said thoughtfully. "The stress might cause you to explode and that would leave nasty stains on the carpet."

"Is it a bit high?" I asked.

"Yes, rather," he said. "I think we'll monitor it for the next month or so and see how things go. Make an appointment to see the nurse once a week and then come back and see me when we've got enough data to see what the trend is."

To hear is to obey. Over the next month I watched gloomily as the nurse wrote down lots of high blood pressure figures in my file. I went back to see the doctor.

"Hmmm," he said. "It seems to be consistently high. Although there is one anomalous reading which is absolutely normal. I wonder what caused that?"

"That was the day I got my tetanus booster injection," I said.

"That's odd," said the doctor. "Most people's blood pressure goes up under the stress of having an injection. How strange that it caused yours to drop."

"Perhaps I should have an injection every day," I suggested.

"That might work," said the doctor, "but it does sound a bit extreme."

"Simple physics suggests that if we remove some of the blood from my body, the pressure in the body will drop as well," I said. "Boyle, Charles, Gay-Lussac and friends, not forgetting Avogadro the mole man. Of course they were talking about gases rather than liquids, but since a liquid is only a cold, incompressible and somewhat stodgy gas, the equations should still sort of work. For small values of work. Perhaps I could get a pet leech."

"That sounds a bit medieval," said the doctor. "We haven't used bleeding as a treatment for the last couple of hundred years or so. Mind you, I've always been a fan of the good old ways, so there may be something in what you say."

"Or perhaps I could have a tap attached to my wrist," I said. "Then every so often, as the mood took me, I could open it up and drain some blood away. I'd have to do it in private, of course, so as not to upset those of a delicate disposition. Perhaps I could combine it with visits to the toilet."

"The engineering might get a bit complicated," said the doctor. "The blood would probably clot and clog up the pipes. You might have to change the washers and replace the seals rather frequently."

"Oh I'm sure we could do something about that," I said. "This is the twenty-first century, after all. Mind you, if we do put a tap in my wrist, I'll have to change my name to Petronius. You can call me Pete, for short."

The doctor looked puzzled. "Why would you need to change your name?"

"Gaius Petronius, sometimes known as Petronius the Arbiter, committed a very slow suicide using that very method in the year 66AD."

"I didn't know that," said the doctor. "Tell me more."

"He got on the wrong side of the Emperor Nero," I said, "which apparently wasn't a very hard thing to do. Lot's of people managed it. Anyway, Nero ordered him to go home and kill himself by slitting his wrists, which he duly did. But rather than letting himself bleed out quickly, he put tourniquets around his wrists and threw a big party for all his friends. Every so often, as the evening progressed, he would slacken off the tourniquets and bleed a bit, then he'd tie them up again and get on with the party. When the dawn broke and it was time for him to die, he opened the tourniquets up for the final time and let the last remnants of his blood trickle out. Apparently there wasn't much left by then. Everybody said it had been a fantastically good party. What a shame he couldn't do it again the following week. I bet his blood pressure was really quite low towards the end. I'm sure I could make that work for me."

"I think we ought to go for a more conventional treatment to begin with," said the doctor. "I'll prescribe some blood pressure lowering pills, and you probably ought to try and lose some weight as well. It doesn't matter what you've got, if you drop a few kilos, the chance are good that you won't have it any more."

I left the surgery with a prescription, and some suggestions for a diet and exercise regime. I began taking the tablets, eating salads, and going for 10 kilometre walks with Jake, my dog. My belly button stopped being an outie and went back to being an innie again. I drilled some new holes in my belt to stop my trousers falling down, and I discovered that I could put on my socks by watching how they fitted over my feet rather than by doing it all by touch alone.

"Look Jake," I said. "I've got toes!" I wriggled them to prove it.

"So you have," said Jake. "How unusual. Can I lick between them where all the yummy bits are?"

While all this was going on, I began to cough like someone with a sixty unfiltered cigarettes a day habit. Gauloises, naturally. Gitanes are a second best.

"That's a nasty cough," said Jake.

"I think I must have picked up a cold in the doctor's waiting room," I said. "Doctor's surgeries are such terribly unhealthy places. I can't think why people bother with them. It'll go away in a week or so. That's what colds do."

A week later I went back to the doctor. I was now coughing so much that I was unable to say more than two consecutive words without having to have a hoick. I hadn't slept for three nights because I simply couldn't stop coughing long enough to persuade my extremities to relax and shut themselves down for the duration. Jake was complaining about the noise and threatening to report me to the council, the noise abatement society and the SPCA. I explained all this to my doctor.

"Not to worry," he said cheerfully. "It's a well known side effect of the blood pressure medication. About ten percent of people taking those tablets get it. Pity really, because that stuff is very good indeed at lowering the blood pressure. Never mind. I'll prescribe something else."

Gradually the cough faded away as the old medication flushed itself out of my system and the new stuff took over. Under the twin influences of diet and exercise, the kilos dropped off me and fell splat! on to the floor. I discovered that, for the first time in nearly fifty years, I could twirl my grandmother's signet ring freely around on my finger. I inherited it when she died. I was seventeen years old. That ring has never left my finger since the day I first put it on. Mind you, for most of the years that I wore the ring it fitted so snugly that I couldn't have taken it off if I'd tried! Now, if I'm not careful, it may fall off my finger all by itself and roll down a drain. I've promised myself to keep a watchful eye on it, and I'm trying hard never to straighten my finger out just in case...

Ten kilometre walks have started to feel like a stroll in the park, and on some days Jake and I do twelve kilometres. One day we did fourteen. The next day Jake went on strike.

"Come on, Jake," I said. "Walkies!"

"No," said Jake. "I'm not going. If you like walking that much, go by yourself. I'm going to stay at home and chew on my stuffed chicken, thank you very much. Perhaps I'll inhume a bone a bit later on as well."

I went to see the doctor again.

"Come back in three months when the prescription runs out," he said. "At the moment you are within normal operating parameters."

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