Off and on, since I was a teenager, I’ve struggled with periodic back troubles. The doctor calls them muscle spasms. I call them something much worse. When they are at their worst, I can’t stand or sit. I can barely crawl around and the living room floor becomes my bed for a couple nights.
My wife, Becky, says the problem with my back is my front. She may be right. I do suffer from Dunlap’s disease, that unfortunate instance when one’s belly has done lapped over one’s belt.
A friend recently told me about his brother who, at 55, appears to be on his deathbed after a battle with prostate cancer. Turns out, my friend said, his brother didn’t take simple precautions like getting checked out every year once he turned 50.
At 49, I took note of my friend’s story and made a mental note that I will have to visit a doctor sometime next year just to get checked out.
Sadly, I’ve seen my own fill of doctors lately. A routine doctor’s visit several months ago led the PA who saw me to freak out and insist that I do something about my blood pressure. She prescribed some medicine and set up a follow up appointment. The medicine ran out about five days before the next appointment and, instead of getting the bottle refilled, I just waited for the next appointment.
Bad idea, as it turns out. In just those few days, my blood pressure shot back up, higher than it had been at the first visit. The doctor prescribed a new medicine and, determined to be a good patient, I promptly filled it at Wendell Drug and I faithfully took my medicine each day.
To quote the great Keith Jackson, “Whoa, Nelly.” The side effects of that medicine knocked me away. My heart pounded, I was short of breath, my legs burned, I couldn’t even walk the dog.
Becky pleaded with me to call the doctor, but I was stubborn and waited until the next follow up appointment. By then the symptoms had largely disappeared. But the doctor still wasn’t happy with the results he got from blood pressure readings, so he sent me to a cardiologist to do a stress test. That appointment was scheduled for 10 days later, but the very next night, the symptoms came back at full pitch. He sent me to the cardiologist the next day.
That doctor looked at my paperwork and said, “Well, I think I know what the problem is. Your potassium levels are low. Our heart doesn’t like it when our potassium levels get low.” Who knew? I didn’t even know my blood was supposed to be littered with potassium.
I wasn’t looking forward to the stress test, but it turned out not to be as bad as I thought. The doctor kept complimenting me on my heart rate and when it was done, he looked at his magic chart on the wall and turned to me.
“Mr. Whitfield,” he said. “My chart says you’re healthier than 95 percent of the 49-year-olds in America. At least your heart is.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about. I asked him if he could repeat that so I could record it for my wife to hear. He kindly ignored me.
Still the events of the past few months have made me aware that it’s not a good idea to ignore your body’s warning signals. If something doesn’t seem right, have it checked out. Better to check on something small than to ignore a pain that could signal a larger problem.
And I’ve also learned it’s important to do the preventive stuff as much as you can. Blood pressure issues have hovered around me for years, but because I didn’t feel bad, I saw no reason to do anything about it. Not smart. I probably could have averted the issues of the last few months if I had addressed the problem when it was small.
So, as I tell my children, I’ll tell you: Do as I say, not as I do.