Updated 04 May 2018

A huff and a puff and a pinched arm

I don't like having my blood pressure taken. The threat of a 24-hour blood pressure test is enough to make me come up in hives. Call me a sissy if you want to.

I don’t like having my blood pressure tested. I know it makes me sound like a wimp, but ever since a young age, the sight of that cuff and the huffing and puffing sound it makes was worse than the prospect of an injection.

What also didn’t help, is what happened 15 years ago. I had to have my blood pressure taken. Something went wrong and the cuff just got tighter and tighter and tighter. My fingers were tingling and it felt as if a 12-year-old school-ground bully was pinching me as hard as he could.

So no wonder every time my GP tests my blood pressure, it is skyhigh. It is called white-coat hypertension. I have to add here that I am no sylph, so I can expect a normal blood pressure cuff to be tighter than it would be on Naomi Campbell.

I come from an era when dentists did not believe in local anaesthetics for something as minor as a filling. Visits to the dentists were usually preceded by a waiting room horror of half an hour, during which you could watch the goldfish and hear the screams of the poor unfortunates who were being seen to. The reason why I am telling you this, is to underline the fact that despite evidence to the contrary, I am no sissy.

24 hours of puffing

So where to now? The next step was a 24-hour blood pressure test, which takes a reading every half an hour, when you are out of the doctor's surgery. In this way, an average can be reached over a period of 24 hours, and this cuts out the white-coat hypertension readings.

So when my GP informed me that it was time for a 24-hour blood pressure test, my first thought was, “How bad can it be?” And then suddenly the thought of a tourniquet tightening around my arm like some malevolent python – every half an hour for twenty-four hours – became too much. I had a meltdown and cancelled. And felt guilty about it. After all, there are people who live through major surgery and amputations and stuff. And here I was losing it over a blood pressure test.

But it still had to be done, alas. So I organised to work from home, as I had no desire to be the main floor show in an open office, because of having a thing that puffed up round my arm every thirty minutes. And a monitor the size of a flat egg box round my neck. I don’t do public spectacles. So home it was. Oh yes, and I negotiated to have it done for nine hours instead of 24. I don’t do blood pressure cuffs while I am trying to sleep. It’s hard enough as it is.

I arrived at the GP’s office at the same time as the rep from the pharmaceutical company who was going to fit the monitor. All would be well, I was assured. It puffed up twice, and all was indeed well. I felt immensely silly for having been so apprehensive.

The python returns

Spent the morning working. The cuff gently huffed, puffed and hissed. And then it happened. The python was on duty again. My fingers started tingling and I actually sat down on the floor and shouted in agony. I was on the point of ripping the whole contraption off, when it started hissing and deflating.

And the rest of the afternoon was spent in an anxiety-ridden state until I had to deliver the whole contraption to the GP’s secretary. She helped me to remove it, and I couldn’t resist showing her the dark blue and red bruise the size of a Pro-Vita biscuit on the inside of my arm.

I went home and had a glass of red wine. On my own.

The bad news: It turned out that the monitor was faulty and took no readings beyond the first one. It was the middle of the day when I received the news, so another glass of red wine was out of the question.

We’re back to square one. This has to be done, but I first have to gather my strength and take a few drops of Rescue Remedy. Let’s hope the python is off duty this time. And you have every right to call me a sissy.

A happy update: the following six times my blood pressure was taken, it was down to within normal and non-scary ranges. So it was goodbye python - for the moment at least. I suspect the thought of going down that road again was enough to scare my blood pressure readings into submission. And they've stayed there.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated March 2010)

Image credit: iStock


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Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

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