Howard Croft column: Under doctor’s orders to keep blood pressure low

Applying blood pressure cuff
Applying blood pressure cuff

I was a bit surprised when a consultant at the hospital asked me if I had a blood pressure measuring device at home – a sphygmomanometer he would have said if he had been trying to bamboozle me.

He wanted me to take my own blood pressure and keep it below a certain level, but he didn’t say how.

Did he think I could somehow think it down?

In the old days his question would have been unthinkable – “I don’t suppose that you have a column of mercury at home, do you, and a bit of rubber tubing?”

Anyway, I ran out and bought one of these nifty new electronic gadgets and quickly got hooked.

Doctors don’t like it much when bits of their technical jargon leaks into the public consciousness, but one that is widely understood by us is the term “white coat hypertension”.

Until recently, whenever a nurse took my blood pressure at my annual MOT she would look grave, disconnect me and tell me that she was going out for a few minutes, I thought she was popping out to the car park for a quick fag. Not so.

She knew that a patient on first encountering someone in a white coat would experience a misleading spike in blood pressure, but when left alone they would calm down and on re-testing would show a lower reading.

Not any white coat will produce this effect.

If, for example, you are queuing for a choc ice in Flamingo Land you are no more likely to keel over than you would be waiting in Payley’s for a bag of King Edward potatoes. Having said that, I doubt there is any evidence for it.

If the Medical Research Council were to make available to me a substantial research grant I would be happy to investigate – counting the number of customers lining up at the ice cream van.

The grant would need to include a sum sufficient to buy an unlimited supply of Mr Whippey 99s for my personal consumption.

What I discovered was this. With the first reading I would be slightly alarmed and follow nurse’s practice (without the fag break) and take it again – even higher! The white coat hypertension theory was not working out for me.

In the meantime, I was left with the problem of presenting a set of readings to my doctor, and I came up with a nifty solution.

I persuaded Mrs Croft to let me take her blood pressure and to my astonishment, given her ugly life style, she turned out to have the pressure of an athlete. I have been cuffing her up twice daily and producing an exemplary record for which my doctor will give me top marks.

In another, unrelated, quasi-medical context I found myself being interrogated about my lifestyle, one of the questions was “Do you “use” alcohol?”

To this I replied, reasonably enough I thought, “No, but I do drink it – in the form of wine”.

It is a feature of increasingly illiberal and intolerant attitudes – especially on university campuses, of all places – that the perfectly lawful behaviour is smeared by the importation of language from other contexts.

So, drinking alcoholic beverages (in my case wine) is widely acceptable, the taking of drugs is not; using drugs is a term well established, and “using” alcohol has borrowed the disapproval for another purpose.

Similarly, Holocaust Denier, is a term hijacked in part to denigrate those who are dubious about global warming by bracketing them with those who maintain that six million Jews were not slaughtered during the Second World War.

I recently heard “fracking denier”.

Tonight I shall be enjoying myself by “using” some sirloin steak, “using” a robust bottle of red, all followed by treacle sponge with which I shall “use” double cream and lots of it.

I may even use some bad language if the wine is corked.