May 3, 2021

A BP Saga with (Coke) Zero Pressure

Recounting a recent adventure in White Coat Land

By Ed Goldman
BP” may stand for British Petroleum to many of us who still drive non-electric cars, which could be as many as 284.5 million, according to this column’s intrepid fact-checker, Wayda Seck. BP is that place you pull into when you can’t find a Shell, Union 76 or ARCO station and are afraid if you buy the gas at a mini-market it’ll have the same horsepower as the Twinkies and Coke Zero you impulse-buy there.

But BP means something else if you’ve ever experienced blood pressure challenges or know someone who has—I presume I’ve now included everyone in North America. It’s that mandatory medical statistic you or someone you know dreads having measured before or during a doctor appointment.

Edgy Cartoon

There Will Be Blood Pressure

There are those among us who suffer from so-called White Coat Syndrome, which means our BP numbers can be launched into far-flung galaxies as we merely enter the office or even the building of a medical professional. My symptoms are so profound that they often start in the garage. At my home.

I’ve tried doing various relaxation exercises to stem the rise of my numbers before I go to the appointment, including deep breathing, meditating, stretching and sobbing. But—as it can be said of a group of Generation Z video gamers—none of them works. After drinking too much coffee and navigating my way through traffic, I usually arrive at the physician’s lair panting with something akin to post-teen angst. This is when the office nurse immediately takes my blood pressure and seems genuinely surprised when it sets off alarms, shuts off electricity for an entire block and provokes sensitive neighborhood Pomeranians to yip hysterically. (They also do this when a leaf falls off a tree, as you know.)

“Maybe you could check this again in a while,” I always helpfully suggest.

“Okay. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

“I meant in a few weeks,” I clarify.

“Ha-ha, Mister Goldman.”

“And if possible, when I’m fast asleep,” I amplify.

“Mister Go—”

“In the REM cycle, if I’m not imposing,” I qualify.

“I don’t think you get what we—”

“I can leave a key at your front desk. Please don’t let my cat run out as you come in,” I notify.

In years past, I was able to exercise my way out of an elevated BP verdict— until cause and effect reared their rational, cojoined ugly heads. Which is to say: as I lowered my exercise frequency I simultaneously watched my BP rise.

A few years ago, my family doctor, Dana Hawkins, prescribed a couple of low-key BP meds that I faithfully take every morning. I say “faithfully” because it’s clear to me that if I were to cheat on the pills, there could be a price to pay far greater than alimony.

Recently, some blood work suggested it may be time to think about slightly upping the dose or finding a new family doctor. But the latter logic strikes me as the kind used by someone who says he’s read so much about how cigarettes can cause cancer, he’s decided to give up reading.

I dutifully asked if there’d be any side effects. I mean, like many of you, I see the drug ads comprised of one-fifth hype and four-fifths disclaimers (including my go-to warning, “Call your doctor if you think you’re dead”). Dr. Hawkins said I may experience some weariness and aches. I asked why I needed medicine to give me those, since they were already part of my daily life.

So I headed to the pharmacy to pick up the new prescription. To congratulate myself on following the rules, I also filled up the car and bought Twinkies and Coke Zero.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).