Two Sundays ago, I went to bed at 11:15. In less than an hour, I awoke from a sound sleep and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I felt my pulse racing, my body was covered with sweat, and I had a bad case of the shakes.
Trying not to disturb my wife, I got up, went into the living room, and tried to settle down. I sat on the sofa and inhaled deep breaths, wrestling with the idea of taking my blood pressure. My anxiety was such that whatever my BP level, it would likely be elevated by my condition.
Against my better judgment, I strapped the BP cuff to my arm and did my best to relax. I learned from past experience that the longer it took for the cuff to inflate, the higher my BP reading. Well, it took forever for it to inflate, and I knew right then, sitting there with my eyes closed, that the read-out would not be good.
When the cuff hissed and released my bicep, I kept my eyes closed, hoping that my suspicions were unfounded. Then I peeked at the display on the monitor. 218/110. Pulse rate: 108. Now bear in mind that I take BP medication that lowers my heart rate, and a normal, at rest reading is usually 50 to 55 beats a minute. So, 108 might not be significant for someone whose normal rate was in the mid-seventies, but for me, it doubled.
I went back into the bedroom and woke up my wife. As usual, her gentle voice and breathing instructions helped me to gradually lower my BP. Now fearful of going back to sleep, I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning.
Over the last three years, this is the sixth time this middle-of-the-night phenomenon has happened. No one, including my primary care physician and cardiologist, can offer an explanation except to say that I’m high strung and it’s stress related. It seems rather convenient to me that whenever a physician cannot accurately diagnose a medical issue, stress and anxiety become the default answer. I’m not questioning the competency of doctors in general, but why do they blame just about every mysterious condition on stress? Just thinking about this situation stresses me out.