Archive for March, 2023

Blood Pressure

I take my blood pressure nearly every day. It’s a habit I fell into fifteen years ago when Doctor Halverson said, “Hmmmm, you need a little something to help reduce your systolic pressure. That’s the big number.”

I’ve gone through a few blood pressure measurement devices. My current favorite is the cuff that goes around the wrist. Then you press a button, the device constricts, and about thirty seconds later, you get three readings including systolic, diastolic, and heart rate. Sometimes the readings produce a happy face. Other times I frown.

I don’t like frowning and, in violation of the blood pressure taking rules, wait about twenty minutes and do it again, maybe twice. I find that with each iteration, the numbers are more to my liking, so that’s what I record on my log.

I bring the log to my annual physical and watch Doctor Halverson scan it and then smile at me with his perpetually smiley face. In 15 years, I have never told him my secret; then again, I’m sure he knows and factors it into his calculations.

My routine doesn’t change much. I take my morning supplements, make a mug of Peet’s dark roast in my Keurig, bring the mug to my desktop, and log into the New York Times. If I haven’t already sensed my stress level building, I grab the pressure cuff and do my thing. Today, my systolic rang in at 155; frowny face appeared.

Putting the cuff aside, I scanned the Times home page and found an article titled The Truth About the Internet’s Favorite Stress Hormone. Perfect, I was already stressed so how much worse could it get? I launched into the article. Cortisol was the star of the show.

The pituitary gland, sometimes called the master gland, works with the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol into the bloodstream. When stressed, the amount of cortisol increases to cope with the stress produced by any number of things. Back when cavemen dragged cavewomen home to meet mama, cortisol helped the hairy bastards deal with the stress of hungry neighbors like the 23-foot long Quincana, a relative of the crocodile. Or the 11-ton wooly mammoth.

Except for the occasional stupidity of visitors to illegal animal parks, we generally don’t use much cortisol running away from hungry beasts, even in the middle of Ojai Avenue. But, in natures way, there are replacement stressors to take up the slack.

And that’s where the NY Times shines. Take this morning for example. The market is a mess, Trump is consuming half of the Justice Department’s annual budget, Putin and Xi Jinping are best buddies, Ron DeSantis is expanding his Don’t Say Gay xenophobia to hide his ignorance of foreign affairs, Netanyahu is proceeding with his plan to bury Israel’s supreme court, and a bunch of publicity hungry congressmen want to ban Tik-Tok, making its 150 million U.S. users very peeved. It’s almost too much for my adrenals and cortisol to bear.

But you got to watch your cortisol intake. Too much cortisol has been blamed for contributing to high blood pressure and a lack of sleep, so fighting wooly mammoths just before bedtime is not a good idea. Since cortisol is also blamed for depression and PTSD, it’s probably unwise to dwell on the news, like that offered by the Times (or even the Ojai Valley News for that matter).  As a bonus, some people develop a lump of fat at the back of the neck while others put on weight or feel fatigued.

Reading the article brought on more stress as I mentally tested myself against the reported possible disorders. A second cup of coffee did nothing to alleviate my anxiety while raising my cortisol level. I thought about my occasional sleeplessness, waking at 2am and then failing to fall back to sleep. My unfounded concerns which at the time of night warrant an Emmy, coupled with an extra shot of cortisol are, I’m sure, the cause of my bleary-eyed condition the following morning.

I finished the offending article and as further punishment clicked into Fox News. I occasionally visit this alien site and compare its headlines with the Times. I was rewarded with a gold star as my cortisol soared to even greater heights.

Giving my adrenals a sabbatical, I returned to the Times and was pleased to see that no giant asteroids were predicted today. Feeling like I was on a roll at the roulette wheel in Vegas, I grabbed my pressure cuff and spun it. It said “126 over 68.” Perfect.

I probably ran out of cortisol while scanning the Fox News page. Bet I sleep all night.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Two months ago, we planned a trip to Starvation Palace in glorious Lemon Grove. If you’ve ever spent time in The Hood, you have some idea of what Lemon Grove is like. Calling it blue collar isn’t even close.

Starvation Palace is my nom-de-plume for the Optimum Health Institute or OHI, a sort of spa getaway just north of San Diego tucked between assorted drug dispensaries, car repair shops, the largest recyclable collector in southern California, and an athletic club that should pay you to attend their sordid digs.

But, hey, where else can you escape the world by entombing yourself for a week in a getaway that might be described as fantasyland with just a touch of Little Shop of Horrors. I call it my home away from home.

It was Jackie’s winter break and, to fill her idle moments, she booked a second week in a different “let them eat cake” spa four hours away from OHI in Desert Hot Springs. Believing I’d lose half my body weight downing wheat grass juice at OHI, I opted out of week number two in the desert and planned my trip back to sanity.

It made no sense to drive back to Ojai since Jackie had to go in a different direction. And, besides, it was her car. The Amtrak train seemed a logical alternative. At $55, I could buy a business class ticket and rest comfortably for five hours while someone else did the grunt work.

Buying the ticket came with a warning on the Amtrak website. Infrastructure repairs along the railroad tracks between Irvine and San Clemente would mean getting off the train and boarding a bus. Past San Clemente we’d get off the bus and get back on the train. I briefly thought about renting a car and driving in the Sunday traffic on the 5. But I could probably walk faster, and visions of a fatal stroke made that option unappealing. So, I punched the enter key and bought the ticket.

The week at OHI passed without serious injury or lapsing into a coma due to low blood sugar.  On Sunday morning we packed our bags, loaded the car, and took our 15-minute ride to San Diego’s train station. Called the Santa Fe Depot, it was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. It’s an impressive structure with sandstone colored soaring towers and tiled domes. Heavy on Mexican heritage, I half expected that Duncan Renaldo, the Romanian actor who played the Cisco Kid on TV, would come sweeping out of the depot chasing a band of desperados.

I kissed Jackie good-bye, rolled my retro-suitcase into the building, and ended my fantasy. It was much like a Greyhound bus station. The first thing I noticed was the absence of any clock on the wall that might tell passengers how long they had been languishing waiting for a delayed train.

An Amish contingent of at least 15 characteristically dressed people was grouped on two of the hard wooden benches. I wondered if they were headed north to work on the train repairs; unfortunately, it was too late to do me any good. Several of them were using cellphones; even the bare earth Amish can’t get along without them.

A voice boomed from the walls. Information about the trains. Number 777 was on time and leaving at noon, 90 minutes from now. And there was more.

It was Sunday, and because there was no work on weekends, Amtrak had decided to dump the bus part of the trip. That’s a relief. No injuries dragging suitcases off and on vehicles. No fighting for seats, and no added delays due to freeway traffic. I took a deep breath and admired my luck.

So, I thought I’d have a cup of coffee as a reward for my good fortune.

There was a small shop at the corner of the building. It sold drinks, ready-made sandwiches, and an assortment of stuff that you always forget to bring on your trip. It looked a lot like ones you see in the lobbies of seedy office buildings. Manned by a guy who looked like he’d rather be somewhere else, I took a chance and ordered a small coffee. I searched out the sugar and cream, removed the plastic top from the cup, added the things that make coffee drinkable, and replaced the top.

A few Formica-topped tables sat haphazardly around the shop. Chairs were randomly distributed, and I picked one that seemed recently cleaned…maybe a couple of days ago.

I sat. I brought the cup to my lips and…I felt a stream of hot liquid falling into my lap, through my pants and into my underwear. With so many opportunities, I hardly knew where to start. Stopping the flow seemed prudent, so I did. And then I realized that the lid had come loose and no longer sealed the cup.

A large dark stain appeared in my groin, making me look even more like an old guy who needed lots of Depends. I was sure everyone, including the Amish women, was staring at me. I looked for napkins to soak up the mess but couldn’t find any. I headed to the Men’s Room.

Toilet paper was useless, leaving its own white specks on my pants. I spotted a hand dryer, sidled up to it, and started it by waving my hand in its general vicinity. I pulled my pants close to the air outlet. And it stopped after five seconds. I waved again and it started, then stopped. I figured it was programmed by the same guy who decided to hide the napkins.

I continued the pant-holding-wave routine for a few minutes hoping no one would wonder about my sanity. Not wishing to push my luck and a trip to the nearest psychiatric hospital, I left the confines of the Men’s Room, found an unused bench, sat, spread my legs, and let nature do its thing.

It stayed damp on the train for five hours. But at least I didn’t have to get on a bus.



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