Last year, I blogged about how much happier and calmer I feel since moving to Canada. I mentioned that I also experienced a (coincidental?) drop in my blood pressure.
My blood pressure. I want to tell you more about it. If you hate when people blather about their medical conditions, skip this entry. It's a personal post, to be sure, but as we feminists say, the personal is political, too.
Some medical history. I had elevated cholesterol all of my adult life, which was not responsive to diet or exercise - meaning, it was just me. About 10 years ago, I also developed hypertension, or high blood pressure. This didn't come as a surprise, as both my mother and my sister had been taking medication for high blood pressure for a very long time. They are both thin and very fit, but (as with my cholesterol levels) hypertension seems to be part of their makeup.
As cardiovascular disease runs rampant in one half of my family - multiple heart attacks and strokes - I couldn't very well walk around with untreated high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
I started taking red rice yeast capsules, a natural statin (cholesterol-lowering drug). I saw a dramatic improvement in my cholesterol levels, and have taken it ever since. (I've recently added fish oil capsules to the mix.)
When it seemed clear that the elevated blood pressure readings weren't flukes, I also went on blood pressure medication. It was very effective, with no noticeable side effects.
[As an aside, please note that neither of these conditions figured in to my medical exam for immigration. Most people in the application process worry greatly about the medical exam, and no one believes me when I tell them they cannot be rejected for ordinary conditions such as these. But it's true.]
So when I moved to Canada, I was taking red rice yeast to keep my cholesterol levels in check and prescription high blood pressure meds.
Fast-forward to this time last year: we return from three weeks in Peru. For the past two weeks, we've been in a desert - zero humidity, zero pollen, zero pollution. We come home to Port Credit and everything is in bloom. Plus, the blooms are different here, and there's a lot more of them than there were in New York City. I have a major allergy meltdown.
I try to treat it myself, and it gets much worse. I end up with a horrendous, uncontrollable cough that borders on asthma. Finally I go to the doctor.
I get a bunch of prescriptions, mostly for my lungs, and I switch to the new allergy medication Aerius (desloratadine). I improve.
While I was hacking my lungs up, I was concerned that my blood pressure medication could be contributing to the cough. Coughing can be a side effect of these meds, and when I switched to the generic brand in Canada, I did think it made me cough a bit. So without consulting my doctor, I stop taking the blood pressure meds, figuring I will go back on when my allergies calm down.
On a follow-up visit - which I can do in Canada with no concern for cost - I mention this to my doctor. She checks my blood pressure and says, "It's normal. I wouldn't treat you for high blood pressure with this reading." She suggests we monitor my blood pressure closely to see if I can stay off the meds or if I should go back on.
Because of my family history, at first she asks me to come in twice a week. I can do this in Canada with no concern for cost. That is: I can take simple preventative measures that might prevent a serious, even life-threatening, incident later. I don't lay out any money out-of-pocket, because I already pay for my health care with my taxes. Which, by the way, are the same as what I paid in the US. Got that?
After the twice-weekly blood pressure checks, we drop to weekly, then every-other week, then monthly. Normal, normal, normal. I'm having normal blood pressure readings for the first time in 10 years.
I'm not doing anything differently: same eating habits, same exercise habits. At that time, I probably was getting less exercise, as it took me a long time to get into a new exercise routine after moving to Canada, and I don't walk as much as I did living in NYC.
After normal readings for several months, my doctor declared me good to go. But, as an extra precaution, she doesn't write too many refills for my other medications. This way I have to come in her office at least every three months, and she can then check my blood pressure. I can do this in Canada with no concern for cost.
This year, I've decided to use the absence of blood pressure meds as a motivation to get more exercise. Exercise is the single-best way to keep your blood pressure down. I'm swimming a lot and it feels great.
But because of my family history, not monitoring my blood pressure concerns me. Two weeks ago, I finally acted on a recommendation from both my former doctor in New York and my current doctor in Mississauga. I bought a blood pressure monitor and I'm checking it myself a few times a week.
Normal, normal, normal. Not just in the normal range, but actually normal.
Is it a coincidence that my blood pressure dropped to normal after I left the US? There's evidence that Canadians, on average, live longer and are healthier than Americans. But on a very personal level, as I've said before, I feel markedly happier and calmer living in Canada. I feel more at peace. And there is actually a health benefit - possibly a life-saving or life-extending health benefit - to feeling at peace with oneself.
I wish I could give everyone this gift I've found.
* * * *
My mother used to suffer from debilitating migraines. I have a childhood memory of coming home to a dark house, and having to be very quiet because my mother had a killer headache. She doesn't get the headaches anymore. How did she get rid of them? Divorce!
She left my father. Let me tell you, the man was a headache of brain-tumour proportions.
If you can cure migraines by leaving an insane, abusive spouse, you must be able to cure high blood pressure by leaving the United States. The parallels are too obvious.