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Don’t ignore dangers of silent killer

By Kenneth L. Hardin
For the Salisbury Post
You either live with it or die from it.
This statement used to ring hollow, but with every step I pound out on the treadmill now, the lyrics blaring from my iPod from the musician T.I. now ring true. Six months ago, on a day just like any other, I wandered through the halls of my workplace holding conversations with fellow employees that I wouldn’t remember having 48 hours later. I stumbled through a fog of incoherence clutching the back of my head, trying to keep the pulsating skin from exploding. Fortunately, at that time I was working in a hospital. My colleagues quickly ushered me to the ER.
I do recall the next chain of events because, as a functioning TV addict, my ER visit was a familiar program that felt much like reality TV. This was not the first-run episode for me.
The triage nurse’s concerned expression was forever cemented in my mind as she pulled at the Velcro on the blood pressure cuff. Her professionalism was not enough to cover the look on her face as she said, “Whoa, your blood pressure is way too high. We better get you right back.”
She guided me toward a wheelchair as if assisting a fragile, elderly patient. Either my masculine ego ó or just plain stupidity ó kicked in as I replied, “I’ll be fine. I’m just going to go on home to see my doctor. It’s only an hour’s drive.”
A few “honeys” and “darlings” later I was in a treatment room attended by a carefully synchronized group of medical staff. Working from a blood pressure reading of 197/117, not much conversation took place, but the performance was masterful. For the next five hours I was poked, prodded, stuck and had things placed under my tongue to dissolve.
In the pilot episode 18 months earlier, just as I crossed the Yadkin River Bridge, an elephant or some other animal of equal proportion had stood up and then promptly sat down on my chest and refused to budge. Instead of heading straight to the ER, I knew how important it was to my son to see me standing at the fence as he trotted out onto the field for his first football game of the season, so I forged ahead. The only deviation I allowed was to quickly stop by the house to change my uniform from work to play. The next thing I recalled was picking myself up from the floor and wondering what had happened. Finally realizing I needed to forgo the pregame ritual, I casually drove myself to the ER ó after searching through the house for a book to read during my hospital wait.
When I finally got to the triage area, I thought I had fallen into an episode of the cartoon “Peanuts.” I could see the nurse asking me questions, but everything sounded like “whomp, whomp, whomp.” My peripheral vision began to constrict. I felt like I was in a losing wrestling match and being placed in the sleeper hold. I relented, smacked the mat and said to the nurse, “I’m so sick, do what you need to.”
According to statistics, one out of every three blacks suffers from Hypertension. Among black men 20 or older, 36.4 percent have high blood pressure, compared to 25.6 percent of white males. Not surprisingly, white adults are more likely to receive treatment, even though blacks are impacted more. This silent killer can damage kidneys, lead to stroke, heart failure and heart attacks if not treated. Black women are 80 percent more likely to die of a stroke and 30 percent more likely to die of a heart attack than white women.
I readily admit that over the years I did not comply with my blood pressure care. I took my medication about as routinely as people win the lottery. My diet consisted of anything that could be wrapped in waxed paper and balled up in a napkin when done. I exercised only options, and they usually consisted of how long to microwave something. Obesity is a contributing factor to hypertension, and nearly 70 percent of blacks between 20 and 74 years of age are overweight.
During a follow-up visit after my last episode, my physician took a different and much appreciated approach that helped motivate me into better compliance. His “pull-no-punches” words were stern and direct but respectful and concerned. He painted a vivid picture of how close I was dancing with death. He painted an even bleaker future picture of failing kidneys, dialysis and heart disease. He summed it up with a sobering reminder of a wife and kids whose lives would also be impacted by my continued noncompliance. I am fortunate to have a doctor willing to take this tone, but unfortunately, nearly 32 percent of blacks do not have a regular doctor.
As I continue to pound out steps on the treadmill six months later and more than 40 pounds lighter, I take TI’s words seriously, and I encourage you to do the same. Embrace and understand the dangers of hypertension. Live with it rather than die from it.
– – –
Kenneth Hardin lives and exercises in Salisbury.

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