Post #24 02282020

To recap, I quit smoking cigarettes in early December. After 80+ years of life with a normal 120/80 blood pressure or lower, in less than three months (November 2019 to January 2020) it inexplicably skyrocketed to 170-180/100-140 accompanied by almost daily headaches, lousy sleep and brain fog – not to mention gaining 20 pounds (I was within 10 pounds of my target weight too).

Why?

My doctors (family doctor, pulmonary specialist, and cardiologist) had no idea.

But I think I know why.

Increased stress is one common cause of HBP, and the only one that makes any sense for me, given my circumstances.

Like anyone else, I have my own basket of worries/stressors: Spiritdog having cancer, spending too much money, worry about running out of it before I die, the car broke down again, my DVD player won’t work, blah blah blah.

But my biggest psychological shift came in November when I went from working on my book to completing the book. My focus, purpose, means to contribute to others, evaporated. Suddenly, I was without purpose. It was as if I retired from work I loved only to come face to face with a deep sense of emptiness. What to do with my life?

But it gets worse. In the past, regardless of whatever stresses I happened to be dealing with, cigarettes have always provided me with a reliable everyday go to tool for handling it (though I did not realize tobacco was fulfilling this role in my life). Suddenly I had no tools at all.

So, as I see it, I have created a story about my life (no purpose, et. al.) that makes me feel anxious, stressed. Medically this stress acts to constrict my blood vessels, producing high blood pressure. And I am bereft of my lifelong tool (tobacco) for handling it.

Let’s assume this is all true. What do I do now?

  1. My most immediate action must be to reduce life threatening HBP ASAP. (HBP increases risk of heart attack and stroke significantly). The quickest way I see of doing this is HBP drugs to replace the drug I used to use, tobacco.

 

My doctor prescribed Lovastan (L), a Western HBP medication and I learned, through a friend, about an Eastern HBP medication called Mukta Vati (MV). It is an ancient herbal mixture routinely used in the east for HBP.

 

With my doctor’s knowledge and concurrence, I began taking both to see if I can get my BP down to my goal of 120/80. By 2/28/20, my BP has gradually dropped from ~ 150/90 to ~ 120/70, which is good. But, inexplicably, the daily BP variation can be as high as 30 points in my systolic pressure and 15 points in my diastolic pressure, considerably greater than it should be – a mystery.

 

When I reported these swings to the cardiologist I was sent to for follow up testing, he added a prescription for 5 mg of Amlodipine (A) to supplement the 50 mg of Losartan (L) and the 4 capsules/day of Mukta Vati (MV) I was already taking.

 

(By the way, after running an EKG on me, he declared I must have had a heart attack in the past as he could see heart damage. I told him I could not recall any episode of heart pain unless it would be when my wife died, breaking my heart. He looked at my quizzically and we moved on. I subsequently cancelled all the tests he had scheduled – stress test, echocardiogram, chest X-ray, pulmonary function test, blood work. Why do all this stuff in a hospital when at least half the people are already sick, it is still flu season, here comes the corona virus, and me with COPD? I will do it all when the flu season blows over.)

 

I decided to follow my own drug protocol, given I now had a home BP machine to track my BP daily, even hourly. I did not want to add A, another drug, further confusing my body and the data too. How can I know which drug it doing what while taking three of them at the same time?

 

So, instead of adding A, I substituted it for L on 3/1 instead. I also dropped MV from 4 to 3 capsules/day. I did this because my average BP readings had been dropping into the 110-140/60-80 range during the 3/2 to 3/13 period. When my BP stayed in the 120/70 range, I stopped taking A all together and reduced MV from 3 to 2 capsules/day on 3/13. Now I was down to only MV.

 

I could do all this drug manipulation and modification because I have a home BP monitor, taking readings 2-3 times/day and, like any good engineer, recording the data on a running graph so it is easy to see how things are treading.

 

As of 3/16/20, my BP has been running in the 110-120/60-70 range. I have cut my MV back to one capsule/day. If this trend continues, will discontinue it completely and will have achieved my goal of being off all BP drugs.

 

I still have two concerns: a) my daily systolic pressure can still swing 10-15 points and my diastolic ~10 points. No answer for this as yet, and b) need to make sure my home machine is giving me good numbers. So will bring it in to compare to my doctor’s equipment soon.

 

So, why has my BP dropped back to my historical normal?

 

Will explore this question in my next post.

Post #23 02092020

Since I quit smoking on 12/2/2019 I have had a miserable two months of lousy sleep, periodic headaches, a sense of despair (even though my physical life is, quite frankly, one of relative ease and abundance compared to so many others suffering all over the world). Then I (accidentally) discovered I have inordinately high blood pressure! My frequent headaches are a symptom of HBP but I did not know that. Besides, BP is supposed to go down when one quits smoking!

On the positive side, my lungs do appear happy with the change, almost no phlegm, no coughing. Saving money with no trips to the tobacco shop, no shivering out in the garage while smoking in the winter (in past 25 years, have never smoked a cigarette inside my house) and no time wasted on rolling cigarettes or smoking them either. (Although hand rolling cigarettes can sometimes be experienced as a form of meditation.)

However, peeking into an unknown future, I would rather die the slow death of COPD (but still able to choose if and when to end it myself) than the possible sudden incapacitation of a heart attack or, much worse, a stroke that might suddenly steal my capacity/agency to make choices. I do NOT want to spend my life or money on a nursing home, nor on expensive end of life medical expenses. I have already purchased my long term care plan for $700, a well made .38 revolver and a box of metal jacketed bullets. (They don’t sell them individually.)

In any case, my goal is to get my BP down to a safe level.

After some research, I learn the principle causes of HBP are:

Smoking. (This is contraindicated for my situation given my BP was normal a month before I quit and sky high afterwards.)

Being overweight or obese. (I am a bit overweight but the same weight I was when my BP reading was normal only 3 months ago)

Lack of physical activity. (Walk my dog twice/day + do aerobics on an elliptical at home alternating with weight training- not in shape to do a marathon but not a slug either – same as I was 3 months ago)

Too much salt in the diet. (My diet is unchanged from three months ago and don’t eat processed food, the source of most dietary salt.)

Too much alcohol consumption (meaning more than 1 to 2 drinks per day) (I drink very little)

Stress. (Interesting possibility!)

Older age. (I am only 3 months older than I was when my blood pressure was normal!)

Genetics (have the same genes now I had three months ago!)

The possibility of stress being the source of my HBP got me to reflecting on my life.

I finished my book in November, quit smoking in December.

For the past five years, my principle daily motivation was writing the book. I would get up in the morning; eagerly go to my journal, my Morning Pages (this title taken from the excellent book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) and write 2, 3, 4, sometimes even 5 pages in my 8 1/2X 11 notebooks. I so looked forward to this, perhaps my favorite part of the day. I loved to write there in the garage at my work bench, in silence (Spiritdog still snoozing), armed with a hot cup of coffee and a cigarette or two or three. For me, it was Heaven on earth. Pure joy.

It is not a stretch to say that my latest book, 11 Life Practices/An Old Man’s Stories of Light, Love, Joy, was first imagined, and put down on paper (using my beloved Pentel Artist’s pen, 0.4 mm thickness) in my journal. Then, after meditating, walking Spiritdog, doing my daily exercise, the next few hours were devoted to converting those insights and revelations into readable copy on my computer.

When I get up in the morning now, I am lucky if I can fill a single page of my journal. No cigarettes, but no ideas or excitement either. Some days, I literally have nothing to say at all. There is nothing exciting to fill up my morning, or day, either. Tasks here and there of course, errands now and then but …………

 

So, here is my story:

My daily life has been tipped over, spilling away the meaning in my life. Now I understand why I have gone into an emotional tailspin.

Suddenly, my life feels empty and meaningless. I feel anxious, even despondent, at a loss with what to do with myself. The fun, satisfaction, thrill of creating something new has disappeared from my experience. What am I to do with me, my energy, my time? No surprise that my stress level has skyrocketed.

At the same time, my lifelong way of relieving stress is gone. My cigarettes!

When my wife, Dianna died, I was in a similar situation. I went from being married to an amazing woman, and having the honor of being her caregiver 24 hours/day to, in a single moment, having no one, suddenly without a purpose for being. Yet, throughout the subsequent years of grieving and sorting out my life, my blood pressure remained absolutely normal. I was smoking in those days.

In contrast, during this stressful period, my BP has gone from lifelong readings of 120/80 or less, to 160-190/100-160 when untreated with medication. So, today, I am taking 50 mg/day of Losartan and my average BP is still 140-170/80-90; better but still not good. Of course, the dose can be increased. BUT, I am not willing to accept lifelong HBP medications to achieve something I had naturally without drugs only three months ago.

So, where do I go from here to find my way back to normal BP without medication?