Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quirks: "White Coat Syndrome"

This blog entry marks the first in a new series called "Quirks." I've often thought about how I have some strange and unique personality traits that I spent a lot of time and energy trying to hide while growing up. Now that I'm older, I'm realizing my quirks are just part of what make me, me. And who knows?...maybe others can relate to some of these. So, rather than hiding my quirks, as I've done in the past, I figured I'd go the complete opposite route and just bring them to light.

Today's quirk: "White Coat Syndrome"

White Coat Syndrome (WCS) is an unofficial technical term (if that makes sense), in which a person's physical characteristics are affected by his or her mind when in the presence of another human being. WCS is most commonly attributed to a person's rise in blood pressure when a doctor is around, hence the white coat reference.

A few years ago, my extended family was visiting for a summer barbeque. I was in the yard playing baseball for a couple of hours with my cousins. When we finally finished, I went inside, sweaty and out of breath, to find my grandmother taking her blood pressure and doing whatever other regimented health tests grandmothers do. After I asked her what she was specifically doing, she asked me if I wanted to take my blood pressure. Not one to have ever had any sort of chronic health issues, I happily said yes.

A normal blood pressure is 120/80. In all my years of going to the doctor and having my blood pressure taken, I'd never been told it was abnormal in any way. On this particular day, I put on my grandmother's BP monitor and felt it squeeze tightly around my arm. When it finally released, the numbers staring back at me said something around 160/97. Now keep in mind, I had JUST come back in from heavy athletic activity and was still out of breath. My grandmother repeated the numbers within earshot of my mother. Big mistake.

My mom freaked. If you know her, this is not surprising. She begged me to take it again. At that point, I began trying to get my breath under control and concentrate hard on getting the numbers down. As you can imagine, this had the exact opposite effect. The numbers came up high again. They had me rest for several minutes and take it again, but the whole time I was playing this mental game with myself to calm down, which just psyched me up even more. Ten minutes later, I took it again with the same result, and not surprisingly, my family began discussing how I was apparently suffering from hypertension at the age of 27. At this point, I was pretty fired up because I knew something wasn't accurate. It's kind of hard to keep the numbers down when several members of your family are starting at you with terrified looks on their faces.

About a month went by and I went to the dentist. At my dentist's office, they take your blood pressure before they clean your teeth. Yeah, I don't know why either. When I sat in the chair and suddenly remembered they were about to check my BP, my stomach tightened and my heart started thumping through my chest. Oh no, not again! It came up 155/97. My dentist raised an eyebrow and said "That's much higher than it was just a few months ago!" Yeah, no kidding! (At my previous appointment, my BP read 117/60 and I was told that if it was any lower, I'd be asleep!) She took it again and it came up the same. Her response was to eat more fruits and veggies. Thanks for the tip, doc!

At this point, I was starting to get seriously worried about my health. Hypertension is, after all, a silent killer. I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician so that I could get to the bottom of this. When my BP came up high again, I let loose my frustration to my doctor. I asked him how this could have happened so suddenly when I have had a perfect track record in this area. He asked me a bunch of questions regarding my lifestyle; I told him I didn't smoke, didn't do drugs, didn't drink soda, consumed very little alcohol, and that I was even exercising regularly. He looked at my records, agreed that my BP had always been low, and callously said "Yeah, I don't know. Maybe we could put you on medication." Well isn't that just the answer for everything? I told him about the situation with my family at the summer barbeque and how since then, I'd get butterflies in my stomach and an elevated heart beat whenever having my BP taken in front of anyone. I asked him if my state of mind can distort my true blood pressure and his response was a flat "yes." Isn't it nice when you're forced to diagnose yourself to your doctor?

A few days later, I went out and bought my own blood pressure monitor. I went home and took it by myself, and what do you know?....it was totally normal! I took it again, and normal again it was! Could there be something to this? Several months later, I had to take a routine physical as part of the process of adopting a baby. I took my BP the night before my physical -- 110/74 (totally normal) and brought my monitor to the doctor's office with me the next day. When it came up at 155/110, or something astronomical like that, in front of the doctor, I showed her the numbers from the night before. She said "Looks like you've got White Coat Syndrome" and assured me that I was healthy and that this situation was more common in patients than I probably realized. I said "Well, at least there's a name to go with it." I used my own monitor in front of the doctor and it came up high again, so at least I knew my monitor wasn't giving me false readings at home.

I left the doctor's office, went outside, sat on a bench by myself and took my BP once more. The numbers were below normal -- exactly where I thought they would be. The mind is a powerful thing and I'm learning that "mind over matter" is more than just a saying.

Hopefully one day this too shall pass. Until then, I nominate myself for president of the National WCS Organization. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Letter From Satan to Pat Robertson

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher.

The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamor, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake.

Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad.

Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.


Disclaimer: I am not the original author of this piece and do not, in any way, take credit for writing it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fishtown Fireworks!

Yesterday evening, I was working on something in my home office/man room when I was caught off guard by this weird noise. It sounded kind of like static...or the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor...or an abnormally loud gust of wind. I momentarily wrote it off. But it persisted and I started to grow curious. Then my dog started growling, so I figured I should check it out. I was about to call my next door neighbor to see if the sound was coming from his place, when I started hearing popping noises. As I looked down the hallway towards my bedroom, I saw flashes of light outside my window.

My stomach tightened.

A power line on fire?

No, that wasn't it (though a couple years ago on my block, I did see a power line burst into flames after an errant football throw).

From my bedroom window, I looked up and saw fireworks. Not some lame little firecracker stunt set off by a couple of kids. These were freaking good! Like the kind you see when you actually GO somewhere to see fireworks. And best part of all, I simply had to look out my bedroom window. It was as if they'd set the show up for me.

My dog was flipping out at this point, but I just stood there and enjoyed the show for the next three minutes or so until the fireworks stopped and the sound of police sirens filled the air. What a buzzkill!

What month is it again?

In the midst of the hoopla, my friend Bethany, who lives on my block, called me and said "Are you seeing this?!" I said "Yeah, I have the best view!" We tried to estimate where the fireworks were coming from. Our best guess was that they were coming from at least two blocks away. Bethany later told me that she "investibiked" to the source by following the plume of smoke and found out that they were being shot off from a local brewery, which shall remain nameless.

I wondered if this little show was going to make the news the next day. You see, in Fishtown, which is technically Kensington, the media references the neighborhood name based on the nature of the story. If it's a positive story, it's Fishtown. If it's negative, it's Kensington.

I can just see the headlines now:

"Kensington Ruffians Set Off Beautiful Fireworks Display in Fishtown"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Taste of India for Tara

Today was a very bittersweet day for me. This morning, I saw my wife Tara off to India, where she will spend the next two weeks serving with a team of people from New Life Church in Glenside, PA. The team, incidentally led by my father, will be serving in a number of capacities at Emmanuel Hospital Association in Robertsganj, helping to equip 300 school teachers in Kachhwa, and teaching lessons to some young local villagers.

First, as to the obvious question I've been repeatedly asked: Why didn't I go? Well, the timing just didn't work out. It was too hard to get away from my job at this time of the year. Simple as that. I visited India in 2005 and I'm looking forward to going back again at some point.

Some time ago, my Dad had asked Tara and I if we were interested in joining the 2010 India team. I knew pretty quickly I wouldn't be able to go. Tara was on the fence. Long story short, there were a number of situations and answers to prayer that made it pretty clear to her that she should go. Over the past month, she's loaded up on her vaccines and taken part in a lot of strategizing with the India team. Throw in the fact that she's trying to prepare for Crosswalk's spring semester at Temple U and that we're in the middle of plans to adopt a baby and it's been a really hectic time for my amazing wife. But the reality is that Tara had been dying to see India -- especially since she married into an Indian family -- and knew that once a baby came into the picture, getting a glimpse of my mother's home country would have to wait for a long time. So pretty soon, the decision became a no-brainer.

I'm excited and encouraged about the work that Tara will be doing for the next two weeks. In the midst of all the grunt work, she will also get to see the Taj Mahal, some local temples, and various other sites. It should be an amazing experience for her and despite the fact that I'm missing her like crazy already, I am beyond excited for what she's going to encounter and learn. You don't spend a few weeks in India and come home unchanged.

The hardest part for me now is just trying to feed myself properly so that everything I eat is not nuked or from a drive-thru window. I know that sounds really lame, but Tara and I established an agreement early on in our marriage: she cooks, I do all the dishes. It's a good system, hasn't failed us yet! Ok, well I guess it failed us this time. Thankfully, some of my neighbors are having me over a few times while Tara's gone. And my friend Daniel, who's moving from central PA to the Philly area, is staying with me until Tara gets back, so we'll be sure to get the bachelor pad thing going.

If you're the praying type, Tara and the rest of the India team could sure use it as they begin this trip. And if you're the cooking type, feel free to drop by...