When I wrote my previous post, I was feeling better psychologically because I could focus on the problem from the standpoint of caregiver stress rather than a cardiac issue. That meant I could exercise some measure of control over the situation and was comfortable with that.
I slept well through the night. The next day and night (Saturday) my readings continued to be normal. I was fine until 1:10 Monday morning. I woke up and went to the bathroom. As soon as I got back in bed, I realized this was one of those times I wasn’t going to drift back to sleep quickly. I felt very nervous. I went to the family room where I got in the recliner and took my BP. It was 161/91. That seemed a very significant jump, especially since I couldn’t identify any precipitating events that might account for it.
Even though it didn’t cause any harm, I did something I now know I shouldn’t have done without talking with my doctor. I took another tablet of my BP medication that I had taken not quite four hours earlier. I also took four aspirin (.81mg), something I had learned is fine when one suspects a possible heart attack. Having previously had success by simply relaxing in the recliner and listening to soft music, I decided to try that as well. Ten minutes later, my BP was 144/77, but it remained at approximately that level until I went back to bed at 3:15. I felt very nervous during the entire time as I grappled with the decision of going to the hospital or not. I decided not to go. That decision was based almost entirely thinking about what I would do with Kate.
Before fixing my breakfast at 6:10, I took another reading. It was 151/77. I was concerned again. I took another reading after breakfast at 7:00. It had dropped to 133/65. I felt better but continued to weigh the matter of a trip to the ER. That led me to prepare two pages of health/medical information that someone might need if I were incapacitated. I took a break at 7:50. My BP was 143/66. When I finished at 9:00, it was 139/73.
I decided to write a message to my doctor to send through his portal. That turned out to be stressful as I couldn’t remember the password, and the one I had stored was incorrect. I also ran into complications when I tried to reset the password. Ultimately, I decided to print it and hand deliver after Rotary. In the meantime, I tried to get Kate up before the sitter arrived at noon. I was unsuccessful. All this pushed the BP back to 146/84, and my heart rate was 79.
During the balance of the afternoon my BP fluctuated between 128/79 to 149/68. I was still uneasy about having another night like the one before. I called two friends who live nearby. They both agreed to be on call to stay with Kate should I decide to go to the hospital. I invited them over that evening so that I could show them where things are and provide other information that would be helpful. One has a daughter who is a nurse. She came along.
They spent about 45 minutes with me. The nurse asked me to tell my story and then take my BP. It was 146/86. We had a long discussion. To make a long story short, the nurse didn’t think my readings indicated a heart problem. More specifically, she said that if I were getting systolic readings over 170, she would have responded quite differently. Since my BP reached 161 only once, 151 twice, and the rest were a mixture from 111 to the mid-140s, she didn’t believe they looked so bad. In effect, she said, “You are over-reacting. Your problem is not likely to be your BP or your heart. It’s probably stress.”
When I heard that, I felt a release of tension almost immediately. I was very much at ease. That continued through the time I went to bed. I slept well. The next morning I took a 50-minute walk (inside the house, of course) and took another reading. The results were normal: 120/73, pulse 67.
Although everything was going well, I decided to keep the appointment with my primary care physician Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to talk in more detail with him about what happened and hear his opinion based on my records over the past fifteen years. His view was the same as that of the nurse and the friend with whom I had originally spoken. This was a matter of caregiver stress.
I considered that very good news. As I said earlier, I feel much more confident that I can do something to minimize, though not eliminate, my stress. It is now Saturday morning, over a week since my initial concern that became inflamed on Monday. My BP has been within normal ranges since my friends left the house Monday night.
As I reflect on the whole episode, I believe a number of factors were involved in my over-reaction. The most fundamental one was, indeed, the stress of caring for Kate. Although I have often had moments of frustration, this was the first time I had felt so tense. That led me to take my BP in the first place, something I hadn’t done in years since purchasing the monitor.
Beyond that, I haven’t thought much about my BP since the doctor originally put me on medication. That was a big psychological blow to me. Overall, I am a rather calm, easy-going person who has tried to take care of himself. I was wounded by having to rely on medication. A number of times since then, I have spoken with the doctor about discontinuing it because I was doing so well. Each time he has said that was because of the medication and told me I need to accept it and enjoy life.
Along with not thinking about my BP, I had never educated myself about normal fluctuations that occur. As a result, when I saw the first reading of 138/85, I was surprised and disturbed by it. I know now that it has probably been that high and higher during the normal course of a day even before Kate’s Alzheimer’s.
My OCD also plays a role. As in other aspects of my life, I want Kate to have the best care possible and that she is very dependent on me. I don’t want to look back and think that I should have done more to provide her the highest quality of life she can have while living with Alzheimer’s.
I have always recognized the importance of caring for myself. Maintaining my health is essential in order to properly care for Kate. From the point of her diagnosis 9 ½ years ago, I have done and still do many other things to minimize stress. Many of these were also things that Kate enjoys. That has given us many great moments together. Engaging sitters to be with Kate three afternoons a week and my decision to move to a continuing care retirement community are more clearly steps to help me.
But life is changing now. Kate continues her decline. That requires more of me than before, especially since sheltering in place. My experience with this faux-BP/cardiac problem has been an important sign that I need to consider other avenues to control stress.
Fortunately, I am aware of many options to achieve this objective. In addition, I have the willingness and wherewithal to draw upon them.
So, what’s next? I’ll talk about that in another post.