You should get your bloods done’ she says to me.
I’m knackered and more than a little haggard I know. There’s been a lot going on. But still. The receptionist telling me to get my bloods done. Just by looking at me. It’s making something boil. I think it’s my blood,
‘Why’ I ask with teenage impertinence.
‘Ah just because it’s cheaper to get it done while you’re in with one of the children. It’s good to get it done.’
After many years as a receptionist I wonder what she’s seen. Why she knows when it’s time to do something. Even if the doctor doesn’t. She’s lovely. Bubbly and warm and kind. She’s thick as thieves with the patients. I take her advice.
I phone a day later for the results. She reads from the computer screen.
‘Your thyroid is very good. Your blood glucose is excellent. Iron levels very good, 12.4. You’re way off the menopause’. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this information or even if it is the receptionist that should be giving it to me. She is unrelenting.
‘Years and years off. My god you’re reading is 5 and it doesn’t even begin to kick off until you’re at 26’.
Great. Or is it? Who knows. She seems to.
‘Let me see now. What else. Your cholesterol. Your cholesterol is actually quite high’.
‘Yes. It’s 6.7’.
‘6.7? That sounds very high. What might cause that?’
Suddenly she is the doctor and I am the vulnerable patient.
‘It could be too much sugar’.
Hang on a second, I thought my blood sugars were excellent. I haven’t a sweet tooth. Never have. Then I remember.
‘The night before the test I ate a load of cheese. Could that have done it?’
The night before we had skipped dinner and opted for a generous wedge of scrumptious Saint Agur with crackers and red wine. I stopped eating at about one o’clock in the morning. I didn’t know I was having my cholesterol checked in a mere eight hours. Silly me. I’ve caused a skewed reading.
‘It won’t have helped. But sure listen, don’t worry about it. You’re young enough and you’re slim. You’ll be able to get it down with a few changes to diet. Cheese is lethal. Drink a few benecol, they’re very good, and come back and have it rechecked in a month’.
‘My mother has high cholesterol’ I volunteer. ‘Since she was very young. An inherited thing’.
‘There you go. I was going to say it’s probably genetic. But sure don’t worry about it at all’.
6.7. I hang up feeling like a fool. All these years and I’ve never even thought to get it checked. I go to the doctors for one reason only. The kids. I don’t go for myself. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ would be my mature attitude. Reckless it seems now all of a sudden. Time to get googling.
It’s funny what a surprise like having high cholesterol can do to a person. In an utterly imperceptible and seamless move the shopping is full of oats, beans, lentils, nuts, spinach, soy and salmon. I am mopping up my cholesterol. I cannot even look at the cheese section. As if it alone is responsible for my poisoned blood. Benecol – which I had always imagined was for people in their seventies – is my new drug of choice. I swig it merrily and picture the plant stanols attacking the fatty blood. Padraig Harrington – whom I ignore on the radio ads wittering on about Flora something or other – suddenly is an ally. Someone as fit as him. Imagine. Although he never actually says how high his went. 5.1 probably. I buy the product and smear it cheerfully on my baked potato. I manage not to steal a delicious chippy chip from the kids. I am attacking this thing with the zeal of a perfectionist on speed. My husband is dying to know the results after a month of this malarkey. He tells me he bets it’ll be way down. Dangerously low from what he has witnessed.
I get retested and phone the next day for the results. I’ve a pencil in hand ready to write down the 5 point something low that it now will be. She calls out all the ones that are good again. She is still cheerfully telling me that I’m no where near menopausal.
‘It’s just the cholesterol I’m looking for ‘ I tell her. I don’t want to ruin her buzz but I’m really rather excited.
‘Just a second, hang on there, where is it, here… 6.7’.
‘6.7? But sure it can’t be. I’ve changed my diet completely and…’
The doctor is put on the line.
‘It’s still high. But you’ve no other risk factors. You’re not overweight and you don’t smoke and your blood pressure, did we check your blood pressure?’
‘Come on around and we’ll check it and see what to do from there’.
I’m floored. It’s probably the first time in my life that I’ve thrown myself fully at something and got nowhere. Nowhere at all. My mind fuzzes with words colliding. Plaques. Stroke. Heart attack. Oh well.
Around at the surgery the receptionist is disappointed for me.
‘Are you sure?’ I ask. ‘All the results were the same as the last time. Could there be some…’
‘Hang on a second, what date is it, the 14th, yeah, that’s – oh no wait, it’s the same date today as you had it done last month, you’re right – that’s last month’s results. Hang on and I’ll ring to get this month.’
‘I knew it’ I tell her. ‘Sure how could it be the same after all those changes. All that benecol!’
‘I know, I was very surprised, look here they are now, they’re just coming in’ she says looking at her computer screen.
‘Oh, that’s it there now, what? That can’t be…’
The doctor is hovering close by. He has a look at the screen.
‘6.8’ he says definitively. ‘It’s gone up’. With that he turns up the radio, just a tad, to catch an ad for Callan’s Kicks. He’s chuckling to himself as I stand there gobsmacked. My body is behaving badly, ignoring me and my first class efforts. It’s doing its own thing. Defiantly.
He checks the blood pressure which is behaving itself. He tells me that I have no other risk factors. For what he doesn’t specify. There’s no need to. Then that I have two choices. See how it is in a couple of months. Or go on a low dose statin. The kids faces swarm in front of me. It’s dizzying.
‘I’ll take the drug’ I tell him. And then perhaps I’ll head straight to McDonalds to celebrate my failure with a Big Mac.
The pharmacist looks concerned.
‘Is this the first time you’ve been prescribed these?’
‘Yes. I was hoping to get it down with diet but it went up instead’.
She nods sagely.
‘These can have some unpleasant side effects’.
‘Yes I know. I’ve been looking into it recently for my Dad. He’s coming off his due to the side effects. Memory loss. I don’t need that! Still, I haven’t much choice. I need to get it down’.
Then she tells me about a natural over the counter alternative that has just come out. Reportedly as good as the statins with no side effects. Now that sounds like my cup of tea. She recommends to try the statins first and then to swap when the count has gone down.
The side effects are immediate. Stomach upset. Maybe it’ll settle after a while I think. But it doesn’t. It gets worse. We’re late for school (unusually) one morning and we have to run. I feel nauseous and the muscles in my legs seem to be seizing. On Saturday afternoon I get a whopper of a headache. I never get headaches. I put myself to bed with painkillers and tell him that if it doesn’t shift we’re off to A&E as it could be a stroke. It hadn’t struck me that it could be the meds causing it. I google the side effects and they’re all there. The headache shifts. I’m a wuss. I want to stop taking the statins. So I google alternatives and lo and behold there’s a massive anti-statin brigade chiming a tune that fits my current head space perfectly. It goes along the lines of: Your liver makes cholesterol and it makes exactly what you need. Anything between 2 and 10 is fine. The under 5.0 is a scaremongering money making made up number. There’s billions and billions to be made out of it. So relax. Eat well. Exercise. You are fine.
I choose a non-analytical, non-skeptical approach to this. It feels really good to think that maybe, just maybe, my body is doing what it needs to do. There’s a block of Kilmeaden cheese in the fridge for the kids. I open it, cut a slice, smother it with Coleman’s mustard and sink down on the couch. The pre-occupation with getting the bold number down has left me, for today at least.