My friend—who is one of the most laid-back people I know—is angry. He went to a new doctor for a routine annual physical. His blood pressure was high, so the doctor—a young man—prescribed blood pressure medicine. When my friend went to the drug store, the pharmacist asked him if he’d ever taken the medicine before. “No,” my friend said.
“Well,” said the pharmacist, “this is a prescription for the maximum dose.” The pharmacist went back to the original prescription to make sure he’d read it correctly. He had, so he told my friend that he should go back to the doctor and make sure he’d written it correctly.
My friend tells me that his blood pressure is usually high when it is first checked in a doctor’s office but if they go back and check it again at the end of the appointment then it’s normal. I explain that this is called “white coat hypertension.” Doctors believe that they are such big, powerful, important people that us little folks are afraid of them. That’s why we come into the appointment showing signs of stress, but after spending time with the doctor we see that he is not a bad scary guy, so our blood pressure goes back to normal.
I’ve got a different theory. My theory is that the stress that raises our blood pressure does not come from seeing the doctor, but from waiting to see the doctor. Being held captive, passive and under someone else’s control, in a waiting room without any end in sight is what stresses us. It’s like being in prison, except prisoners know when their sentences will end.
There’s a very simple study you can do to test this theory. Send two groups of people to see the doctor. Within five minutes of arriving, people in the first group go into the treatment room and have their blood pressure checked. People in the second group have to sit in the waiting room for forty-five minutes before they’re checked.
Here’s an alternative way to check the theory: measure the blood pressure of people who have spent forty-five minutes waiting for their number to come up in the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. Or schedule a concert then don’t have it start on time. With no explanation, delay the start by forty-five minutes then check blood pressures.
Doctors are arrogant sons of bitches who think the world revolves around them. If your blood pressure is high, it must be because you’re waiting to see them.
The doctor prescribed a stiff dose of medication without re-checking my friend’s blood pressure. The incidence of diagnosed high blood pressure—and the amount of pharmaceuticals prescribed—would probably decrease significantly if doctors would see their patients on time.
So my friend is angry, which is a good thing. We are designed with the capacity to get angry when our lives are endangered. Anger is self-protective. It makes us hyper-vigilant and gives us the ability to run away real fast. Improperly prescribed pharmaceuticals can be very damaging—in fact, they can kill you. My friend’s intuitive sense of self-preservation is causing him to get angry so he won’t ingest dangerous chemicals.
But it gets worse. My friend takes Xanax to ward off the occasional panic attack, and when he says “occasional” he means that he’s taken half a Xanax, oh, maybe half a dozen times a year. (He briefly lived in New York City, which is enough to give any thoughtful man panic attacks.) Actually, he hasn’t taken any in the past six months, but when the doctor questions him about medications, my friend dutifully reports the Xanax.
The doctor, ever helpful, goes out to his supply closet and comes back to dump a load of Xanax samples on my friend. This will get the doctor in good with the drug pushers—er, pharmaceutical representatives—who are prepared to give the doctor free airfare to conferences, tickets to Broadway shows, and new television sets for using their drugs. If the samples just sit on the shelf, the doctor is not rewarded by the drug pushers. Talk about Pavlovian conditioned behavior!
Alternatively, the doctor could have slapped my friend on the shoulder and said “Way to go! I’m glad to hear you’ve gotten your life under control and are so healthy that you don’t need drugs.”
My friend reports a co-worker who speaks glowingly of an appointment with her doctor, who is—incidentally or coincidentally?—a woman. Her doctor spent time listening to her and then gave her a prescription for vitamins.
I’m pretty sure a prescription for vitamins wouldn’t have triggered my friend’s anger response.