Hypertension is real. As real as the furrowed brows on Dr Fouad's head during my recent visit to Abu Dhabi's Burjeel Hospital.
I had been feeling under the weather for some time and thought a few pills and dose of vitamins from the Egyptian doctor might be in order, but instead I was escorted from one department to another, and after each stop the furrowed brow grew bigger.
“Whatever it is you are doing, it is time to slow down and take it easy,” Dr Fouad told me matter-of-factly. “Hypertension is no joke. It could be a gift or an opportunity for warning.”
Before that appointment I never knew what that term meant. But after some research, it was enough to raise the blood pressure … literally.
I didn't have to go far to get my information; my colleagues at The National have been covering this health risk for years with doctors continually warning us of the dangers of living an inactive lifestyle coupled with a relaxed attitude to junk food. This potent cocktail can lead to abnormally high blood pressure, which is often a slippery slope towards a heart attack or stroke.
Dr Fouad tried to comfort me by stating that I was part of a growing trend that included a third of the global population aged between 25 and 75 who were grappling with the condition.
It didn’t work, of course, but his earlier message, that it could be an opportunity, resonated with me long after the appointment ended. It was a wake-up call in the best sense. I have spent most of my life not paying close enough attention to what I have been consuming and oblivious to the pace I have been working at, so the diagnosis was akin to that mysterious potion being placed under a football player’s nose after he had been knocked out.
It not only caused me to wake up and rethink my lifestyle choices, but also the way I relate to my home city of Abu Dhabi. “Find ways to de-stress,” Dr Fouad advised. “Go for walks, exercise, engage in deep breathing exercises. Go somewhere that makes you feel relief.”
Abu Dhabi has been a dear friend on my road to recovery. After years of reporting on the capital’s cultural scene, my interactions with the city have mostly been frenetic events.
I realised I hadn’t given it the quality time away from the limelight and glitter of stage-side reporting. So I’ve taken to walking daily. This has provided me with the opportunity to experience the city in a more genteel light and allowed me to discover little oases of comfort.
My favourite so far is the near kilometre stretch of Corniche near Mina Port and its collection of ramshackle boats. On the other side of the Corniche, behind the stately Abu Dhabi Theatre, lies a comfortable little formation of rocks where you can sit and appreciate the beautiful view of the city unfolding ahead – it is also a good spot to allow your thoughts to melt away with some deep breathing exercises.
A more tricky experience, however, has been on the food front and that’s just because I am learning to be more assertive. After years of guffawing under my breath, I have become “that person”, interrogating waiters to see if salt is used on their Greek salad and what the percentage of fat is in the yoghurt in a Turkish meat dish.
Perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt so far is that I am in control. I have seen this first-hand in my daily blood pressure readings.
It is amazing what a sustained spot of deep breathing or a healthy meal can do to take your blood pressure levels from the red and point them towards the green. I’m still stuck in orange, but that’s a work in progress.
I have also learnt to appreciate my friends more and be selective with who I want in my life. Those who give me bad vibes have been quietly blacklisted, while those radiating positivity have been pulled closer.
I could have learnt all of this before the diagnosis, of course, but like many things in life, it is often the challenges that teach us the most.
That doesn’t mean you should wait for bad news to strike. If you feel like you’re running yourself ragged, do yourself a favour and get your health checked – or at least find your quiet little corner of Abu Dhabi and take a deep breath.
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