I had a mini stroke. It was scary to learn that this happened to me without my knowledge.
As researchers focused on the minutiae of statistics, funding and peer reviews, its all too easy to forget the stories at the heart of our work, that drives the work we do. At a recent panel at the UN, following the High Level Meeting on NCDs, Roslyn Gittens Grimes, a patient living in Harlem, New York, shared the powerful reality of her life, living with Hypertension. Here we share her words.
The American gospel duo Mary Mary says in their song, Can’t Give Up Now, “I’ve come too far from where I started from; nobody told me the road would be easy; and I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.” Indeed, the road I’ve traveled can be described as anything but easy as a patient with hypertension.
I am Roslyn Grimes, a 59 year old immigrant from Barbados. I’ve spent most of my life living here in the US, where I was diagnosed with hypertension in my forties. This medical condition became the catalyst for several changes in my life, some of them good, but many of them bad.
Hypertension, in addition to my autoimmune disease, impacts my body everyday, rendering me unable to perform normal activities that even I once took for granted. I can’t get up quickly unless I want to be greeted with a rapid rise in my pressure and heart palpitations. Physical pain afflicts me daily, often causing my blood pressure to rise dangerously high. My hypertension led me to developing sleep apnea, and as a result I am constantly tired. Small amounts of dehydration can often bring about terrible headaches, bouts of nausea, and elevated pressure. However, the worst way my high blood pressure has physically affected me occurred when I discovered after an MRI that months previously,
Hypertension truly is the silent killer
I believe the government should start listening more closely to us as individuals and not just a collection of people.
A toll has been taken on my social life, as attending functions and gatherings isn’t as easy as it once was. I have to consider which activities might cause a rise in my pressure, and I have to carefully watch my diet. Dinners at wonderful restaurants aren’t as exciting when three-fourths of the menu is off-limits.
In addition to my physical self, my emotional state has been greatly affected. I live with two of my three children, and frequently feel as though I burden them with my condition. I’ve also become depressed because of my physical limitations. I’ve lost interest in the things I used to love doing, while feeling a great sense of loss over activities my body no longer permits me to perform.
However, the part of me that has been most transformed due to my hypertension has been my spirituality. I’ve found myself tested in new ways that have only made my connection to my God stronger. My faith is what has kept me grounded throughout this entire journey of adapting to my newfound limitations.
I feel blessed to have great doctors and social workers at Mount Sinai in my life, such as Dr. Sunny with his genuinely sunny demeanor and Ms. Lopez, a truly kind individual, both of whom encouraged me to share my story of hypertension with you today. I’m fortunate enough to have kind friends and caregivers, especially my children who have made it clear that they love, care for, and cherish me deeply.
With the encouragement of my amazing support system, I am slowly regaining my life, my strength, and my independence. Although my speed isn’t quite what it used to be, I can perform tasks now that I was incapable of even a year ago.
To all the great doctors who are listening to my message today: thank you for caring and giving it your all. I speak on behalf of many patients who would like you to keep exercising patience. It can be difficult to verbalize exactly what we are experiencing physically.
However, doctors and patients cannot do the work all by themselves. Give us what we need based on our stories. Medicine needs to be more accessible, with lower costs so working class people can afford it. More arrangements should be made for obtaining medicine for those with limited mobility. Food costs are also much too high. Access to fresh food depends on where you live, and these resources shouldn’t be kept primarily in upper class neighborhoods. Patients afflicted with hypertension struggle enough with their diet, and options shouldn’t be even further limited to primarily canned and other sodium-loaded food.
Corporations have a role to play in the solution as well. Working people would benefit greatly from stress outlets such as yoga or meditation. Anything that would allow workers to unwind and become a little less stressed. A little bit of time to relax can go a long way physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Thank you for listening, and I hope that today we can all walk away with a stronger understanding of how hypertension affects the patients who have it, as well as even more compassion in our hearts.