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Friday, October 2, 2015

Hypertension

Hypertension

A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

Fergus and his wife, Doris, were driving to town. He had a doctor’s appointment to follow-up on his new prescription for high blood pressure. They had both begun watching their salt intake and enjoyed seeing themselves lose a few pounds of water weight.

Fergus had done some additional research and decided to also reduce the sources of stress in his life. He began by declining to accept a new project at work until he was closer to finishing the ones he was already committed to. Doris, knew how worked-up he could get in city traffic, and volunteered to drive.

Seeing a group of girls, standing together in front of a store, Fergus turned his gaze to look at them. There were four, dressed in casual summer clothes — unusually bright colors — two were wearing shorts. One of the girls in shorts had particularly well-shaped legs — not those little toothpick legs so common on high school kids.

Doris saw him look. It didn’t usually bother her. Fergus tended to have high situational awareness. Doris reminded herself that he was a “keen observer of life." He frequently pointed out interesting details to her. Doris smiled as she recalled the time that she had made the humorous observation that Fergus was also “a keen observer of women.”


Doris had, long ago, come to peace with herself about Fergus. He loved her deeply and securely and never hesitated to demonstrate that fact in every particular. He never leered at other women nor stared uncomfortably long. He rarely talked to other women at all, to say nothing of approaching them or making suggestive comments. She trusted him and they both believed he had never broken that trust.

Fergus returned his gaze to the road ahead and immediately remarked that he was glad they would be there punctually. Doris took this as a mild compliment of her driving and noted that he had obviously not spent much time dwelling on the physical attributes of the girls they had just passed. There was no need to feel insecure. Fergus never made Doris feel insecure.

Fergus’ mind, as was typical, seemed to frequently be in a state of intense activity. His wife had figured out that this was not disorganized, agitated turmoil. He just had a busy brain. When Fergus seemed preoccupied or inattentive, he was usually looking ahead, sorting options, imagining possibilities and coming to conclusions.

If Doris encountered something that required a decision and mentioned it to him, she had learned to anticipate that he had already formed an opinion and could (and would) offer a quick answer. Doris had found that he usually had: 1) already been thinking about the very issue in some depth, 2) had considered things that she had not yet realized were connected, and 3) had already centered on the best available option. At first, this had been very irritating — a seeming affront to her personal prerogatives. She eventually learned to live with that which could not be changed. Well, most of the time.

True to form, Fergus spoke up and offered the end result of what he had been thinking about. “I should probably go on in alone. This isn’t a very complicated consultation. The examination rooms are pretty small. You’ll be more comfortable, and less bored in the waiting room.”

Doris smiled again; it could be kind of fun to see what he would say next. It was like the old movies where half a dozen scientists in white coats waited anxiously around a computer for it to spit out a piece of paper. She decided that his decision was workable; there was no compelling need to contest it. She didn’t even bother to nod her head or say anything in consent.

It wasn’t that he was cutting her out of consideration or was unwilling to listen to her concerns and opinions. If Doris had had any objection, she knew he would hear her out, engage with her thoughtfully, add her further input to his calculus and make needed adjustments.

More than that, Doris also knew, from long experience, that even if Fergus thought her preference seemed irrational or unproductive, he could be open to going ahead with her way anyhow. Sometimes the benefits of simply yielding to the other outweighed the gain of an optimized plan.

Doris and Fergus loved each other. Better than that, they liked each other. They arrived at the Doctor’s office in a warm cocoon of acceptance and security. They parked, checked in, and waited with the feigned patience of someone who would really rather be doing something else.

Doris and Fergus picked up magazines and began to read, occasionally sharing interesting tidbits of news with each other. Fergus, not unexpectedly, glanced about the room, indulging himself in being the keen observer of life that he was.

Eventually, an older nurse popped her head into the waiting room and nodded at him. “Mr. Johnson, your regular doctor is taking care of an emergency. Would it be all right if you were seen by one of the other doctors in the clinic instead?” Being an agreeable and genuinely considerate person, he did not object.

She pointed him to the scale and weighed him. Then, he followed her to the examination room. Her large hips rocked rhythmically in a pattern that reminded him of the back end of a mare his horse had followed for two excruciating days of a trail ride. “That’s not something anybody wants to stare at for two days,” he thought to himself.

“Your examination nurse will be with you soon. You can wait on that chair.” He obediently sat on the chair and reluctantly undertook what promised to be an interminable wait. Visions of horse’s back ends would not leave his mind.

The new nurse finally came, giving a single rap on the door and breezing into the room. She was young and blonde; Fergus thought, “Damn.” He immediately averted his eyes to stare at a point on the floor in front of his feet. This was not a response to any particular part of the current situation other than the elemental fact that, in his peripheral vision, she had seemed young and blond.

Fergus had long-ago concluded that some young women know they are good looking, and almost all have some kind of an attitude. He also concluded that their attitudes were distributed across the spectrum in a classic bell curve:

A few outliers simply enjoy the effect that they have on men. Unless they feel attracted to you, they will just casually ignore your looking at them, go on with whatever they are doing, and privately bask in the gentle reassurance of your gaze. You can usually tell them by noticing that they present themselves in a way that may seem a little too shiny, or tight, or open, for the circumstances. It is unsafe, Fergus reminded himself, to make this assumption. 

He noticed that this girl was wearing the remains of a musky perfume with a floral accent.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are a few aggressively militant outliers who take some kind of perverse pleasure in confronting any poor fool with the effrontery to glance at them longer than it takes to say, “oh shit.” A few even make a fetish of flaunting themselves in order to create opportunities to engage their sadism. Fergus was determined to never let this happen… again, after that dreadful first time.

He kept on staring at the floor while the nurse busied herself with some notations in his file. Fergus felt his throat tightening. He was starting to feel a little flush. He thought he felt several beads of sweat starting to form on the top of his bald scalp.

Fergus glanced toward his nurse without moving his head. She was actually wearing a skirt instead of slacks. She must have slid onto her stool sideways because the fabric was pulled tightly across her outer thigh and rump. The skirt had folded itself under her in a way that revealed the bottom of her upper leg. “Oh shit,” agonized Fergus to himself.

In the center of the bell curve, most pretty young girls have grown accustomed to the attention that they attract and have learned to disregard it with the obliviousness of those easily bored by the mundane. That is to say, “they pretend to ignore it.” In any event, Fergus had concluded long ago, that the best way to handle the matter is to simply not give any appearance of having noticed them. That was his policy and he had invested several difficult years in mastering his craft.

Of course, there were several ways to look at women without getting caught. At least, Fergus believed that he was not getting caught – only the last type was going to let you know that they had noticed you noticing. You could keep your head fixed while they moved by and get several seconds of tracking them with your eyes. Or, you could move your head past them as if scanning the horizon while your eyes paused in the middle of the scan. This was kind of like how a dancer could do a spin, whipping his head around at every turn to appear like he stayed facing the audience. No, it wasn’t quite exactly like that.

Also, you could just wait until her back was turned or she was busy with something and looking somewhere else. Fergus looked up. The girl was logging onto her terminal. She was probably in her very early twenties and wasn’t wearing any jewelry at all on her hands — inconclusive. Her top wasn’t the classic baggy scrub; it was fitted with small pleats, allowing it to gently emphasize her shape. She started to turn toward Fergus who immediately snapped his eyes to a medical illustration on the far wall. A fine move — executed flawlessly.

“Mr. Johnson,” she said, intending to get his attention. He politely and smoothly rotated his head and fixed his eyes directly and unwaveringly on the pupils in the middle of hers. A bead of sweat ran down his head, just behind his left ear. “I see that you’re here for a checkup on your hypertension. High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart attack and stroke.” His eyes had drifted down to her lips. They were not too thin or artificially full. She wore lipstick that was a little more pink than red. Little creases danced playfully at the corners of her mouth while she talked. The effect was entrancing.

She stopped speaking and smiled at him expectantly. What a beautiful smile. It wasn’t enigmatic like the Mona Lisa. It wasn’t at all artificial. It held the warmth and good humor of a genuinely nice person enjoying the social opportunities of their work. Fergus grinned back. “No indeed. We are worried about that, for sure. Wouldn’t want to have a heart attack. Already cut back on salt. Been trying to eat less red meat.” He realized that it was a good time to quit babbling.

The nurse went on, “Well, we’d better get your blood pressure taken. The doctor should be in right away.” Fergus cooperatively lifted his left elbow away from his body while she fastened the cuff around his arm. He continued to hold his arm in place while he sat more erect and waited expectantly. “I need your arm more forward.” He moved it forward several inches.

This was obviously not good enough. The girl moved a little toward him, seized his forearm and thrust his hand under her armpit, clamping it securely in place. She proceeded to place her stethoscope slightly under the cuff and pump up the device. Fergus was starting to feel short of breath. The area under her arm was warm but not moist. It was deliciously like having a cat settle in for a nap on top of your hands. His pinky and ring fingers could feel the undulation of ribs and arm, pulsing rhythmically while she exerted herself to inflate the cuff enough to compensate for his unexpectedly-high systolic pressure.

Having pumped hard enough to reach a desired peak, she released the pressure. The air escaped with a small sigh as the cuff began to deflate. She turned slightly to watch the pointer of the sphygmomanometer’s gauge drop lower and lower. Everything would have probably been fine if she hadn’t done that last part. The rotation of her torso brought the lower-outside bulge of her breast into full contact with the inside of his arm. It was full, firm, round and yielding. Fergus couldn’t breathe and he didn’t mind. He was trapped in paradise and would gladly die there.

The doctor gave a quick knock on the door and came in. Looking over, Fergus realized that the doctor was a good-looking woman. He managed to look away, but it was a small room and the only other object of consequence was at the end of his left arm. It was simply too much tragic burden to cope with. His world got blurry, closed in and disappeared altogether as he gradually slumped to the floor.

When he woke up, the doctor was kneeling over him on the floor; the fullness of her breasts pulling the front of her smock lower. Her cleavage, inches from his face, did not run together but curved gracefully to each side. There was room enough to tuck a small kitten in there. Fergus winced and dutifully averted his eyes.

“Mr. Johnson,” she said, “we think that you experienced a sudden drop in blood pressure. We call this idiopathic hypo-tension. That is to say, you fainted. We probably have you on too much Lisinopril. I’ll reduce the dosage. Are you feeling better?”


Fergus insisted that he would be all right and requested that somebody please ask his wife to come in from the waiting room for the balance of the consultation.

David Satterlee