I learned I had high blood pressure about six months after I got married, when my friend and work colleague Sean was hit by a car. He was riding in the back of a cab with two friends when a Town car with TLC plates ran a red light and broadsided them, and he suffered most of the impact. When I got to work the morning after it happened, word spread that he was in stable but critical condition and had lost a lot of blood. So a bunch of us took a trip to Bellevue Hospital to give him some.
When I rolled up my sleeve and the nurse first took my blood pressure, she kept pumping and pumping long after I expected her to stop. Then she looked at her gauge and made a face that made me think my systolic was in the quadruple digits. She tried three more times, pumping that sleeve tighter each time, before saying, "I'm sorry, sir. You can't donate today. If we were to puncture your artery, blood would spray out of you like a Power Painter. So if you don't mind, we'd like you to leave before you re-enact the elevator scene from The Shining."
I'd never had a problem before, so I hoped it was contextual, based on seeing my friend lying in a broken heap next to his wife and infant daughter. But it's never left, and I now know I have essential hypertension, just like my father. Interestingly, however, I had a physical last summer, about a month after I moved out, and my doctor mentioned that my pressure was as low as he'd ever seen it. He asked me if I thought the drugs were working, and I admitted I'd run out about three weeks prior and hadn't taken anything since.