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Skating On Thin Ice

June 20, 2009
On my second year of NUS, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure.  I was measured numerous times on numerous occasion in NUS medical clinic.  I was completely distraught to learn that I have to take hypertension medication everyday for the rest of my life.  A few years later, I landed in Canada and went to the clinic for more medication and was told I do not have high blood pressure.  I was puzzled.  I asked again and again and was retested weeks later and told to go home because I was normal.  How could this be?  I thought it over and over again and concluded maybe because the line for "hypertension" was different in different countries.  But how can it be?  For the remaining years in America, my systolic blood pressure was monitored and is always around 130 to 140.  However, yesterday, it was 108!

In Pittsburgh, I was given a skin test for tuberculosis.  Anything for than 5mm after the skin test is positive for infection (not the disease).  My test came out "5mm"!  Yes, exactly 5mm!  I was on the borderline.  He decided I should take the drugs for 6 months.  These things are so arbitrary.

So who decide what number it is and how come the numbers are so nice?  Body Mass Index (BMI), Systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, wasit line, cholesterol level, LDL, Triglycerides, numbers to  determine Hypercholesterolemia, blood sugar level and the list could go on.  If through numerous experiment and data, physicians has determine when and BMI level is considered obese and when you’re overweight, why are the numbers so nice?  You would think the 95th percentile or seventy-fifth percentile for BMI will be more like 26.762 or 32.543.  But no, anything above 25 is overweight and anything above 30 is obese.  Who round these numbers up?  After all, this is nothing more that a person’s weight divided by the square of his height (thanks to a Belgium statistician, Adolphe Quelet 1796-1874).  And to make things worse, Singapore (Surgeon General) has arbitrarily adjusted the overweight BMI as 23.5 instead of 25 for Singaporeans.

Thanks to all these "arbitration", my total cholesterol level has decided to jump up and down the 200 level  during the last decade.  So everytime I go beyond that level, I will watch my diet carefully and my doctor will ask me to be tested again and most of the time, I would fall below that arbitrary 200 again without cholesterol lowering drugs. 

ASIDE—Yesterday, I was given the purple pill.  I looked this up on the web with my daughter and learned that it was given generally for people with Esophagitis or any form of GERD.  She has just learned the word "esophagus" from her books and I knew that word since primary school.  So I prnounced "Esophagitis" the same way as "esophagus" but with with the end removed and appended with "itis".  She corrected me and said it differently.  I gave it a thought, then secretly check it was the internet and found that she was right.  It took me a while to learn that "photography" is pronounced differently from "photograph" but she doesn’t have to learn that.  Sigh!


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  1. Vicky permalink

    Not arbitrary numbers. but statistical numbers.

  2. Nabueh permalink

    If it were statistical (say the seventy-fifth percentile or ninetieth percentile, wouldn\’t it be more like 26.762 or 32.543? why 25 and 30?

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