Health class: high blood pressure is a red balloon and la sangre es la vida
¨Buenos dias, welcome to you all here in CENIT.¨ Some people mumble ¨gracias¨, but most of the about thirty five vendors look at us passively but curious. ¨I´m Nelly, de Holanda,¨ I say, and I nod to my volunteer companion next to me. ¨… and I´m Jenny from the United States and today we´d like to talk with you about high blood pressure.¨ There seems to be not much life yet in our audience this early in the morning, so let´s try to wake them up.
¨High blood pressure is a problem of the cardiovascular system… agreed?¨ Everybody nods firmly, but I´m sure I´d have got the same reaction if I´d have called it the milky way system. ¨So… what is the cardiovascular system?¨ It´s a pity for my Dutch friends that there´s no proper translation of ¨to stare blankly at¨, because that´s what they all suddenly seem to be doing: to stare blankly at Nelly. When it´s clear that nobody has suggestions, I help them a bit. ¨El sistema cardio… vascular.¨ Aaah, a few lights turn on there. ¨El corazón!¨ says one of the ladies, and the answer spreads like a wave through the circle. ¨Muy bien! The heart indeed… anything else? Cardio… vascular?¨ Eeerm, no. ¨What´s attached to the heart?¨ Oh, yeah. ¨The lungs!¨ Yahaa, Nelly, you can´t say that that isn´t true, now do you? To keep things simple, I say it isn´t true. ¨Ok, what do we find inside the heart then?¨ That´s an easy one. ¨Blood,¨ people shout from different angles. ¨Perfecto, and where does the blood go?¨ Everybody agrees on that too. ¨To the whole body.¨ So this one I really have to do myself. ¨Very good, to the whole body, via the vessels.¨ Everybody nods contently.
Sometimes it´s hard to find a good balance between what they should and shouldn´t know, and we also have to take in account that the mayority of this group either hasn´t been to school or hasn´t finished it. I don´t know if that may be the reason why they like it so much to participate actively in our info-sessions, but that makes it much more fun for us to challenge them just enough to hold their attention for half an hour without making things too difficult.
¨Alright, so the cardiovascular system, that´s the heart, the vessels and the blood. Why do we have blood?¨ This is one of my favorite questions because most people have got an idea or description for it, without knowing in what way it´s compatible to the truth. ¨La sangre es la vida,¨ a lady states confidently, as if she can´t imagine that I didn´t already know that. ¨Ya, that is a good metaphor… blood is life. But why?¨ This is a difficult one, so I don´t wait too long for the answer. ¨Oxygen. The blood transports oxygen to the whole body because all cells in our body need that to function. The cells here,¨ I point at my little finger, ¨and the cells here,¨ I touch my toes. Now we´ve made a start, it becomes easier: the vessels are there to transport the blood to all the cells and the heart pumps. They usually come up with these things themselves.
¨Ok, so high blood pressure is a problem of that system, cardio vascular. That means that problems can appear with the heart…¨ the people count with me, ¨the vessels and the blood. What does the heart do?¨ Pumps the blood. ¨Good, what do the vessels do?¨ Transport the blood. ¨And what does the blood do?¨ Es la vida. Bien. So what happens if one of these things doesn´t work properly? ¨Se muere!¨ it sounds almost enthusiastic. Indeed. You die. Great. Step 1: you can die from high bloodpressure, that´s why it´s important to know more about it. Mission accomplished.
¨Bloodpressure is the resistence of the vessels against the force that the blood exerts on the walls of the vessels.¨ Fine. Give that definition to an aula full of first year medical students an half of them haven´t got a clue what to to with it. So don´t give that definition to the people of the market. At least, not without balloons. The green balloon contains less water: it´s more flexible and less vulnerable than the tight red balloon that has more water. We let them pass the balloons around. Our definition of high blood pressure: the red balloon. It doesn´t matter that they don´t know the definition in words by heart, they probably understand the concept a lot better than the aula of medical students do. High five.
From there it´s really easy for us to talk with the group about possible causes, consequences / risks with especially heart problems (killer no 1), medical assistance an dthe most important thing of all of course: prevention. Our 30 minutes fly by. Eight sessions like this we´ve done, and next month we´ll have eight more about another topic, probably AIDS / HIV. Can´t wait!