When Grant arrived at our clinic, we instantly fell in love with him. Grant was a gentle giant. He fit the classic picture of the kindly grandfather to a “T.” He had a soft voice and a sweet spirit that emanated from his every move. His warm smile accompanied jokes when he was teasing staff with his quick wit. You’re not supposed to play favorites with the patients, but that rule never applied to Grant; he was a favorite among his fellow patients too. We all secretly wished we could call him Grandpa.
Our smiles turned to frowns when we took his blood pressure. His was over 180/115. (120/80 is considered normal.) We were scared he was going to have a stroke as he sat there. Grant just sighed patiently. He was used to this.
Grant was aware he fit into the classic picture of the stroke candidate just as neatly as he fit into the kindly grandfather picture. He was tall, elderly, overweight, male and in an ethnic class that historically succumbed to high blood pressure related problems. He also had a family history of heart conditions. As a retired architect, Grant had years of limited exercise due to his demanding, high stress, desk job. In his mind, he was doomed.
The clinic staff saw the situation differently. The doctor renewed his high blood pressure medication and suggested 2 or 3 simple lifestyle and dietary changes that were manageable for him. Just a few changes at a time was the key to get our beloved patient back on the road to health.
Hawthorn was another change for him. Grant had never taken herbal medicine before. I offered him a bottle of hawthorn tincture to try along with dosage suggestions. The prescription medication didn’t seem to have much effect so he was skeptical that any plant-based medicine would make a difference. With the urging of our doctor, he decided to give it a try. In his mind, he had nothing to lose.
Grant came back every week to get his blood pressure checked. We made suggestions for further changes which included diet and exercise which would improve his health. As he saw his blood pressure numbers slowly lower, Grant started making his own suggestions. He was feeling better. Exercise was easier and more enjoyable. He told us he was just working out to impress the ladies. While this may have been true, it was heartening to notice how impressed he was with his own changes. As his blood pressure started to reduce, he began to report other changes in other areas of his life. His vision of doom was fading.
A year after his initial visit, our favorite patient returned. His blood pressure was just a few points above normal. Grant was going to be okay. He asked for a larger supply of hawthorn to take with him. He was going to be out of town to attend his brother’s funeral and help his family readjust. His brother, a few year younger than Grant, had died of a heart condition while he was straightening his tie to go to work.
We sat in silence for a while thinking about the implications. We both knew but didn’t say what this meant. It could have been him. We both knew it could have been him.
Grant shook my hand before he left. He looked at me in his patient way and assured me he would be back to the clinic when he returned to town. We know he will. He has hawthorn tincture waiting for him.

Note: The Clinic Memoirs are based on real experiences from Occupy Medical clinic, a free, integrated health clinic that serves patients primarily, but not exclusively, in Lane County, Oregon since 2011. The names of the patients and a few personal details are changed to protect patient identity.