I've mentioned it before, but every five years, I have a thorough health screening .... all for free and in the name of research. I was first approached 27 years ago, when I was working as a Civil Servant in London to take part in what is known as The Whitehall Study. It takes a random group of people and studies them over their lifetime to look into such things as health and stress and what affects it. The research is carried out by University College London (UCL). Ever since that first approach I have been invited at five-yearly intervals for medicals and to fill out beforehand extensive questionnaires about my lifestyle, mood and health. I consider it a good thing. The University gets to do their research and maybe unearth important data and I get to have a free top-to-toe medical. It's a win-win situation.
Every time I go, they change the format slightly or add another test on. The sessions usually can take anything from three to four hours. You don't have to agree to anything you are unhappy with and can even opt out of the whole thing if you suddenly decide you no longer wish to participate in the project. Yesterday I went along for my sixth medical. Naturally I was inquisitive to know whether Greg's death (which had occured since my previous medical) had had any effects on my health or stress levels.
The only thing I personally hate about it, is that you have to turn up having fasted for about 12 hours, which in practical terms means no breakfast. Not even a cup of tea or coffee. Since it takes me well over an hour to get there, changing onto three different trains (overground as well as underground trains), up and down escalators and a good 20-minute walk at the end of it, I arrive starving hungry and croaking for a drink. Yesterday the format was to start with blood tests to get the DNA, cholesterol and glucose levels out of the way, as well as my blood pressure which I was pleased to see was 100 over 67. Normally you don't get to eat until lunchtime, as they need to take more blood tests two hours after you are given a glucose drink, but I was told that the second blood test had been scrapped for this round of medicals, so at ten o'clock I could help myself to tea/coffee, a sandwich and piece of cake. Boy, was THAT was the best part!
After that there were all sorts of computerised mental arithmetic and IQ tests, memory tests and face recognition tests to test mental function for the onset of dementia. There then followed a section where I had an ECG (I was told my heart rhythm looked fine, although it is sent on to a cardiologist for more detailed study) and a test to establish the elasticity/health of my veins in the neck and groin. Hip/waist/ height and weight measurements were taken to find out my fat content/BMI and I was told I was well within the range of "normal". That cheered me up no end!
The final section was to measure my hand grip strength, my finger tapping agility and general mobility (the speed I walk, the speed I stand up from and sit down on a chair without using hands etc). I had to blow three times into a machine to test my lung function. I passed with flying colours. A piece of hair was removed to test cortisol (stress) levels in it and I was finally fitted with a waterpoof watch-like contraption on my wrist which I have to wear non-stop for the next 10 days. This will record my activity levels and I have to fill in an accompanying diary which will show when my waking or sleeping periods are. The watch will be sent back eventually to be studied to see what my activity levels are over those ten days.
All of this is used in some way for research, although I will only get the official results of the blood tests and ECG. If there is anything wrong, my GP (who also gets a copy of the results) can then act on it and discuss it further. But so far all looks very well and it would seem I am alive and kicking.