Vasodilation

(References in later sections to men’s bodies and mansex, sometimes in plain terms; that material is not suitable for kids or the sexually modest. First, though, some pressure music and some stuff about blood pressure.)

Two things that happened to come together: my blood pressure readings of 97/59 on Wednesday, 105/57 yesterday; and an Out magazine story “Lucille Ball Did Poppers to Ease Chest Pains, Says New Show” by Mathew Rodriguez yesterday. The connection being that poppers trigger a (temporary) signficant drop in blood pressure.

If you don’t know what the poppers in question are (maybe you’re thinking of fried stuffed jalapeño peppers), don’t be alarmed; it will eventually become clear.

Pressure music. Pressure released, pressure dropping.

Basic lexical background, from NOAD:

noun pressure: 1 continuous physical force exerted on or against an object by something in contact with it … 2 [a] the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something … [b] the influence or effect of someone or something … [c] the feeling of stressful urgency caused by the necessity of doing or achieving something, especially with limited time …

Then there are some specialized senses, in particular these two (also from NOAD):

noun atmospheric pressure: the pressure exerted by the weight of the atmosphere, which at sea level has a mean value of 101,325 pascals (roughly 14.6959 pounds per square inch). Also called barometric pressure [or in non-technical vocabulary, air pressure].

noun blood pressure: the pressure of the blood in the circulatory system, often measured for diagnosis since it is closely related to the force and rate of the heartbeat and the diameter and elasticity of the arterial walls.

I’ll start with Queen’s “Under Pressure”, at one level about psychological pressure (“Pressure on people / People on streets … / Why can’t we give love that one more chance?”), but accompanied by images of pressure being released — a rocket launch, imploding buildings — visual metaphors of a mounting erection (arousal accompanied by substantial increases in pulse rate and blood pressure) followed by the release of ejaculation and a pressure drop (arousal drops to zero, pulse rate and blood pressure drop dramatically). More lyrics:

(#1)

And then Queen’s original recording, from the album Hot Space in 1982:

(#2)

(#3)

And then Davd Bowie & Queen in the “Classic Queen Mix” (remastered in 2011 from footage from several sources):

(#4)

Then another kind of pressure drop, in the 1969 reggae song by Toots and the Maytals:

(#5)

From Wikipedia:

“Pressure Drop” is a song recorded in 1969 by the Maytals for producer Leslie Kong. The song appears on their 1970 album Monkey Man(released in Jamaica by Beverley’s Records) and From the Roots(released in the UK by Trojan Records). “Pressure Drop” helped launch the band’s career outside Jamaica when the song was featured in the soundtrack to the 1972 film The Harder They Come, which introduced reggae to much of the world.

… “Pressure Drop” refers to the barometric pressure. This song predates modern weather forecasting, and at that time in the context of this song, island populations relied on the simple but reliable instrument (barometer) to predict adverse weather. The liquid barometer displays pressure as a measure of the fluid in a glass tube, and when the air pressure drops the fluid level “drops” accordingly. A rapid drop in air pressure indicates the severity of the approaching storm (hurricane), and is sometimes referred to as “the bottom dropping out”. Attention to pressure changes could spell the difference between life and death for an island dweller. “Pressure drop” is used as a clever poetic device in this song, and is the artists way of saying *a storm is coming for you*. [“I said a pressure drop, / Oh pressure, oh yeah / Pressure’s gonna drop on you”]

Low air pressure affects some people — I am one — both physiologically and psychologically. Physiologically, by aggravating the pains of arthritis, bunions, and some other afflictions (ouch ouch ouch). Psychologically, in the form of a mild but still distressing depression (I inexplicably burst into tears over some tiny thing, then think to check the air pressure).

Blood pressure: measuring it, interpreting it, treating it. From Wikipedia:

Traditionally, blood pressure was measured non-invasively using ausculation with a mercury-tube sphygmomanometer [sphygmanometers below].

[NOAD: noun auscultation: the action of listening to sounds from the heart, lungs, or other organs, typically with a stethoscope, as a part of medical diagnosis. ORIGIN mid 17th century: from Latin auscultatio(n-), from auscultare ‘listen to’.]

… Blood pressure fluctuates from minute to minute and normally shows a circadian rhythm over a 24-hour period, with highest readings in the early morning and evenings and lowest readings at night … Blood pressure also changes in response to temperature, noise, emotional stress, consumption of food or liquid, dietary factors, physical activity, changes in posture, such as standing-up, drugs, and disease.

The amount of variability is considerable. The mild anxiety of being in a doctor’s office is enough to raise blood pressure readings by 20 points for many people. Passionate engagement in a conversation can trigger a rise. And aerobic exercise will cause a rise in blood pressure along with the (intended) rises in depth of breathing and pulse rate. (In the other direction, achieving a meditative state can bring down both pulse rate and blood pressure considerably. I recently discovered that the techniques I learned to manage pain through meditation, after my 2003 surgeries for necrotizing fasciitis, can also bring down my pulse rate and brood pressure temporarily. It’s a sort of parlor trick, which I have promised not to use when medical staff are measuring my blood pressure; their aim is to find my “true” blood pressure, whatever that means.)

Now, the measuring devices. From Wikipedia, with some ruthless editing to simplify things:

A sphygmomanometer, also known as a blood pressure meter, blood pressure monitor, or blood pressure gauge, is a device used to measure blood pressure, composed of an inflatable cuff [usually placed around an upper arm] to collapse and then release the artery under the cuff in a controlled manner, and a mercury or mechanical manometer to measure the pressure. It is always used in conjunction with a means to determine at what pressure blood flow is just starting, and at what pressure it is unimpeded. Manual sphygmomanometers are used in conjunction with a stethoscope:


(#6) The (digital) meter I use at home

… Digital meters employ oscillometric measurements [measuring oscillations of the arterial pulse] and electronic calculations rather than auscultation [with a cuff designed to be placed around an upper arm or a wrist].

Assuming you’re able to even out the variability in readings to get a good estimate of someone’s “true” blood pressure, there’s then the question of what should count as a normal range, not indicative of any sort of pathology requiring treatment to bring the readings into a safe range. A simple version of the WHO recommendations:

(#7)

Now, my own history with these things. For most of my life, my blood pressure was on the low side, low enoughthat I’d learned not to stand up too fast, otherwise I’d be light-headed for a moment — not enough to cause me to faint,  just feel woozy. (Bear this effect in mind for discussion to come below.)

As I aged, my blood pressure rose, eventually to alarming levels, and I was put on two medications for the condition (there’s quite a range of different classes of medications for this purpose): the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide (with the wonderful trochaic name), and the calcium channel blocker amlodopine besylate (trade name Norvasc). A while back one of my doctors switched the HCTZ to furosemide (trade name Lasix), and then recently, another doctor switched the furosemide prescription to spironolactone + hydrochlorothiazide (trade name Aldactazide). Much improvement.

This last doctor asked me to keep a daily record of my blood pressure, and it shows the changes:

first 3  days: 2/11 – 137/84; 2/12 – 140/83; 2/13 – 141/95. In the borderland, at the high end (but these readings were taken immediately on awakening, when I’m almost always sexually aroused — morning wood ‘erection upon awakening’, as in this 1/4/11  posting — with the accompanying elevated blood pressure)

next 7 days: 2/14 – 124/77 … 2/20 – 132/82. In the borderland, at the low end (now taking readings a few hours later in the day)

next 7 days: 2/21 – 113/60 … 2/27 – 117/66. In the ideal range, at the high end

next 7 days: 3/1 – 104/62 … 3/6 – 97/59; 3/7 – 105/57. In the ideal range, at the low end

And today, 107/64, continuing the pattern.

It’s a wrap! A further complication in all of this is major-league edema and its treatment. I’ve had a modest but persistent amount of edema (aka dropsy in non-technical language, and no connection to the wonderful Japanese beans edamame) in my lower legs for years, managed via the diuretics and a limitation on my liquid intake. But in the Great January Health Disaster, everything ballooned up grotesquely. From my 1/24/19 posting “Being cardioverted”:

I’ve had a cascade of dreadful medical events that started (early in the new year) with the world’s worst sinus infection: oceans of gross mucus, endless hacking, exhaustion, splitting sinus headache, and anosmia (loss of my sense of smell, hence most of my sense of taste). This was followed by sudden lightning strikes of osteoartrithis pain all over my body — paralyzing pain in my left knee, then in many other joints (“pseudogout”, caused by spiky crystals in the joints) — and by the potentially life-threatening skin infection cellulitis in my lower left leg and by edema in both legs and feet. All except the last have passed away under treatment, and I’ve had an ultrasound that showed no blood clots in my legs; more doctoring to come next week.

That doctoring was with a vascuar surgeon, who coped equably with my grotesquely ornate medical history, speculated that the edema was a nasty side effect of all the other insults in the Great January Health Disaster, warned that for a fair number of patients the condition was simply chronic, but optimistically prescribed a system of compression wraps that might reduce or eliminate the swelling:

(#8)

From the company site (which is fond of lowercasing):

circaid juxtalite is an instantly adjustable [via the miracle of Velcro] compression device suitable for all venous disorders during ulcer healing and after wound closure to prevent recurrence. circaid juxtalite is best suited for patients with mild to moderate edema. juxtalite is a compression alternative to compression stockings or bandages, intended for patients who cannot tolerate or apply traditional compression garments. [tutorial on applying them here]

I need to have someone else put them on, take them off, and adjust them, which is a tremendous nuisance. But (along with Ace bandages on my puffy feet) they’ve worked! The January edema is gone, and most of the previous edema as well. Slim ankles and svelte feet. Whee. (Meanwhile I’m walking 4 to 10 blocks a day. Very slowly, but doing it.)

Here end the musical and medical portions of today’s lesson. On to the mansex, so this is where some of you will want to bail out. (There will be a little more music, but it’s a snarky hymn to alkyl nitrates in mansex.)

Mr. Penguin’s Poppers. From Wikipedia:

Popper is a slang term given broadly to the chemical class called alkyl nitrites, that are inhaled for recreational drug purposes, typically for the “high” or “rush” that the drug can create. Poppers have also been historically used for sexual encounters, initially within the gay community.


(#9) A hit of poppers makes it all better

If you trace the bottle of amyl (a type of alkyl nitrite) through late 20th century history, you trace the legacies of gay culture on popular culture in the 20th century.

Poppers were part of club culture from the mid-1970s disco scene and returned to popularity in the 1980s and 1990s rave scene.

Popper use has a relaxation effect on involuntary smooth muscles, such as those in the throat and anus.

[That relaxation effect makes poppers a valuable adjunct to receptive oral and anal sex, especially when you’re dealing with a particularly thick or long cock. Better relaxation through chemistry! (Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”: “Relax, don’t do it / When you want to go to it / Relax, don’t do it / When you want to come”. See my 10/11/15 posting “From the 80s”, with its section on “Relax”). Or, in the words of the popper parody (source unknown), “Just a quick sniff of poppers helps the penis slide right in … / In the most delightful way” — taking off on “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down … / In a most delightful way” from Mary Poppins.]

Most widely sold products include the original amyl nitrite (isoamyl nitrite, isopentyl nitrite), but also variants such as isobutyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite (2-propyl nitrite, increasingly, after EU ban of the isobutyl form). In some countries, to evade anti-drug laws, poppers are labelled or packaged as room deodorizers, leather polish, or tape head cleaner. [Poppers have a powerful smell, sometimes derided as a reek.]

The French chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard synthesized amyl nitrite in 1844. Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, a Scottish physician born in the year of amyl nitrite’s first synthesis, famously pioneered its use to treat angina pectoris. Brunton was inspired by earlier work with the same agent, performed by Arthur Gamgee and Benjamin Ward Richardson. Brunton reasoned that the angina sufferer’s pain and discomfort could be reduced by administering amyl nitrite — to dilate the coronary arteries of patients, thus improving blood flow to the heart muscle.

[This is where Lucille Ball comes into it: with amyl nitrite as an angina treatment, in “Lucille Ball Did Poppers to Ease Chest Pains, Says New Show”, from Out magazine of 3/7/19 by Mathew Rodriguez.]

Although amyl nitrite is known to have been used recreationally as early as the 1960s, the poppers “craze” began around 1975. It was packaged and sold pharmaceutically in fragile glass ampoules wrapped in cloth sleeves which, when crushed or “popped” in the fingers, released the amyl nitrite for inhalation. Hence the colloquialism poppers. The term extended to the drug in any form as well as to other drugs with similar effects, e.g. butyl nitrite which is packaged under a variety of trade names in small bottles.


(#10) Three brands of poppers

… Inhaling nitrites relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the sphincter muscles of the anus and the vagina. Smooth muscle surrounds the body’s blood vessels and when relaxed causes these vessels to dilate resulting in an immediate increase in heart rate and blood flow throughout the body, producing a sensation of heat and excitement that usually lasts for a couple of minutes. When these vessels dilate, a further result is an immediate decrease in blood pressure.

[Digression. The title of this section is a (Spooneristic) play on the title Mr. Popper’s Penguins. From Wikipedia:

(#11)

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a children’s book written by Richard and Florence Atwater, with illustrations by Robert Lawson, originally published in 1938. It tells the story of a poor house painter named Mr. Popper and his family, who live in the small town of Stillwater in the 1930s. The Poppers unexpectedly come into possession of a penguin, Captain Cook. The Poppers then receive a female penguin from the zoo, who mates with Captain Cook to have 10 baby penguins. Before long, something must be done lest the penguins eat the Poppers out of house and home.

… A 20th Century Fox film based loosely on the book was released on June 17, 2011 and starred Jim Carrey as Mr. Popper.]

One further note on poppers in a gay social milieu, from my 11/23/15 posting “Penises, poppers, and piercings, oh my!”:

Yes, a posting about men’s bodies and gay sex, but without pictures (those are on AZBlogX, in a posting entitled “The news for penises, Thanksgiving edition”) …

Photo #2 on AZBlogX shows a guy with a huge hard-on, an industrial-strength metal cock ring, and some kind of penile piercing — improving the experience even more by inhaling poppers. Popper Man is a compendium of clichés of sex in the gay male world. (Cock rings [see my 1/30/12 posting “erection enhancer”], poppers, and piercings are of course not restricted to gay men, but they are especially prevalent in the gay world and are stereotypical there.)

(For the record, I’ve used cock rings, but not poppers [for good reason, though in a long-ago sexual life I was often offered them], and I have no piercings, and no tattoos either.)

Now back to the effects of poppers. There’s the relaxation effect of vasodilation. And then there’s the rush of warm sensations and dizziness (lasting maybe a couple of minutes), from the sudden drop in blood pressure. That was the problem for me. Though I was able to relax my muscles to take cock, I wouldn’t have turned down pharmaceutical assistance in that department — but the blood-pressure rush, not a good idea.

Back in those days, I had a gay family doctor in Columbus. At the very first physical exam he gave me, he flagged my low blood pressure and asked me if I used poppers. No, I said, cause I’d heard the rush came from a sudden drop in blood pressure, and I figured that if I had to think about standing up too fast I probably shouldn’t be huffing amyl. Yeah, he said, that’s right; you’d probably just pass out, and where’s the fun in that? So I kept on keeping away from poppers.

(Still, amyl had the smell of sex, as if it had sex sweat in it.)

The footnote. From my 2/5/17 posting “Pop food edifice”, with a section on Jalapeño Poppers,

jalapeño peppers that have been hollowed out, stuffed with a mixture of cheese, spices, and sometimes ground meat, breaded and deep fried

Probably by association with amyl, Jalapeño Poppers have always seemed sexy to me. Well, they are stuffed with meat.

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