In second grade, my class went on a field trip to a hospital. My dad was chaperoning, and I was excited to get out of the norm for a day. I don’t really remember what we saw, except the x-rays. There were weird objects that people swallowed. And then there was the one with the stubbed toe. That’s the last image I remember before I felt the blood drain from me; before I was suddenly and at once chilled and clammy; before I hit the ground and lost consciousness.
I’m a fainter. From ages 8-12 I had a few unlucky incidents, all medical-ickiness-induced. I grew up, got used to the reality of the body, and it stopped. Until I decided, as a poor college student, to be a good person and give blood. I went to the on-campus Blood & Platelet center and got strapped into a blood bag, then immediately passed out (luckily, again, in front of medically-trained people). I had to be tilted back in the donation seat, surrounded by other people getting their blood sucked into clear bags. They gave me oreos and a lot of water, though, so that was pretty neat.
My father was a fainter in his youth for the same reasons as I am: medical stuff. He encouraged me: “You’ll grow out of it. When I worked in a hospital in my 20s, I even watched surgeries!” My sister is a fainter (by the way, can I post about you? Love you!), but it seems to be sometimes when she’s ill.
Tonight I discovered that I might be the unlucky blend of both. I had spent an hour or two browsing at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s in Palo Alto. (Browsing = only buying a few things.) I decided that I could treat myself a little and pick up something to eat. Near my place, I stop into a pizza place. The line is moving glacially, but they’ve already started preparing it. After about 5 minutes of standing (and getting annoyed with the VERY CRANKY mother behind me), I start to feel nauseous. I think I’m going to throw up. I think about running to the bathroom but decide against it because two guys in front of me in line already abandoned their pre-cooked pizzas from the wait, and the employees were none too pleased. The mom behind me gets crankier and blunter. I panic because I don’t know what to do. Suddenly, a familiar feeling returns: the blood is draining from me. I am at once clammy and cold. I am going to faint. I am going to faint.
I turn to a table behind me, with one kid reserving the other 3 seats. The cranky mom asks if I’m leaving, and I manage the words, “I feel I should tell you, I think I am going to faint.” She doesn’t really care. Thankfully she does turn back later and say, “Is there someone I can call for you?” This reminds me to call. The one kid at the table tells me repeatedly that the table is being saved, so I say, “I need to sit for a minute.” I feel embarrassed and dramatic. I am going to faint.
I call my boyfriend. He doesn’t answer. He is at least 45 miles away, anyway, not to mention during a peak traffic time and without a car. Oh no, I have my car. I drove here. I can’t drive like this. I call my mother, who is hundreds of miles away. She answers and makes small talk immediately. She doesn’t know I am sitting at someone else’s table, barely able to watch my purse as I lean forward and take deep breaths to fight for consciousness. Finally I share what I feel, and she talks me through it. I transition to an outside seat (not reserved by a pushy kid). After 10 minutes, I get in my car and make my mother stay on the phone until I’m home. It is under a mile.
At home I vacillate. Even now, as I sit on the couch in the absolute comfiest item I own (oversized t-shirt and slippers) (why does that sound so TMI) I am not sure if I just need sleep or if I am suffering a weird strain of the flu or if I’ve got some hot new strain of disease or if it’s a one-time weird thing. I know it’s not a regular panic attack, because if you have ever read my blog you should know I know what panic attacks are.
This whole incident made me (re-)realize: I’m crazy lucky to have someone here that I call when I feel embarrassed and dramatic about a near-faint. Even if he doesn’t pick up. (He called me back, by the way. Points to him.) I am also crazy lucky to not have many times where I face a situation where I’m panicked to be alone. That’s a nice realization. But I also realize: I still feel unwell. So that’s there too. End of happy reflections.
Cursory Google search results reveal neurocardiogenic or vasovagal syncope. It’s caused by standing too long, seeing blood, etc. I hadn’t been standing long during this time, though, so I don’t know what the deal is. I feel so dramatic. Fainting is so very Victorian. I’m almost glad no one I know was around, because no one I know will have seen me like that. I may not be so lucky next time, though. I may actually faint. And that’s OK. I’ve got someone to call for that.