the first time it happened i was in a sun-drenched piercing studio in laguna beach, waiting to have a new hole punched in my cartilage; i drank a little paper cup of water, pulled myself together, and went ahead with it. a few times after that, i felt it coming after a long dinner at a cuban restaurant with joe and my dad; we watched a pair of dancers fling each other across the floor beneath a dirty skylight, ate yeasty rolls with garlic butter from a cigar box, and talked politics, then i slithered to the ground in the middle of the plaza. once it happened in the middle of the night, and i woke up in the moonlight with my cheek against our san francisco kitchen's old linoleum floor.

in my late teens and early twenties, i fainted about once a year. to tell you the truth, i tended to forget that it had ever happened until, you know, it happened again. both my mother and sister have had similar experiences; mom once fainted while handing in a college assignment, and emily once hit her san francisco kitchen floor (and maybe part of her counter on the way down - as i recall, there was a head-whacking in that story). the takeaways back then were that since extremely low blood pressure runs in our family, i should be sure to have at least one cup of coffee in the morning - and if black fireworks flared up at the edges of my vision, i should sit down. otherwise, since the episodes had no constants (time of day, level of hydration, time since last meal, mental state - each swoon had a unique combination), there wasn't much i could do.

i had a span of several years without episodes here in new york, and then joe and i met newly-engaged friends for mexican food down in union square late one afternoon. as we waited for a table, i started to feel sick to my stomach; a buzzing kicked up in my ears, and the room began to curl at the corners. i made it to the sidewalk outside the restaurant before falling into joe's arms, and when i came to, i had no idea where we were. i became obsessed with the idea that passerby would think i was drunk - though i was sober as a judge, i was slurring my words - so i insisted we go ahead with the dinner. i think i made it halfway through a piece of cheese crisp before asking to go home and folding myself up on the floor of a cab.

that was the first of the two really lousy swoons. the second came after a night at our local bar in hell's kitchen: with a few beers in me, i was easy prey for the black fireworks. joe heard a horrible crash in our bathroom and came in to find me on the floor. though i'm usually limp and weak after an episode, that one went through me like lightning; i promptly tried to take a shower, fainted again, and became a slippery, flailing, senseless thing. as he called for an ambulance, i remember clinging desperately to our mattress as though gravity had forgotten me and i'd spin off into the ceiling. i was sure i'd never control my body again.

i was up and talking by the time the paramedics arrived, and i gave them the long, boring history of the pressure and makeup of my blood ("she donates a lot of blood," joe explained). fluids at the hospital felt like a cold shower under my skin, and i finally knew how our little cat must have felt when we gave him injections (though i always warmed his IV bags). the attending doctor doubled my drink count in his head, diagnosed me with vasovagal syncope, and sent me on my way. we shuffled home down ninth avenue, five hundred dollars poorer, as the sun rose, and i paused in front of the OPTIMISM sticker on a bodega's vending machine. "apparently the universe is in its first semester of film school."

early this monday morning, joe heard another terrific crash in the bathroom. i woke up able to tell him that i hadn't hit my head (wrong; i'd knocked both my temple and the back of my head, though they were light knocks and i wasn't concussed) and that i couldn't walk (right, unfortunately; i sprained my left ankle, and my foot looks like an artisanal sausage).

why do i tell you this? i'm not entirely sure. i don't want or expect pity; swooning ladies are too coddled in our and previous societies, if you ask me. my case isn't especially edifying; fainting and getting a diagnosis of "fainting" is pretty open-and-shut, really. perhaps i simply want to share a vulnerability; i grew up with the firm conviction that little girls who underwent injury or sickness without tears or complaint were braver and nobler than little girls who didn't, and that's an idea i've thought about setting aside. perhaps, having told you about strangers' books all month, i just wanted to tell you something personal. don't worry about me! but maybe, you know, don't lend me your wedding china.


tanthalas said...

no pity here - just love and a wish that you stay safe through it all.

and some wondering about the proximity of "maladies" to "mah ladies".

Rachel (heart of light) said...

Those of us with particularly tough minds are frequently even more annoyed by faltering bodies, dear LMO. I went through a fainting period in college and found it utterly mortifying - why can't my body just SUCK IT UP?! I still avoid admitting to bodily frailties when possible but I've been forced to admit that sometimes you cannot just push through it safely. 

Perhaps a little investigation is warranted? A decent doc could hook you up to a holter monitor for a few days (no fun at all, but informative). Or at the very least s/he could check your iron levels out thoroughly. The brief check they do when you donate blood can be sort of deceptive and low iron most def leads to fainting spells. Full disclosure - there are probably a million other things they could test for, but I'm prejudiced because my particular issue ended up being related to very low iron combined with a slightly wonky heart. 

Alternatively, invest in a stylish padded helmet? 

_M_D_F_ said...

I love the way you write about precipitation. With your writing though, it's just like what Tom Waits said to Rollins about Pissing in the Gene Pool: Every time I read it it takes me to a wonderful place. Hope your bean is alright.

jodie said...

happens to me too. never knew you were a fellow fainter. for me it's once every couple of years. fun!

jen said...

weirdly enough i've become a fainter lately, too. twice in the past month while at at various ERs/doctor's offices (having my broken wrist treated) i've gotten all woozy and only the fact that i am IN a medical office with beds has saved me from actually blacking out. i end up dizzy, nauseous, hot and trembling uncontrollably. it's not an anxiety attack (am no stranger to those, either), it's more like my body is concerned that SOMETHING IS WRONG and is circling the wagons or something.  

the most recent time (this past tuesday, in fact), i was unable to sit up or stop shaking for a solid 20 minutes. the kind nurse kept checking on me, provided me with a cold cloth for my head and water to sip, etc, and all i could think to do was apologize repeatedly for monopolizing their exam room. it's such a strange sensation when the body and mind completely disagree.

*footnote - there was an old issue of the ladymag within arm's reach so i distracted myself by searching for your bylines until i could sit up again.

Lisa said...

My daughter has been a fainter, once from the back of horse as a group of riders stood in the sun. I thought she was faking it. Not one of my shining maternal moments. I only swooned once, embarassingly at a summer job thingie. I suppose you should follow your instincts - if it feels like no big deal except inconvenience, carry on. If it feels bad, talk to a doctor.

I just hope you've told your mom about it.

Rob S. Parham said...

You are just trying to be like the girl on The Bachelor. I thought you had higher standards (than me).

jodie said...

note: i have also been told i have vasovagal whatsits. and i get hot, woozy, sick to my stomach and my heart starts pounding at medical stuff... haven't always been this way :\

celia said...

a friend of mine (no need to mention names here) fainted while on the toilet. apparently, she made a pretty loud thump, so her husband rushed in. i really wish she would have never told me that story because i can't help but get a visual of her on her bathroom floor with her pants around her ankles. 

Maggie said...

Not sure if you'll see my response, since I was combing the archives and it's now late Feb. ... but I was curious about the "wonky heart" condition you mentioned; I fainted 3 times during grad school (1x/year) and never precisely determined the cause (possibly dehydration, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, etc. - I underwent a tilt table test, but it was inconclusive). Mr dr. originally mentioned trying the holter monitor, but either forgot or decided it was warranted, but it's sort of haunted me ever since. Anyway, just curious how you've dealt with your diagnosis?