I have a history of what is most likely “vasovagal syncope.” According to doctors (as well as my father and Google), this mean that a variety of triggers can cause someone’s brain/body to overreact by lowering blood pressure and/or heart rate to the point of fainting. It’s usually harmless, unless you fall off of things and bump your head.
I have fainted approximately 10 times in my life, mostly as a little kid. I have never lost consciousness for longer than 5 seconds, yet I’ve had full-length dreams, which really puts me in awe of the human mind (beside the point of this post). The first time I passed out was during recess in first grade; I hit my stomach very hard on a piece of playground equipment and woke up in the sand before anyone around me noticed. Other reasons I have fainted include hitting my knee or my elbow on a table or getting a shot at the doctor’s office.
As of today I can add “having my blood pressure taken” to this list.
(Warning: if you, like me, can’t read/listen to stories of people fainting without feeling faint yourself, skip the next paragraph. In fact, go back in time and skip reading the beginning of this article as well as the sentence you are currently reading.)
This morning I visited the CVS Minute Clinic to have someone check out a cough that has been bothering me quite a lot in the past week. Secretly, I was hoping the nurse would tell me I was too sick to go to work. Be careful what you wish for. The nurse put a heart rate monitor on my finger and started to inflate the blood pressure monitor on my arm. The pressure of that plastic band has always made me feel a little weird but I didn’t expect the sudden onset of dizziness. I asked if I could lay down and the next thing I knew I was waking up to the view of a very concerned nurse. I should have given her my usual warning: “I may faint. It happens. Don’t freak out. But please do let me lie down and hold someone’s hand before you stick any needles into me.”
“You fainted” the nurse said. “We don’t handle that. I’m going to call an ambulance.”
“That’s not necessary. I feel normal now.” She called anyway, as I continued trying to explain that all I needed was a glass of water and a quick rest before going on my way.
Relaying my answers to someone on the phone, the nurse asked if I’d been in contact with someone who recently visited a region effected by Ebola or if I was pregnant or had hit my head recently. She made me lie on my side in case I had a seizure and threw up, even though I assured her that wouldn’t happen.
“Have you been out of the country in the last 21 days?”
“Ok, so no.”
Three EMTs rushed into the room. They measured my blood pressure (very low) and blood sugar (astonishing low for someone who had eaten breakfast recently). They put me on a stretcher and brought me out to an ambulance where they gave me tubes of glucose. They said they needed to start an IV for fluids.
“That would make me faint again. I feel normal, and I just want to drink water.” At that point no one had provided me with a logical reason to open up a new hole in my body when my mouth was already designed to receive liquids.
EMT on the phone: “patient refuses IV, complains of extreme thirst.” Oh boy, that sounds a bit dramatic… Am I turning into one of those people who refuses medical treatment?
I started to shake a bit, probably from the stress of being unnecessarily rushed to the hospital, and I began to truly appreciate how tough people with diabetes have to be as the EMTs stabbed my finger to measure my blood sugar many more times.
We arrived at the hospital momentarily, and I spent most of the next 3+ hours in a bed, hooked me up to some fancy contraptions (probably just heart rate and blood pressure monitors). I took the time to catch up on texts to my parents/boyfriend/friends. Mostly things like “I’m in the hospital, but I’m fine.”
I got a morbid kick out of the fact that my hospital bed was right next to a drawer labeled “post mortem bags.” It seemed a bit insensitive to those who actually had a life-threatening reason for being in the emergency room. I was reassured by the fact that the drawer didn’t look like it could fit more than 5-10 bags at a time, but I wondered why they needed to be so clearly labeled. I imagined someone saying “write ‘post mortem’ because the plebeians don’t know Latin and therefor won’t freak out about their mortality.” …If it were my decision, I may have left the drawer unlabeled since its contents are not exactly something that needs to be accessed immediately in order to save a life; I’m pretty sure there would be time to riffle through the room. Oh well, at least it motivated me to keep moving lest I be mis-identified as someone who required the contents of the post mortem drawer. My mom said “if they reach for that drawer, call me right away!” I replied that I wasn’t sure how much room there’d be for dialing my phone from inside a bag.
Jokes aside, the doctor told me he wasn’t at all concerned about the fainting but would look into my cough. I was immensely relieved that I didn’t need an IV or blood work (take that, EMTs!). He eventually tried to prescribe me with antibiotics, but I questioned his prognosis and he admitted that I could have any one of the following: bronchitis, gurd/indigestion, asthma, allergies/air pollution, or a cold or virus of some sort – which is pretty much the list I’d already come up with myself. I ended up with prescriptions for an asthma inhaler and antibiotics as well as fact sheets on a number of other maladies and advice to get an over-the-counter cough medicine as well as antacid.
Finally, I signed some papers that probably said Virginia Hospital Center is owed my first born child and that they aren’t responsible for any super duper killer viruses I picked up from the hospital bathroom (which, by the way, I had to use while wearing a hospital gown and a bunch of monitors on my arms and fingers… no easy task).
I went out to the emergency room lobby to wait for Shawn who had gotten my texts and was biking back from work in order to get his car to pick me up. All the people with seemingly serious injuries made me a bit confused as to why I had gotten immediate treatment while they had to wait who knows how long. (Pro tip: if you want immediate service at a hospital, arrive via ambulance.) I sat across from a very tired looking father who had blood all over his pants and two little children hanging on to him. I later realized the blood came from one of the little kids. The other kid kept asking her dad questions like “when you die to you get brought here in an ambulance?” and “who was the youngest person who ever died?” Eventually a nurse came for them and their seats were taken by a middle-aged woman who looked like she’d already had something poked into her vein. She kept holding her head and moaning things like “Back again. I don’t want to spend any more time in this place.” I felt like I should say something to her but was at a loss for words. Across the room, one man was telling another (loudly) about his acting career and why he doesn’t do commercials anymore.
I wasn’t sorry to leave.
Shawn brought me to a German bakery on the way home so we could buy some post-hospital treats. I took off my hospital bracelet at the door, though maybe leaving it on would have gotten me a free cookie. Then it all would have been worth it.