Syncope and the Art of Swooning

Have you ever fainted? It’s not the gentle, romantic swoon depicted in the movies. There’s almost never anyone, (let alone a handsome stranger) around to catch you. No! Instead, one second you’re vertical and the next you crash to the ground like an ungainly sack of potatoes. (As opposed to a gainly sack of potatoes which can be quite graceful).

And when you wake up, you don’t look a bit pale, smile sheepishly, ask “oh my, what happened,” and get up to finish serving tea. No, you wake up completely disoriented,  so white, you’re pretty much transparent, with at least one body part injured and throbbing/bleeding from the fall, and a split second away from puking up every last one of your guts.

If you’re thinking it sounds like I have inside knowledge about this, it’s because I do. When I was younger I used to faint all the time – every time I got a needle; if I was indoors and the heat was too high or the room was too crowded; if I had to sit still in one spot for too long; if I had a sudden illness; if I got too hungry; and once, in grade 7 we were doing some sort of experiment/game that involved boxes of scents and we had to stick our noses into these little holes and try to identify the scent. La, la, la – lots of fun until one of the smells caused me to pass out instantly.

So along with elementary school, I also fainted in math class in high school once; in church more than once; in doctor’s and dentist’s offices; at my home and other people’s homes and  while waiting in line in a movie theatre. As a kid I fainted quite regularly when I had to go shopping with my mum – all those crowded together, stuffy racks of clothes viewed from 3 feet high, I guess.

As I got older I stopped fainting so much. I’ve never fainted at the sight of blood, but about 10 years ago, after some dental surgery I swallowed too much blood. I felt fine until I went next door to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription for pain meds. Suddenly, there was that split second of tell-tale buzzing, dizziness, dimming vision and the next thing I knew drug store staff were peering down at me on the floor.

When you faint in public, people always react the same way. They all crowd around and look at you from a standing position and want to immediately pick you up — which is the last thing you want to do when you don’t know what the hell is going on and you’re about to spew up your last 8 meals. You wave them off weakly and then they wring their hands and start to talk about you like you’re dead and can’t see or hear them.  Every once in a while someone will yell a question at you very loudly.

So, here’s some important advice if you’re ever around someone who faints. Let them lie there for a while. Fetch a bucket and some cool damp cloths. Sit down next to them, speaking softly. Clean up any blood or disheveled clothing that doesn’t require you to move the faintee. Don’t ask them questions because they ain’t gonna answer. And get rid of the crowd.

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t fainted since the dental surgery thing.  This time I woke up in the middle of the night feeling violently ill; went to the bathroom and regained consciousness on the bathroom floor, having hit the sink on the way down with one or two parts of my face. Eventually, I recovered, but the whole fainting thing is still very unpleasant. I don’t recommend it.

From what I understand, a person faints because for whatever reason (fear, illness, heat, dehydration, hypoglycemia, exhaustion, etc.) they experience a drop in blood pressure and blood/oxygen flow to the brain. The brain does not like being deprived of blood/oxygen so it knocks its host down so the head is level with the heart and so blood can start flowing back where it belongs.

A lot of people can go through their entire life and never faint. It’s not fair.


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