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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32 responses to “Syncope and the Art of Swooning

  1. The first time I got up to go to the bathroom after giving birth the first time I felt fine until I got back to my room. Then I fainted dead away (luckily) face first on the bed with my ass hanging out in those lovely mesh panties.

    For me though, it was different, I was only out for seconds but I was in a beautiful, relaxing place for what felt like a long time. I remember being awfully annoyed at the nurse and my husband as they called me back.

    I wished they could’ve left me there for a while longer. That was the only time I’ve ever fainted though. I’m glad it doesn’t happen to me regularly, I would have messed myself up something good if I hadn’t fallen on the bed.

  2. I’ve fainted a couple of times and yeah, it’s not the delicate swoon of the movies. More like being hit over the head with a ton of bricks…

  3. I’ve never fainted. Wow, XUP. I feel like I’ve gotten some valuable information if I ever am around someone who’s fainted. Thanks.

  4. It’s also a good idea to put someone who fainted in a ‘recovery’ position just in case they “spew up their last 8 meals”.

    I fainted once at horse camp when I was 11 from severe heat and dehydration. After going on a long trail ride, I told my instructor that I needed water ASAP and her being the bitch she was, decided to ignore me and sure enough I fell off my horse! It was a good thing I was wearing a helmet. So the moral of the story is if someone says they need water/air and look like they are about to pass out, then you should give it to them!

  5. Being asthmatic, I tend to get really bad chest colds. If they’re exceptionally bad, sometimes I cough so hard, I can get dizzy. This only started the last 10 years or so.

    Once it was so bad, I did faint. While driving 120 km/h on highway 401!

    There was no warning…it was one long exhaling cough. It was like switch got turned off, everything went black.

    Holy crap! I awoke upside down on the grass meridian. Car was totalled, roof caved in. But unbelievably, I didn’t have a single scratch, and no other vehicles got involved.

    Got a thorough check-up with the Family Dr. rigth after that. It’s like you say, there’s a sudden drop in blood pressure (from the cough) and it’s light’s out.

    It’s never been that bad, before or since. But I’ve learned to stay away from driving, if that nasty cough re-appears.

  6. I have hardly ever fainted per se but getting knocked cold is lots of fun too.
    Same sort of aftermath while you try to figure out what happened.
    If you get a really good concussion it can take days to piece it all back together and until you do the world just isn’t right with those few minutes not properly accounted for.

  7. I fainted once in church when I was young, it was hot so all that heat and all that stupidity must have gotten to me. I fainted once on my senior trip in high school because I was so incredibly high and drunk. And most recently I fainted as I was having my heart attack. I woke up from that one drenched in sweat and it felt like an elephant was standing on my chest.

  8. Sky – Well aren’t you clever? Passing out on a bed…sheesh. And in a hospital yet. Did you feel fine afterwards?

    Jazz – It’s horrid, isn’t it? But I guess it’s better than depriving the old brain of oxygen for too long.

    LoLa – You never know. I’ll bet you’re going to be on the lookout for fainters now, ready to catch them and not yell at them if you miss.

    Hannah – Some of those summer camp instructors are a menace to society. One of my daughter’s (when she was about 6) wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom even though she was crying and desperate. She ended up peeing her pants. I gave the instructor and the camp director holy hell and told my daughter in no uncertain terms that if she ever had to go to the bathroom and they said no, she is to go anyway and tell them to call me if they have a problem. Anyway, recovery position is good, if they’re still passed out for sure. But usually fainters wake up after less than a minute and are able to put themselves into a handy spew position. If you stay really still you don’t puke though and sometimes it’s good to just keep still for a while until you’ve gathered the strength to puke.

    Friar – Wow – that tops all my fainting location stories! That’s really scary.

    Bandobras – I always suspected you’d been hit on the head once or twice. I’ve never had a concussion but it never looks too bad in the movies. The guy just shakes his head, runs after the bad guy (who still only has a couple of blocks lead on him) catches him and beats the crap out of him and then goes off for a few drinks in celebration. I guess us regular non-movie people are just a bunch of wimps by comparison.

    Dr. Monkey – Church is a good place to faint. It’s always hot and scary there. Also, heart attacks are a good time to faint. Glad you’re better now!

  9. I have not fainted but I have gone “shocky” twice. Once after donating blood (and running up stairs) and the other time when I had got all anemic with chemo and tried to attend a gym class. You feel hot and then you break into a cold sweat, and then you feel like you are going to poop or puke, although, thankfully, I did neither. I am not sure which I’d prefer – the faint or the shock. At least with the faint, you are unconscious. But with shock, you have some control. I think I’ll go with the shock.

  10. The only time I fainted was at the vet’s office. I had stomach flu for days and hadn’t really eaten as a result, and then when I saw blood from my precious guinea pig I said “I gotta go…,” walked out of the room and fell down flat in the hall after sliding down the wall. I remember thinking I was glad I was at the vet because I figured they’d know how to fix me up! I know better than to watch scary procedures on my pets now, since I always get lightheaded.

  11. I fainted quite a bit when I was a kid (10 – 13ish), but it always seemed to be when I was sat down so I didnt injure myself too much. Church, hairdressers and school mainlybut I’m sure there were other places too. It was horrible, I remember a feeling of deafness just before it happened and then, bang, someone was phoning my mum to pick me up. Luckily I grew out of it.

  12. All my life I’ve gotten dizzy when Ive stood after squatting for a time, or after being in a hot bath. But only once have I fainted. It was when I stood at the end of a long hot bath, and I remember the return to consciousness was a lot like swimming up to the surface of a warm pleasant pool, only with the nagging knowledge that something was horribly wrong. I did smash my face on the taps, but was relieved to have fallen in the same direction as the bath as it was a deep, footed tub and I would likely have broken at least a leg if I’d fallen out of it. Luckily (?) no crowds of concerned, ineffective wellwishers were there to help my wet nude self.

  13. I’ve never fainted. And your description of it makes me glad that I haven’t, while sad that you’ve had to and continue to deal with this. That being said, I noticed you said nothing about going through the person’s pockets. That’s usually what I do when I’m around someone who faints. From there, I pretty much follow your advice. Except for the damp cloths. I substitute that part with running away. In any case, I never pick them up, so I do better than most of the so-called “helpers.”

  14. Julia – Hmmm.. feeling poopy is a new one. I don’t think I’d like shocky much either. I’m kind of planning not to faint anymore, too.

    Amy – Funny that seeing blood and gore doesn’t bother me. You’d think it would, but I have no problems with that.

    Catherine – Finally, a fellow fainter! Thank you, I was beginning to feel like a freak here with all the people who’ve only done it once or twice. They say it’s quite common in teenage girls for some reason. Glad you’re over it!

    Gokalie – Bathrooms are very dangerous, aren’t they? More so because you’re usually alone in them with no one to save you if you smack your head or slip under the water. Gives me the creeps just thinking about it.

    Mayopie – If you’re going to go through the faintee’s pockets you’d better be quick. They/we don’t stay under long and the slightest jarring movement of our bodies when we wake up will make us vomit heartily. So, snatch and dash is my advice. Snatch and dash.

  15. I, too have been a fainter most of my life. The first time I was 5 years old and fainted when leaving the hospital after they pricked my finger for a blood sample. Since then, many times….alot as a kid while in church, stores, anyplace I stood up for a long time not moving. Last time was at a chiropractor office a couple of years ago, scaring them half to death! Usually upchuck on waking up. I always feel guilty for worrying the people around me, and really guilty if I spew on them! So, no, you are not alone!!

  16. XUP, if you ever faint in my presence in public, I’ll make sure to stand near your head, wring my hands and say “Oh well, better call the morgue”!

    Having a tall and svelte physique, I can get light-headed if I stand up too quickly from resting. I also have terrible circulation to my legs, despite decent blood pressure.

    I have fainted once. I had cut my thumb on a mandoline (tip: when they say always use the holdy thingy, use it!), and I was fine right up until the responding paramedic asked me if I faint at the sight of my own blood. I was about to say “no,” since I had given blood many times (watching them stick the needle in my arm) and endured a few years’ of unsuccessful allergy shots (ditto). By the time I awoke, he had moved me into the next room where I could sit/lie down.

    And the worst part was that the cabbage dish I was experimenting with was entirely unsuccessful.

    – RG>

  17. Although I’ve only fainted 3 times in my life, the last time was about a year ago, at a party, of all things! I had been outside, and when I came in, I just started getting that tunnel-vision thing and my head started pounding. I had no idea that my blood pressure was plummeting, but I did have the sense to find Porsche Guy and tell him I was feeling really awful. I headed into the host of the party’s office, PG right with me – and the next thing I knew there was carpet under my cheek and I was looking sideways at the bottom of the door. Apparently, I fell quite gracefully forward, and PG snatched my half-full wineglass out of my hand as I crumpled and also cushioned my falt. I still don’t know why it happened, but I do know that having PG there was a good plan on my part!

  18. yikes! all you fainters. i can say i never have. but it all makes me think of when Speedy has a seizure. she blacks out and has no clue how she ends up in the hospital. ok so its a little more dramatic with her but i get the black out part of it from being mommy.

    xup, was your face ok? i hope you didnt give yourself a fat lip or anything

  19. Have you researched that to see if it is heart related? Now I’m really worried about you. And as usual you have inspired me, so I did a post about my one faint. Thanks as always and I linked back to this post. And seriously, you should have that checked out.

  20. Connie – Yay!! We should form a support group. Everyone else has them and lord knows we need one both literally and figuratively. Ha ha!

    Grouchy – What? You were playing the mandolin whilst cooking cabbage? Obviously, some things just shouldn’t be multi-tasked. This is a good lesson for us all. Thank you.

    Pinklea – I can’t believe you had all that time before collapsing. For me I only get a split second warning – never enough time to find a porche guy to catch me or hold my wine glass.

    LoLa – I gather you didn’t see any? Better luck next time. Try hanging around overheated, crowded places. Lots of people faint there.

    Mary – The bruises are gone, but the memory lingers. Thanks for asking.

    Jobthingy – Ya, I had a fat lip and a purple nose for a while – also a bit of a dent/bruise on the forehead. I was a picture to behold for a few days let me tell you. Poor old Speedy and the seizures though. Much worse. A little kid shouldn’t have to go through stuff like that regularly — or at all.

    Geewits – Yes, they checked me out many times when I was young and I have regular check-ups and my heart is awesome. My blood pressure has always been on the low side though and I do need to remember to eat regularly and keep well hydrated. Oh, and not swallow blood or stand around in hot, crowded places. Don’t worry. I’m otherwise quite hearty. And as an adult it only happens once every 10 years now maybe

  21. I meant to post here yesterday, but the day got away from me. Yep, I’m in your fainty crew! However, my trigger is *blood* accompanying sudden or unexplained wounds (OMG, why am I bleeding? Will it stop?!?), not menstrual cycle stuff. I’ve fainted countless times through my childhood and also, like you, less so as an adult (mostly because my imagination doesn’t run off as readily).

    The faint cycle:
    1. the steadily increasing whoosh sound of distant sprinklers
    2. a chill and clamminess in the extremities
    3. peripheral vision goes away
    4. everyone sounds and looks like they’re talking to you from the back of a tunnel (here’s where you should weakly announce: “I think I’m about to FAINT!)
    5. loud whooshing, sweating, cold, everything going black, gone.

    And yes, when you come out of it, everyone’s in your face talking about you like you’re a body, your clothes are all out of place from peeps trying to move you and such. Good topic!

  22. Grace – You know what? Right at this moment, I can’t even remember why I put potato in the tag. I know there was a good reason, but I can’t think what that might have been…hmmmm…too many knocks on the head, maybe.

    Nylon – Welcome sister! And thanks.

  23. Hurray! A fainting location story! I can do that! As a child, I spent time in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where my father worked. One day we had been in the pool for a long time and then went shopping. I had, unknown to anyone at the time, got sunstroke and as I started to follow my parents up the stairs in a department store, I fainted.

    I was a 12 year old girl and I fainted in just about the most religiously restrictive country on the planet. When I came to, there was a dense circle of people (all male) standing around me about 6 feet away but no-one NO-ONE was going to risk going near the almost improperly dressed (my long dress had ridden up and exposed my KNEES!!!!) 12 year old European girl. They were however happy to stand and stare. My parents meantime had reached the floor above, entirely ignorant of what had happened. Took them about 10 minutes to find me. Longest 10 minutes of my life.

  24. I am a fainter as well although it has been a long time since it last happened. I once fainted in the university cafeteria just after I was handed my food. I could feel it coming on but I thought I could make it to a seat. I didn’t. I fell straight back on a cement floor, nobody caught me, and I got a concussion. Also, I didn’t see the server for a while after that so I think I gave her a nervous breakdown.

  25. The first (and only, so far) time I ever nearly fainted, I was at the hospital getting my broken finger rebandaged. The nurse squeezed a dollop of that gel stuff on the ripped-off nail and all of a sudden my vision started getting really dark and everyone’s voices became kind of distant. It was all really slow motion. What surprised me was the intense stomach pain that came with it — no one ever mentions that in the movies.

    I have no idea why it happened. The rebandaging didn’t hurt and it was a couple of days after I’d shut the finger in a car door while it was pulling away so you’d have thought shock would have warn off by then. I’ve gotten dizzy many times since then for various reasons but never reached the fainting point again.

  26. I’m tall. for years if I stood up too quickly, there’d be enough of a change in blood pressure to make me dizzy or bring me crashing down.

    That seems to have passed as I’ve aged.

    I have a nasty vaso-vagal reaction to my own blood. I could watch someone be killed in a motorcycle accident (yes, I have) and not be bothered but if I get a blood test or a small cut, I’m done.

  27. Loth – Okay, you win. AGAIN! Did you improperly barf afterwards?

    Jennifer – Ha ha. The best possible response to university cafeteria food, in my opinion. How did no one see you going down and at least try to catch you?

    Louise – I never had stomach pain. Hmmm, interesting new symptom. UNLESS! It was the stomach pain that made you faint, not the finger. They do say that GI issues can make you faint – constipation, gas cramps, diarrhea, straining too hard, etc. (Please don’t deny or confirm that any of these were happening to you. Just something to think about vis a vis why you might have fainted)

    Squid – Blood has never bothered me, mine or other people’s. Just everything else. Smells can give me a really severe reaction. Only once and out and out faint, but I’ve come close other times.