When it comes to embarrassing moments there are few things more dramatic than fainting. As a prolific fainter, I know. I’m not here to say that fainting itself is embarrassing because it’s a perfectly normal response to many situations. Until it’s not… What is embarrassing has so much more to do with the situations that I’ve fainted in and the poor people that I have fainted on. So, in an open apology to those people, the very kind bystanders, friends and medical personnel, I will outline my most dramatic fainting stories here: There was the first of many run ins with needles, the time my best friend got her ears pierced (yes you read that right, my friend, not me), and the fateful incident in second year university when I was discussing statistics with the guy I had a crush on.
Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing, so looking back, there were actually many times that I had fainting spells as a child. But this was long before myself or my family had any idea that I experience something known as extreme vasovagal response. Not to mention why would a two-year-old faint at the sight of blood, when they barely understood the concept of injury yet? So, while we now know that some earlier incidents were actually part of a trend and not freak one off events, the first real fainting drama came when I was twelve. Standard rounds of vaccinations were happening at school. Some of the other kids were worried, some of the girls had come out crying. But at twelve years old, I was a proud tomboy and really leaning into the ‘tough girl’ thing I was trying to have going on. Needles? No drama. Why would there be?
So, in I go, I get the jab, and things are breezy. I get up to leave and the school nurse holds out a bowl full of jellybeans. Of course, the lollies would usually be a huge bonus when visiting the nurse’s office, but I declined. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling well. I remember realising something wasn’t right and reaching out to grab hold of the bench by the door. Except that I didn’t. Because the next thing I knew I was on the floor, the school nurse holding my feet up and the principal fanning me with a book. Talk about confusing.
The funning thing about telling this as an embarrassing story is that its only embarrassing after the fact. At the time, I was too busy trying to figure out what on earth had happened to be embarrassed by it. But I went to a small school, and word of my fainting spell had made the rounds faster than I had recovered. My tough girl façade was forever ruined.
Fast forward six years, and several needle related incidents later and I was beginning to know myself better. Turns out this thing called vasovagal response is pretty legit. Turns out having low blood pressure to boot is also going to work against me. At this point, I thought I was all over it. But I wasn’t. As it turns out, it’s possible for a person to experience a vasovagal response in ‘sympathy’ for another person. This is usually when someone else is injured or in pain, and if that person is important to you. A family member or loved one.
This brings us to the time I went with my best friend to get her ears pierced. In my defence, I think the contraption they use to do this looks very much like a needle added to a gun, and by this time in my life I had developed something of a negative association with needles. But I wasn’t the one getting the piercings. What makes this response even more dramatic, was that my friend hadn’t been suddenly or gruesomely injured in any way. She was sitting on the table, very happy to be subject to the use of needle gun contraption that she had literally paid for. Cue sympathetic vasovagal response, and I was on the floor.
The cherry on the cake of my fainting experiences was actually not a vasovagal response and was a little more scary. But I add it to the list of embarrassing fainting experiences because I managed to collapse in the middle of a university class, on none other than the guy I was crushing on. And it all begun with a simple discussion about the statistical analysis we would have to run on our lab results. Somewhere along the line I began feeling unwell. But as this was different to a normal faint and there were no needles, blood or injured loved ones nearby, it wasn’t obvious to me what was happening. It was only when the tunnel vision closed in that I had any sense of the situation, and then I was waking up on the lab floor, surrounded by my class and very confused professor. The medical centre was called, and I was delivered to the clinic in a wheelchair. Now that’s embarrassing.
Again, I only really get to look back on my fainting experiences after the fact because, perhaps obviously, I don’t actually experience them happening. Unconsciousness will do that to you. But I was delighted to see a message from that boy later in the day, asking if I was ok, and assuring me that he’d done his best to catch me despite my very sudden departure from conscious thought and control over my skeletal muscles. We chatted for some time, but nothing came of it beyond the completion of the semester. Something that did continue though was quips and jibes from my friends and family about the whole thing. My mother, who has come to understand my fainting spells better than anyone else in my life, takes great joy in poking me about the sheer lengths I will go to for a boy’s attention. I can only hope that fainting becomes that useful to me!
So, there you have it. To the lovely people who have experienced this with me and taken care of me, I’m very sorry, and I thank you so very much. To all my fellow fainters, here is to maintaining our tough personas in light of a fragile grasp on consciousness.