I fainted cold on the kitchen floor on the morning of what was to be my first day of third grade. My mother had said I was so excited to be starting school that year, that I came eagerly to the breakfast table and was sitting there happily eating breakfast when I fell right out of my chair onto the floor. I vaguely remember it. I remember the sun always shone brightly in the morning through the den window and into the kitchen where I sat at the table. I remember the sun being particularly bright that morning. I remember things going sorta dark and that’s all I remember. My mother said I was white as a sheet and she made me go to bed and kept me home from school that day despite me telling her I was fine and to please not let me miss the first day of school. The pediatrician told her it was more than likely a case of the first day jitters and nothing to be concerned about.
A year or two after that 3rd grade fainting spell, I was at a friend’s house swimming in a little backyard pool. I was probably around nine or ten years old. When I stepped out of the pool, I stepped on a clover patch and right onto a honeybee. Ouch.
My friend’s mother took me inside and pulled out the barbed stinger and then wet the end of a cigarette she had broken in half and held it to the sting for several minutes. She told me the tobacco would pull out the venom. After my treatment, I headed home which was just a few houses down from my friend’s house. By the time I got there, I didn’t feel so good and my foot was swelling fast.
I plopped on the living room couch and after telling my mother that I had been stung, she told me to come to the kitchen to get some of the infamous “bee sting medicine.” This was about 1969 and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) was only available by prescription. My mother kept a glass medicine bottle of it in the kitchen cabinet. I remember the pharmacist had even labeled it “Bee Sting Medicine.” My sisters and I still remember how much we detested the taste of that horrid pinkish-red liquid.
I stood up from the living room couch to follow my mother to the kitchen to take the medicine. I began feeling light-headed and slightly nauseated. My vision went gray, my hearing dimmed, and the next thing I remember was hearing my mother’s voice, which sounded very far away, calling my name from the kitchen. When I didn’t come, she walked in the living room where she found me on the floor regaining consciousness. Despite the yucky medicine, my foot swelled to such a huge size over the next day or so that I couldn’t walk. This warranted a trip to the pediatrician who after looking at my inflated foot and hearing how I fainted after being stung, told us I was obviously allergic to bees and to be extra careful while playing outside barefooted.
My third and worst fainting episode came when I was a college freshman home on break. I had gone to K-Mart to shop and when it came time to check out, only about two checkout lines were open so I stood and waited in a long line. I had felt the whole time I was shopping that the store was hot and stuffy. As I waited in the check out line, I remember having an extreme sensation of warmth come over me. I got nauseated and started feeling the visual darkening. I knew these signs all too well and knew I was going to faint and needed to go sit down somewhere fast. I turned to exit the line but as I turned, I fainted and fell to the floor, hitting my head on a display rack on the way down. I awoke with a group of people standing over me. I remember someone saying, “She’s bleeding!” But I felt no pain. I had a good-sized gash above my right eyebrow that needed stitches. They called my father who came and picked me up and took me to the pediatrician (our pediatrician saw us through college). He stitched me up, drew some blood, and told my father I was slightly hypoglycemic and that’s probably why I had fainted.
I fainted on my first day of a brand new job working at a veterinary clinic. I was in college and in pre-vet at the time and I spent summers and weekends working at a local clinic. I had just watched a feline castration. This tom cat had been out fighting as tom cats often do and had several bite wounds. The veterinarian performed the castration and then told the veterinary technician to take care of the wounds. The vet left the surgery room and I stayed to watch the technician. I watched as she opened up the infected wounds with hemostats, flushed them out, swabbed them with an iodine solution, and installed drain tubes. The surgical suite soon filled with the smell of the foul pus that she had drained from the wounds. As I watched, I got hot and started getting that all too familiar feeling that I was going to faint. I told the vet tech that I needed to go sit down and as I pushed the swinging doors to the surgery room open, I remember a rush of cold air came down the hallway and hit me as I walked into the adjoining prep room. You guessed it. I fainted. I fell over a tall white metal stool, knocking it over, which, as you can imagine, made one heck of a clangorous noise. The veterinarian heard the commotion and came running. He was actually relieved to see me lying on the floor next to the overturned metal stool because when he had heard the loud crash, his first thought was that someone had tripped over the cardioscope lead wires and brought the cardioscope crashing to the floor. So he was much relieved to see that his beloved (and costly) cardioscope was unharmed. As for me, I wasn’t hurt, but I sure was embarrassed.
I remember I worried that due to my fainting on my first day, that my new boss was thinking I was some kind of wimp with a weak stomach. I worried that he would think I wasn’t veterinary material and wouldn’t want me to even come back. I went to him at the end of the day and told him how embarrassed I was that I had fainted. But he told me to think nothing of it, that it happens to the best of us. My first day had been extremely busy with one emergency and train wreck case after another. I seem to recall we had three hit-by-cars come in that day and not one, but TWO dogs with maggot infestations. You just have to believe me when I tell you those are always gross and the smell of those gets to just about everybody. There were snotty distemper cases, heat stroke cases and bleeding animals and diarrhea and vomiting animals all day long. There was a status epilepticus dog. There was a dog with a bone stuck in the roof of its mouth and a chow who had an embedded choke chain in its neck that had to be surgically removed. And if I remember correctly, the hallway bathroom commode flooded too and that had to be dealt with. The vet told me that he was afraid I wouldn’t come back cause it had been such a chaotic hellish day and he was afraid I would mistakenly think it was a typical day in the life of a veterinarian and that I might just decide to head for the hills. We had a good laugh. I did return the next day, and continued working there for 15 years (I went to work there after graduating from veterinary school). I never fainted there again but I did have a client faint on the exam room floor when I was removing sutures from his poodle’s paw. And man was he embarrassed. His color went from white to gray and I swear I thought the man was going to die on me. He kept jumping up and wanting to leave but I didn’t want him to get behind the wheel of a car until his color improved. I insisted that he sit a while and we found a coke for him to sip on and finally his color returned. He must have apologized to me a hundred times but I told him to think nothing of it, that it happens to the best of us.
In vet school I fainted in my first student surgery which was a splenectomy. And I wasn’t the only student to faint and slink to the floor that day. Actually, I didn’t lose full consciousness that time because I finally had the sense to not fight it and listen to my body and I removed myself and sat down and lowered my head when I felt the familiar symptoms. One very wise surgery professor in vet school told me that fainting in surgery is usually not due to the sight of blood or being squeamish (I had already figured that out because surgical blood and gore truly do not bother me). He said it’s often due to a combination of getting overheated under the surgical garb worn throughout a surgery (cap, mask, gown, gloves), and nervousness. He said sometimes new surgeons (i.e., veterinary students) are anxious and concentrating so hard on technique that they literally forget to breathe and they become hypoxic! I started paying attention after that and yep, he was right, because I was periodically holding my breath and forgetting to breathe under that hot uncomfortable surgery mask. He told me to intentionally take several deep breaths periodically and I did it from that point on anytime I did surgery. It was the best “surgery” advice I ever received.
And last but not least, I’ve written about how I fainted after giving birth to my first son.
The nurses had been trying for over an hour to get me moved from the birthing room across the hall to my regular room. Every time they would sit me up or raise the head of my bed, I would become faint. I kept telling them I was a fainter and was going to faint but they wouldn’t listen.
Finally they told me they just HAD to move me, and I remember them getting me from the bed to a wheel chair, and I went out cold during “the move.” I woke up on a bed with smelling salts under my nose and a whole crew of worried looking nurses around me who told me I scared them to death. Oh well, I TRIED to tell them. My nurse told me she had never seen anyone turn as white as I did and that the next time I said I was going to faint, that she was going to listen.