A few weeks ago, I fainted.
I have this weird problem with my esophagus where occasionally—once every 5 years or so—something gets out of sync when I swallow cold liquid and my esophagus spasms. Painfully. On the pain scale, this is way up there. I’m just sitting there, unable to do anything, waiting for the pain to pass. And sometimes, I faint. Don’t worry–I went to the hospital the first time it happened, and they diagnosed it as “near syncope”. Which means a partial loss of consciousness. It’s harmless unless I hit my head on the way down.
What I’m going to do for you today is write a Deep Third account of my fainting fit, in present tense. I am also going to have occasional authorial intrusion, because this is not a work of fiction, and therefore, I’m allowed to be me. I wrote this the day after it happened, when it was all fresh in my mind.
So there I am, with this horrible pain making its way down my esophagus. The water has already hit my stomach, but the spasm is taking own sweet time to get there. I lean against the bed and wonder if I’m going to faint this time. I groan.
The next thing I’m aware of is movement as I realize I am sliding down the bed. I’m not aware of anything else. I’m not aware of any vision. This is not the same as not being able to see. The body can’t miss what it isn’t aware of.
To illustrate, I have a sound test for you. Pop over to this site and take the hearing tests until you reach the frequency where you can no longer hear:
It’s kinda weird to play a sound that you know is there, but you can’t hear it, isn’t it? You have no perception of it. As far as you’re concerned, it isn’t there.
Well at that point, my vision wasn’t there.
I’m not aware of any sound, either. And I’m not aware of any pain in my esophagus, but I’m also not aware that anything should be wrong. I have no memory of why I am sliding down the bed, nor am I aware of any loss of memory. I am really only in the now. My legs aren’t involved. I scrabble with my arms to keep on the bed, but it ain’t working. My knees hit the floor.
And then I feel some mild alarm. It’s like I thought (but I didn’t, really), Wow. (Note the lack of exclamation point.) I’m on the floor. Why?
I’m not aware of the fact that my husband has entered the room, but I say, “I don’t know what happened.”
At this point, my hands are on the floor, too. I have no memory of how they got there. My eyes are working again, and apparently, my ears as well. I reach up to the bed and lean against it with my forehead on the mattress.
My husband says something. I don’t recall what.
And then I say, “Yes, I do.”
That little blip? It was all my awareness flipping back on, along with my memory. I realize that my esophagus no longer hurts, and that I must have lost a second or two while the pain ebbed. During those seconds, my legs stopped working and I started sliding down the mattress. I have no idea if I went fully unconscious—I’m not sure what the requirements are for that—but I do know that as far as I was concerned, one moment there was this awful pain, and the next moment, I was sliding down the mattress with the pain gone.
Here are some important distinctions between some assumptions fiction writers (including me!) often make about fainting, and my experience of the actual thing. I”m not saying this is THE WAY IT IS, I’m just comparing my misconceptions to my own experience.
“She fought to remain conscious.”
There wasn’t any fight to it. Once my brain decided I needed to lose consciousness, it did so without any regard whatsoever to my will. I wasn’t even aware that I was going to lose consciousness until it already happened. This has happened to me twice so far, and it was the same both times.
Not only did I not know I was going to faint until I had already come to, but half of my senses shut down during the experience, and my arms and legs were noodles. I have no idea if this is something you get better at with experience. So far, no.
“Everything got hazy.”
Nope, no haze. One moment I was standing there, the next moment I was sliding down the bed. If I had not leaned against the bed, I would have fallen. I was lucky–the night table was right next to me.
I wouldn’t even describe the lack of vision as haze. It simply wasn’t there. Not only was my body not using my eyes, but I didn’t even miss it. I didn’t know my vision wasn’t working until it came back.
“She felt faint.”
I suppose this means lightheaded. I’ve felt lightheaded many times without losing consciousness, so I can’t really address this. Experiences, anyone?
One key difference between the two fainting episodes: the first time I had a buzzing sensation in my head when I came to and was kind of queezy the rest of the day. This time, I felt fine. Also, the first time, I was sitting down the whole time, and remained safe in my chair. The only thing that happened was my head fell back, and when I came to, my neck hurt. I wonder if the buzzing sensation was due to my head falling back, rather than to the faint itself.
Excuse me, the near syncope.
Have you ever lost consciousness? Share in the comments for the elucidation of all!