In a Swoon

I think I’m generally pretty liberal about body stuff in public. I’m amused, rather than disgusted, by people making out in public. I’ll look away, but smile at the biological imperative that drives us so powerfully to stick parts of ourselves into parts of other selves, which, as much as I enjoy it myself, have always seemed strangely improbable when thought about from a purely rational perspective. Likewise, I think women should be able to breastfeed their babies absolutely anywhere, and while I may avert my eyes from strangers doing it, I do secretly enjoy the mysteries of the universe that enable someone to not only make a whole new human being with their bodies, but to also feed that new human for the first significant months of its tiny life. On other public-body issues, I’m pretty OK if you want to scratch, burp, fart, or pick your nose. It’s icky, but it doesn’t really disturb me. It’s all about being human.

But, in a horribly un-PC confession, and at the risk of gaining the reputation as an intolerant bitch, I’ve got to say that I draw the line at public injections and/or bloodletting. Twice now in my life people have just casually whipped out needles and given themselves an insulin shot or clicked away at the glucose meter in front of me in a public place. The first time was a few years ago at a very fancy restaurant where I was having an expensive meal. The second was yesterday at the café where I was plugging doggedly away at my introduction. Of the two, I think the first incident was the worst given the surroundings, the cost of the dinner, and the very small size of the restaurant. This incident today was less intrusive – I mean, it’s just the cheesy café at the giant bookstore conglomerate, not a posh eatery, so my $3.19 decaf iced mocha wasn’t really spoiled. But trying not to watch a guy repeatedly prick his finger at the next table with a hugely audible CLICK with each prick, I got more than a little woozy and had to get up and walk around the store for a few minutes to make sure that I didn’t pass out and conk my head on the floor.

In case you think I’m being melodramatic here, I’m really not. I’ve got quite an embarrassing history of doing exactly that.

The first time I fainted was when I was six and my grandmother, the orthodontist’s assistant, pulled my first baby tooth. One minute I was in her bathroom and the next I was in my aunt’s pink canopy bed. I’d passed out cold and regained consciousness sans dangling baby tooth and completely bewildered as to how I had gotten from the bathroom to the bed.

Occasional lapses of consciousness continued to happen at fairly regular intervals throughout childhood when I was injured or when there was some kind of blood involved.

When I was in 6th grade, for example, I was at a basketball game of my brother’s and whacked my arm on the wooden bleacher in some grade-school gym/auditorium/theater/cafeteria. I got this huge goose egg, actually the size of a goose egg, on my arm. Pretty concerned, I showed it to my ex-R.N. mom and she said “Oh, it’s OK, it’s just a hematoma.” Boom. Down I went. Hematoma. I fainted at the word. I didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded terrible. Next thing I know, my mom’s holding me under the armpits trying to keep me from sliding underneath the bleachers until she and my Dad could get me out to the car.

That was the last incident I remember until high school biology lab my freshman year. About midway through the semester we got to the human biology part of the class. The lovely school curriculum board decided that the students themselves made nicely economical objects of class experiments. So, they devised a simple labratory exercise whereby we all pricked our own fingers to produce sufficient blood to do a blood-type test. On the day of the lab, I did my best to participate. Knowing I needed to complete the lab to pass, I stood there at the lab table trying to psych myself up to prick my finger and type my blood, all the while trying to ignore the boys that had poked all ten fingers and were walking like Frankenstein around the lab bleeding and groaning for dramatic effect. (This was SO pre-AIDS-awareness!) The next thing I know, I’m waking up in the lap of Mr. K., a nice man who was not my teacher but by virtue of being closest to me was the one who caught me when I went down. As I looked up, I saw a ring of horrified faces staring down at me. In my school all of our science classes all met in one huge lab, so all of the science students -- from the seniors in Advanced Physics all the way down to the lowly Bio students like me -- were in the same room. And every single one was standing on tables and chairs to get a better view.

Unlike Helena Bonham-Carter in Room with a View, when I faint, I don’t collapse gracefully with a perfection that only enhances my loveliness. When I faint, I have a small seizure. My limbs shake and my eyes roll; it’s not pretty. As I came around back to the biology lab, I could see the reflection of exactly how frightening those seizures were in the faces of all of the students watching. I was completely mortified – the kind of mortified one can only be when one is fourteen and has just committed a major public faux pas. There was a pause as I looked around wildly, trying to think how to disappear as fast as I could, when in a moment of inspired genius I saw how to get myself out of the experience with a modicum of dignity. “Oh Shit!” I declared loudly. A roar of laughter went up around the whole lab. Not only had I fainted, but I had cursed – while in the lap of a teacher. Redeemed. Phew!

{As an aside -- the incident ultimately paid off because when it came time to dissect, no one wanted me near that damned fetal pig. So my teacher did the dissection for me and I wrote up the lab – a solution that relieved everyone, I think.]

Having done fairly well in that bio class as a consequence, the next year I registered for a Human Genetics class. It was mostly making little boxes on paper to figuring out inheritance patterns. But, one day our teacher, Mr. H. had to go to a conference. In comes Mr. K of the previous year’s famous Stewgad catch, and pops in a NOVA video on genetic abnormalities. It’s interesting, I’m into it, and then they get to hemophilia. They interview some people about how hard it is for hemophiliacs, and then to mix up the head-shots, they insert an action scene of a woman walking over to a refrigerator, getting out a bag of clear liquid plasma, and putting it into a mixing bowl on the kitchen table preparing to give her son a home transfusion. I wake up on the floor, barefoot. I’d kicked my shoes across the room when I fell out of my desk. Because a woman had opened a refrigerator on TV. Poor Mr. K had to, yet again, deal with my fainting fit. In a strange moment of embarrassing fatherly tenderness, he also collected my shoes from the other side of the room and returned them to me before he sent me to the school nurse.

Fast forward two years and I’m in Advanced Biology, which for the most part had meant using a microscope to catalogue the critters found in scummy pond water while I engaged in a mild, slightly mutual flirtation with the Star Basketball Player, hoping that any day he would realize that he didn’t really want to be involved with the head cheerleader because he truly had a secret passion for the gawky, awkward, yet outspoken feminist liberal who hung out with the kids with Mohawks and got her varsity letters in band, speech, and, horror of all horrors -- academics. (The fact that I believed such a thing was possible was clear evidence that I had watched WAY too many John Hughes movies.)

So one day before class Mr. H comes up to me and tells me that since we’re moving into the human genetics section of the class, today we’re going to watch the same NOVA film on hemophilia. Did I want to sit outside and do an exercise or read instead of coming to class? With great bravado, I assured him that I TOTALLY had that fainting thing under control. And, in point of fact, I informed him with great dignity, I hadn’t fainted since that genetics class two years previously, so CLEARLY I had outgrown that particularly embarrassing stage of my development. I’d be completely fine, I said.

Yep, you guessed it. Damn PBS and their documentary accuracy. Refrigerator, bag of plasma, mixing bowl – and wham, I’m on the floor. I awoke to see that the students had all carefully moved the rows of desks into a circle to get away from me and give me room to flail. As I looked up into the shocked face of Star Basketball Player, who sat next to me in class by the miracle of alphabetical order but which I was convinced was fate, I knew that any hope I had of convincing him to buck the stereotype of his relationship with cheerleader for me had come crashing down as my body hit classroom floor.

So, given this history of fainting you may believe me when I say that I don’t have the highest tolerance for blood-related issues. Nor do I have many defense mechanisms that prevent me from losing consciousness in public. Given this past, I find it pretty fucking freaky when people casually stick themselves in front of me.

Don’t get me wrong -- I am completely sympathetic to diabetics. I live in abject fear that I will become one and therefore have to in some way produce some blood for examination multiple times a day. It must be a really shitty way to have to live your life. I can’t even imagine how hard it is. Thinking logically I absolutely see the need to check one’s glucose levels and adjust them, particularly after the consumption of food products. But, not everyone is immune to the horrors of needles, blood, and the casual creation of little holes that violate our critical structural integrity. Maybe, just maybe, blood extraction and injections are some of those body-related things that might benefit from being private? I’m thinking that there’s a reason there aren’t windows into the doctor’s examining rooms like there are at mom-and-pop pizza restaurants so you can watch the dough being tossed. I’m betting that pretty much no one enjoys watching blood being drawn in the Starbucks.

I don’t know. I know I’m crazy sensitive. And, for the record it really wasn’t all that big of a deal for me to get up and walk away for a few minutes. Far better that than have this guy lapse into a coma and/or die because he didn’t check his blood levels in time. Seriously, I wasn’t all that put out. But I do have to say that for a few minutes it was a bit of a near thing for me and all told, I’m really glad I didn’t do my own personal version of Stop-Drop-and-Roll next to the bookcase filled with helpful tomes on home decorating and pest-free gardening.


At 3:40 PM Scrivener said...

You write the most fantastic blog posts. I am so jealous of your comedic writing.

At 6:49 PM verdade said...

I echo scrivener!!! You made me laugh out LOUD in my dull, grey computer lab.

At 8:51 PM littledminor said...

Hello ABD sister, (sounds like, Hellooooo, Newman). ABD alike, when does the nightmare end?
Yet another day and other painful rendering of "what is the difference between discriminate and respond"? waiting for comments back on chapter 1.

Anyhow, I am glad to know that I'm not the only one in her 35th year attempting to finish the manuscript in my HEAD!

At 4:16 PM Kathleen said...

Bwah hah hah! I can't believe I never heard those stories! I knew you were prone to bouts of the "vapors", but I never knew how much.

Oh, sweet looking house, too. Love the blue steps.


At 5:26 PM J said...

I actually had to clean up some blood today at work (in a history museum)... I'm guessing it was some little kid with a gusher nose in the exhibit hall. I was icked out, but didn't faint.

The only time I've ever fainted was while watching a documentary on body decoration (tattoos, scarification), and that was less about the blood than the sound--that dentist drill sound tattoo needles make really bothered me, and the strangely disturbing whispered voice-over the doc had when a girl was getting something carved into her shoulder with a razor blade ("no one ever cries out from the pain...") sent me out cold.

My husband, who passes out every time he has to donate blood, once passed out listening to the novel A Fine Balance on tape while driving on the interstate. I guess the description of castration was too much for him. Fortunately, his foot slipped off the gas, and when he came to he found he was coasting along the shoulder. So Stewgrad, you might want to take a pass on that book....

At 7:33 AM zelda said...

wow - i don't know if you meant to be funny with that one, but i found this post hilarious. great writing. the hematoma part was amazing. :)

At 8:25 PM Anonymous said...

I was actually google-ing around trying to find some answers to MYfainting spells. I can totally relate to you ... I'm had the same problem since I can remember.. everytime I get blood drawn I end up fainting and having a little seizer. And there is no docter thats been able to help !!!

At 1:27 PM Dharma said...

Wow! You make TGF look stoic and that takes some doing. Very impressive responses.


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