Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Syncope... and third grade bullies...

A friend of mine recently had her first vasovagal syncopal episode.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, it means she fainted due to a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate caused by overstimulation of the vagus nerve.  People overstimulate their vagus nerve in any number of ways.  For me, it usually happens when I'm in sudden and severe pain, but for some people it happens after extreme shock, fear, emotional distress or seeing something scary or unpleasant, like blood.  Other people pass out due to heat exhaustion, extreme hunger or dehydration.  

This friend is in her 40s and, when this happened to her, she had her little daughter with her.  I think the kid is maybe six years old.  The girl had to call her dad, who is disabled due to a traumatic brain injury.  Dad called my friend's older sister, who was my original friend.  Older sister and I met in college, while I have never actually met in person the friend who passed out.

Knowing my friend's older sister, I know that she rushed over there and took care of her sister after she had her sinking spell.  Unfortunately, I myself have fainted a lot of times due to this very common phenomenon.  Most of the time, no one has been there after it's happened.  It used to happen a lot more often than it does these days.  I probably don't faint as much because my blood pressure is likely higher than it used to be.  I don't track my blood pressure, but I do know my mom and my grandmother both had hypertension.  I probably have it too, but I can't be arsed to find out.

I don't miss those random passing out sessions at all.  In my case, they usually occurred after extreme pain or hunger.  I remember the first time it happened to me, I was in the third grade.  It was 1980 or 1981, and we had just recently moved to Gloucester, Virginia.  People thought I was weird.  People still think I'm weird, but more of them seem to think my eccentricities are more endearing than annoying.  I remember that year was very hard for me because I was the new kid in a place where people live for generations and I had an outspoken and obnoxious personality.  After a few weeks in my new school, I was moved to the so-called "gifted" class, due to my being a more advanced reader.  Half of the class consisted of "smart" kids, one of which I supposedly was.  The other half consisted of much slower kids.

A bully in my class, who was a member of the slower group, punched me hard in my stomach and knocked the wind out of me.  I seem to remember he punched me while we were doing some kind of dance, perhaps for P.E. class.  I probably said something that pissed him off.  His reaction was to hit me in the stomach.  We were eight years old, but his reaction was swift and painful.  Actually, now that I think about it, I guess he must have had abusive parents who did that to each other often enough for him to model it.  I hope he's gotten a hold of his anger since those days.

I remember coming to with a fat lip and blood all over my face because I faceplanted and hit the hard tile floor.  As I opened my eyes, I saw all my classmates standing around me, gawking.  I realized I had blood all over my face and immediately burst into tears.  I remember going to the nurse's office and the principal coming in to talk to me.  He said the boy who had hit me would be punished.  I don't remember if he was, but I do remember never forgetting what he did.

Later that year, my mom threw me a roller skating party for my 9th birthday.  She told me to invite the whole class, even though I didn't like everyone in the class.  I didn't want to invite that guy, but I got talked into it by another girl in the class who told me that just because this kid had hurt me, I shouldn't exclude him from my party.  That was pretty ridiculous reasoning on her part, although we're Facebook friends today.  I remember he actually wanted to come, too, because who didn't like roller skating parties in 1981?

Unfortunately, my mom neglected to buy proper party invitations.  I was left to making them myself and they looked awful.  Consequently, almost no one came to the party.  I'm sure all the moms thought the invite was a joke or something.  And some of the kids just plain didn't like me, although most of them came around as we grew up together.  I think this party is partly why I almost never entertain now.  The memory is kind of humiliating and painful and I assume most people don't want to hang out with me.

While I remember the lack of party guests being very embarrassing at first, we did have a good time.  I'm grateful there were only a few pictures from that day.  Later, I ran into the girl who had convinced me to invite the bully.  We were at our racist neighborhood swimming pool.  She asked me how the party had gone.  At that time, we weren't friends.  She was trying to fit in with the "cool kids" and I definitely wasn't one of them.  I told her we had fun.  It was the truth.  However, of course I had wanted more people to show up.

In retrospect, I blame my mom for not buying party invites that other mothers would believe.  I love my mom, but she was pretty neglectful about a lot of things when I was a child.  I was her fourth child and she had not made any pretenses about being happy I was around, at least when I was very young.  I know she's glad I'm here now, but in those days, she was happy to foist me on more involved and enthusiastic moms.  Consequently, I was "raised" by a whole lot of adults who were kind to me, including one who was a pedophile.


I was once knocked out due to being hit by a regulation sized soccer ball kicked by my fourth grade teacher.

My many other fainting episodes were mostly not as poignant.  I have already written about the time my fourth grade teacher knocked the wind out of me when he kicked a soccer ball that hit me in the stomach.  After that, I'd usually faint when I'd experience severe, sharp, and sudden pain.  Like, for instance, when I was cutting cheese with a dull knife.  I still have a deep scar and a numb spot on my finger from that incident.  I remember it happened suddenly and I started screaming, then passed out cold.  I woke up to my mom yelling in my ear because she was afraid I was going to hit the floor.  I had managed to get to a barstool before I lost consciousness.

Other times, I'd faint after swallowing soda too hard on an empty stomach, mashing my fingers in the door, after a really bad stomach pain, having heat exhaustion, or during an especially painful bowel movement.  Actually, the bowel movement scenario has happened to me more than a couple of times.  I even wrote a well-received article about it a few years ago that got a lot of comments.  That particular phenomenon is known as "defecation syncope".  I have a feeling that's what happened to the friend who inspired today's post.

I've also fainted during medical procedures.  On my last day as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I fainted when the medical officer tried to draw blood and missed my vein.  Rather than pulling the needle out and trying again, she dug around for the vein.  It hurt, and freaked me out, so I fainted.  When I came to, she told me to get my blood drawn in the States, which I never bothered to do.

I hate the way I feel after fainting.  It's like waking from a very deep sleep, but instead of feeling rested, you feel extremely weak, dizzy, and nauseated.  I hate looking at my face after I faint because if I haven't managed to bloody my nose or lip, I'm usually white as a sheet.  It's not a very attractive look.

Anyway... this post went in an unexpected direction.  I hope my friend is feeling better.  Kudos to her child for knowing how to call her dad and not panicking.  I hope her future fainting episodes are few and far between.    


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