Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Encroaching Darkness: A Brief History of Syncopy

The first time I ever remember fainting I was young, maybe ten or so, and my mother had taken us all for a flu shot.  I had gotten it and was leaning against the wall in the waiting room, holding a sucker or a sticker or something else I know I felt too old for while my mom spoke to the doctor.  Then, the next thing I remember, I was sitting on the floor, with no recollection of how I'd gotten there.  My brother, who was the only person who noticed, swore (and probably swears to this day) that I was faking, because, as he claims, I had a slight smile on my face as I slid down the wall.  I wasn't faking (okay, James?), and I even remember the frantic dream I had--speeding down the halls of the hospital on a skateboard.

Then, once in high school, I cut my arm while I was home alone.  There wasn't much blood, but I must have been scared enough to cause my blood pressure to drop, because, when I hauled myself up off the kitchen floor, I looked at the clock on the oven and realized about three minutes had passed.  Also, add this to evidence: the pebble sized bruise on my shoulder bone where I'd landed and the fact that the episode of Friends I was watching had come back from commercial without my noticing.

Ten or so years later, I was slicing a bagel with a serrated knife.  We'd been subletting, and living with the renter, Amy's, stuff.  This knife belonged to her.  It was long, and rather unwieldy, and sharp enough to slice through the rather stale bagel, and then my left forefinger.  I dropped the bagel and ran to the bathroom, where James followed me.  I was sitting on the edge of the tub, thinking over and over how I knew that knife had it out for me, and this had been a long time in coming, when I realized I was standing in the kitchen, James leading me to a chair.  I had slipped back, and James had caught me before I fell into the bathtub.

After the step that cost me half my summer, I waited until James had taken Edie from my lap, then only checked back in when I saw James's face hovering above my own, shouting my name.

Last Tuesday, I got up early with Edie, who, after about an hour, decided it was really too early and went back to sleep, so I laid back down.  Which is where I started to feel dizzy.  Laying down.  In my bed.  I got up, trying to take deep breaths and not throw up.  I sat down on Edie's toothbrushing step, across from the sink.  Then, I recognized that I might faint.  Clearly, there's a history here, and I'm nothing if not a pattern noticer.  There's the dizziness and the feeling that I might throw up, but, worse, there's the encroaching darkness.  Some people see spots, I see these fingers of blackness starting at my periphery and closing in.  And there's nothing much I can do about it, except wake up on the bathroom floor, not noticing at the time the bruise that will eventually form on my left eyebrow (door), and tell James, who's just run in, the patently obvious: I think I passed out.  He nods and sits down, waiting with me while I pass out again.  We only go to the E.R. when I wake up the second time, still sitting- luckily, but while throwing up - unluckily.
We go to the E.R. and I tell my story four or five times, trying not to sound melodramatic, but I think my seven months pregnant stomach is blowing that for me.  And, all things considered, it felt pretty dramatic.  I mean, re-read that story.  Which is why, when they tell me, it's no big deal, I wonder if they need to re-hear the story.  They don't, and it's not.  It's just syncopy, which was written on my discharge sheet and I later asked Dr. Internet about.  It's fainting, which, for all it's apparent drama, it is, after all, no big deal.

Because James and I are super-nerds, and apparently have nothing better to talk about, we spend a fair amount of time talking about "story".  Like, what's the real story within the story.  For example, the story here is that I have this fainting thing.  But, the story here is about how I feel betrayed.  By myself.  Or, at least by my body.  Here is this thing, this fainting, that--if it affected anyone else--I would probably think was made up.  Or psychosomatic.  Or, worst of all, weak.  But here I am, with this albeit fairly minor thing, that I can't control but that feels contradictory to the perception of self I believe in.  I see myself as healthy and vital and, most of all, strong.  But every few years, under the most minor of circumstances, makes an appearance and reminds me of the imperfection of my perception.

If I were in the business of naming medical conditions, I wouldn't call this syncopy; I'd call it Galloping Low Blood Pressure Metaphor.


  1. When I read stuff like this and my initial horror subsides, I start to get a little perturbed that I haven't heard this already. From you. Because you should be calling me from the hospital to let me know what happened and that you are ok. Then I'm all, that's ridiculous. I'm not her mom. Why would she do that? But still, in the back of my mind I'm all, she should have called me.
    Glad you're ok and it's "no big deal". But really, it's kind of a big deal.

  2. Nothing like being taught the harsh lessons of our own mortality. Or somethin'. Sorry for all the fainting. Ugh, scary. You woke up throwing up?? Nightmare!

  3. Okay so I'm sort of being a little bit of a creeper here. I just stumbled across your blog today -- don't know why exactly. But I sort of know Annie. We've been in the same ward before.

    Anyway, I have had syncopy my whole life but wasn't dianosed until a year and a half ago. My whole life I wondered why on earth I was struggling with passing out over getting my thumb pricked at the doctor's office, or with standing up for too long, or with getting too warm. I have passed out in countless stores and schools and I even passed out at the checkout at the Walmart in Rexburg when I was 8 months pregnant with my first -- just because I had been standing for 20 minutes without taking a break. My syncopy has always been worse in all four of my pregnancies than it is when I'm not pregnant.

    When you wrote about how it makes you feel, you completely nailed how I feel. I always used to feel like I was letting myself down because I wasn't as strong as other people. A lot of people have thought I have made up my condition and sometimes it makes me want to smack them!

    Anyway, I lean on the hope that my cardiologist has given me. He told me that 99% of people outgrow syncopy by the time they're 40. I'm just crossing my fingers that I'm not one of the 1%.

    Anyway, from one (probably) creepy stranger to a normal stranger, I hear ya. I hope life gets better.