I have climbed rocks, ran long distances through subpar running conditions (think arctic tundra and extreme heat…not at the same time), traveled to almost the south pole, driven across an eastern European country with people I just met. I lift heavy things, swim and surf in the ocean, stand on my head, and push my mind and body to the edge on a regular basis.
That being shared, there is something that is my achilles’ heel…and this blog post is about to get personal…
For as long as I can remember (or my parents can remember and share with me) I have encountered fainting regularly. Starting with my kindergarten shots, for which I prepared myself for for weeks (by pinching my skin claiming “this doesn’t hurt”). Even that preparation didn’t prevent me from passing out after the needle penetrated my skin. My mom was a bit freaked out, especially considering she just read something about the potential side effects from the shots.
Then in first grade I passed out after pulling out a loose tooth. I remember sitting on my cold metal chair, pulling out my tooth, there was blood, and I fell over sideways.
The fainting sagas continued…shots, blood (especially blood draws) were the two main culprits causing me to lose consciousness.
In eighth grade science class I believe we were talking about blood clots (or sharks…for some reason I cannot remember exactly which) when I turned to my classmate Hillary and told her I was going to pass out. From there I put my head in my lap while Hillary patiently raised her hand. Before the teacher called on her I was already on the ground.
Even the mention of getting a tetanus shot at an annual physical had me dizzy and then passing out. As an aside, this was one of my most frustrating episodes because the doctor’s office sent me to the hospital, after I explicitly told them not to. An ambulance ride and a pointless day in the hospital later I had racked up more in hospital bills than I cared for (especially considering I told them not to send me to the hospital because I knew they would tell me what I always hear after the fainting spells).
My freshman year in college I passed out in the dorms, in the bathroom in my hall. I hit my head and was bleeding on the floor until someone found me there and called 911. Note: this fainting episode had nothing to do with alcohol. I was severely dehydrated after getting sick to my stomach from a breakfast I had at an unnamed cafe in Ann Arbor.
In college I also passed out while home alone, after slicing my finger while cutting pineapple. After I gained consciousness I called 911…then I called them back after I felt better. By then it was too late and the paramedics were already at my house. They were young guys. I told them not to take me to the hospital because I felt fine and I just passed out. The cut on my finger was pretty embarrassing (definitely less than an inch long and not deep at all). They stayed with me until someone came home. They shared some stories of even more ridiculous 911 calls, so I didn’t feel as lame for calling them about my cut finger/passing out.
About a day after completing my first half marathon I passed out very late at night (or very early in the morning, depending on how you look at it). My dad found me on the floor (he happened to be visiting that night) and called 911. Several gallons of IV fluid later, I had my color back and was back conscious. ”Severely depleted” were the words the doctor used to describe my state entering the hospital.
When my sister got her wisdom teeth removed I face dove into the floor after seeing the doc remove the bloody gauze. I knew I was going to pass out, but as I made my way to the floor I passed out before I got there all the way, so my eye looked like this (below) for awhile. Pro Tip: If you are going to pass out, pass out at an oral surgeon’s office. They have comfy chairs, friendly staff, and will give you real orange juice. They surprisingly handled me passing out better than most doctors do.
During a complete blood draw the summer after my junior year in college I had multiple episodes, that were described as seizures, and smelling salts were the only thing to get me back conscious. The rest of that day I spent at my mom’s office aka the American Red Cross on one of their beds. I was totally out of it.
Imagine my surprise when in October 2012 I stayed conscious when the emergency room took a blood sample to see what could be causing my lower abdominal pain. Hours later I had multiple fainting episodes when the IV was put in my arm…episodes that caused the ER doctor to tell me “in my dozen years of working emergency medicine, I have never seen anything like that”. Too bad there isn’t a special award for that.
Why do I pass out so much? Vaso vagal is what I’ve been told by doctors. It’s also hereditary and my dad and grandmother have experienced vaso vagal episodes regularly as well (with different triggers). For those of you who do not have vaso vagal or are not familiar with it, let me tell you a bit about it. Vaso vagal is completely harmless, unless you pass out, hit your head and suffer a conclusion or other physical injury (like my eye scar from the photo above). I can predict when I’m going to pass out, which is good so I can try to get somewhere soft or sit down so I can minimize the chances of me hitting my head or something. Even though I can predict when I am about to pass out, a vaso vagal episode is not in my control. Once triggered, a vaso vagal episode is an incredibly incontrollable feeling, which is what makes it so scary. Since I know what at least some of my triggers are I can do my best to avoid them…but sometimes that isn’t always possible…
Recently, my doctor ordered another full blood exam. Uck! Memories of seizures, smelling salts, being out of control, and feeling awful drowned my head and I put off the blood draw for several weeks…always finding some reason it wouldn’t work out. One lab didn’t have a place for me to lie down, and I need to lie down. The time I didn’t I remember I slid through the chair all the way to the ground. Fortunately I was in the hospital. The next lab I went to didn’t have the lab order sheet. Third times the charm I guess because the third time I went to the lab, after a 24 hour fast (only 12 hours was required but I was feeling sick to my stomach for other reasons so I hadn’t eaten) I finally got in with no hiccups from the lab side of things giving me no excuses to use to push back the blood draw…
This lab draw started out like all the rest…me telling the phlebotomist that I needed to lie down during the draw. She said that would be fine and then continued to process my paperwork. I sat there, waiting, anxiously. Then I saw the stickers print out. The stickers they put on the tubes they put the blood in. There were a lot of stickers…about 12 as I recall. I remember saying “that’s a lot of stickers” to which she replied “there are a lot of tests”. That’s when I started to feel it come on…the pre-fainting sensation. The vaso vagal episode was coming earlier than usual. I stood up from the chair, said “I can’t do this” and walked toward the door to the waiting room. I stopped and sat on a chair by that lab room door. I sat with my head between my legs and breathed deeply. I did what I knew to do when these episodes came on…I just don’t always have the luxury of being mobile and able to sit with my head between my legs. As I sat there, I imagined walking out, not having gotten my blood drawn, and needing to tell my mom waiting for me in the lobby that I didn’t do it, and also telling my doctor I couldn’t do it, and even worse – facing myself and the disappoint in myself after failing to face my kryptonite. I kept my head down and deep breathes until I felt better and then I stood up and approached the reclining chair where my blood was to be drawn. I felt the pre-fainting spell again and sat on the floor again breathing deeply and my head lowered. The phlebotomist asked if there was someone with me and if I wanted him/her to come in. I said my mom was there, but I’d be fine…I could do it. (Plus I knew my mom doesn’t like watching me pass out). At this point it became pure convincing…telling myself I needed to do this and just do it. It also helpI stood up, laid in the recliner, rested my right arm on my sweatshirt, and clenched my fist as instructed. I told her not to tell me when she was poking the needle, just do it, and let me know when I can unclench my fist. I didn’t even feel the needle penetrate, so it didn’t even feel like she was taking blood. My fingers got tingly, but my head didn’t. I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out. For the entire 5 minutes ish that she was drawing my blood, I was completely conscious and felt fine. I kept my eyes clothes, breathed deeply, and at some point started talking about puppies with her to keep my mind off of the blood leaving my body and keep my mind off of thinking about the fact that I hadn’t passed out yet.
First time ever that I have immediately sat up and walked right out after getting my blood drawn.
My krptonite is no longer my kryptonite. I feel like I can conquer anything.
What’s your kryptonite? What holds you back? Which battles have you fought and won?
MEL, The Venture Gal