Syncope

C in A&E

C in A&E

I fainted a few weeks ago, but I’m not a fainter. Really. Okay, so there was that one other time in Amsterdam, but I had some very good reasons for losing my grip on consciousness on that occasion:

1. I’d just moved into a new house, and that was back in the days when moving involved carting a lot of your own gear around in a rented van until you fainted, so passing out was kind of expected;
2. N was pregnant;
3. I was sitting in the Bulldog Cafe with my head in a smoke cloud thicker than honey.

I actually went down twice in the Bulldog. I got straight back to my feet after the first time, then had a very pleasant dream from which I was roughly shaken by some very concerned Amsterdammers, who gave me sweets and sent me outside. I was more than a bit spooked by the episode, but my colleague — call him Frodo — thought it was hilarious. He told everyone he knew about it. As it happened, Frodo was somehow at the nexus of all my working associations in the city, and at every job I held there was someone else who knew Frodo; and soon after that link was established, they knew about the Bulldog. So here I am, now, telling everyone who’s interested about my second fainting episode, because if I don’t do it, I know it will come out through Frodo, somehow.

Here’s what happened:

I was sitting at work, merrily doing whatever it is I do in working hours, when N calls me.

‘Can you leave work now?’ she said. ‘You need to come to the hospital. C has cracked his head open.’

My heart, at that point, stopped. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating that, it actually stopped beating for a good three or four seconds.

‘Is it … is it serious?’ I asked.

N, apparently with no interest in fucking about with careful messaging, said simply, ‘Yes.’

So there it was. My son had cracked his head open, and some or all of his brains were protruding from a fist-sized rent in his skull. I grabbed my bag and hailed a cab off the street, and I held my breath for the twenty-two minute journey to the hospital as I imagined exposed grey matter and life support and steel plates. Then I passed out.

That’s the brief version. The slightly longer version involves me waiting as the ambulance rolls up, the rear doors opening, and the worried yet sheepish expression of my son peering out as he sits on a gurney with ten metres of gauze wrapped around his head. His hair is sticky with dried blood, his face is grey. A nurse uses a squeeze bottle to wash away some of the blood and locate the wound, so naturally I lean in close to assist. Why would I be worried by a little blood? I’d attended the births of both my children, neither of which was a dry experience. C is shaking, and very visibly distressed, and this is what I find to be the most upsetting aspect of the ordeal: his distress. I soon spot the source of all the blood, and it’s not as big as everyone thought it would be.

That’s when everything starts to go a bit wobbly. My head feels heavy, and the light in the emergency room seems to dim. Breathing becomes an effort.

I thought: No. Fucking. Way. I suspect a black-out might be coming, the memory of the Bulldog waving at me from somewhere far back in my mind, so I step away from C and try to get some air. I’m not feeling any better, so I clear some space at the end of the bed he’s sitting on and push myself up onto it.

The next thing I remember is being shaken awake from a dream I instantly forget, surrounded by frowning faces in paramedic uniforms. They make me stay where I am for a while. Someone brings me a juice-box.

It took a few moments for the realisation of what had happened to make it through to my brain. I had fainted. C thought it was entertaining — it certainly took a lot of attention away from his bandaged head, which didn’t even need stitches in the end, not even glue. So N’s “C has cracked his head open” was revised to “C bumped his head and opened his scalp a tiny bit and bled like a motherfucker”.

The medical term for fainting is syncope, which I think sounds a hell of a lot cooler than fainting. It is caused by global cerebral hypoperfusion, or low blood flow to the brain. I didn’t faint, I suffered an episode of syncope. It wasn’t the litres of blood streaming from my son’s head, it was that damned global cerebral hypoperfusion. I found this out after I hit the Googleverse, because I really wanted to know why it had happened. For anyone who’s experienced this, it’s some weird and scary shit. It’s not like you get really tired and nod off to sleep. It’s not a gradual decline into a light unconsciousness. It’s a sudden and complete transition from conscious to unconscious. If falling asleep is a slow descent from cruising altitude to landing, fainting is being teleported Star Trek style from 40,000 feet to sea-level in a tenth of a second. You’re thinking: “I really want to go outside for a minute, get some air, clear my head.” Your brain says: “Sit the fuck down. Now.”

I was also hoping, in my Googling, to reassure myself that syncope wasn’t a precursor to something fatal, that I wasn’t about to die horribly. Google, as it turns out, is not a very reassuring search engine. It might have been the blood, or the stress of C being in pain, or a tumour the size of a tennis ball just letting me know it was there. I’m really hoping it was the blood.

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