Frank Swoons

Frank Swoons

Audrey experiences a scary incident with Frank.

I came home on Thursday night to find Frank sprawled out on the couch, looking a little grey in the face.

“I think I just had a seizure,” he said. “I bit my tongue and I was jerking all over the place.”

I, of course, completely freaked out. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am a notorious worrier about all things medical. Even for a non-weirdo, though, a seizure is a big deal. I mean, it’s your brain. You don’t want things going wrong in your brain.

After making him answer the three stroke questions (if you don’t know them, you really should. Early identification can significantly decrease the damage a stroke victim suffers) I got him some crackers and water and had him explain exactly what had happened.

He said, “I felt like I had to crack my back, so I bent backwards over the side of the couch and hung upside down for a while. My back didn’t crack, so I sat up and started typing again. All of a sudden, I couldn’t see and I bit my tongue and I was making a weird noise. Ever since then I’ve felt really nauseated and terrible.”

Because I like to pretend that I am a diagnostician, and because Frank doesn’t have a primary care physician right now, so there was no one he could easily make a check-up appointment with, I peppered him with questions. Had he eaten anything weird? Had he eaten lunch? What else had he done today? How long was he hanging upside down? Did he feel dehydrated? What other symptoms had he been experiencing?

It came out that he’d not eaten much that day, had not had much water over the last few (for those not in the Northeast, we’ve been having something of a heat wave and his office isn’t air conditioned,) and had been hanging with the blood rushing to his head for almost a minute. While he was napping, and as I calmed down, it occurred to me that he’d probably just fainted.

Now I’m a fainter. I faint when I get too much blood drawn, when I get too hot, when my blood sugar is too low, when I’ve been standing lock-kneed too long, and for a bunch of other reasons. I know fainting sounds very Scarlett O’Hara-swooning couch-oh my this corset is too tight won’t you just loosen it for me you handsome gentleman, but it is a very unpleasant experience.

Non-fainters aren’t aware of this, I don’t think, but the process of fainting feels really really bad, and I often think mid-faint that I am actually just dropping dead. You feel shitty for hours afterward, too. I mean, despite the pansy name, it’s a serious thing–your body is stressed enough that it just shuts off and reboots. So anyway, as a veteran fainter I finally realized that this had faint written all over it.

I woke Frank up and asked him more questions and learned that yes, actually, the tongue biting was more of a “I fell asleep and my mouth snapped shut on my tongue” type thing, and the loss of motion control was only for a split second while he was passed out, and the jerking was more of a jerking awake feeling than fully conscious spasmodic jerking. Combined with the lack of food and water and the hanging upside down, I think it’s safe to say that it was a fainting situation.

Obviously, I’m not a doctor. If it happens again, no question, Frank said he’s going to go to get checked out. But I just think it’s funny that all these years that I’ve been fainting–and that he’s seen how I look and heard how I say I feel–that he didn’t realize that’s what had happened.

Maybe it was just the anger that comes from being relieved, but I got kind of mad. Did he think I’d been faking this whole time? Or lying about how bad I felt after I’d faint? Or that I was just some kind of wuss? He assured me it was none of the above, and that seeing someone experience something unpleasant, however empathetic you felt toward them, was nothing like actually experiencing the thing for yourself. Which, fair enough.

But still, it does make me wonder to what extent medical professionals who have never themselves felt a certain painful thing are as sympathetic to the patient’s pain as they could be. And also, it’s an interesting gender thing. I mean, there are certain painful sensations/situations that simply cannot be experienced by a person of the opposite gender: cramps, childbirth, blue balls, and getting hit in the balls all come to mind.

It’s weird, this little incident made me realize two things. The first is that no matter how much you feel close to someone and think that you are experiencing their joys and their pain, the truth is that really, you are not. Actually no human can ever access the particular experience of another, even if it feels very strongly that you are.

The second is that we need a new word to replace “faint.” Because right now it feels a lot worse than it sounds.