December, Part I

I know, I know. I left you hanging. What happened in Panama? How was Christmas? What happened with the break-in? Well, let me tell you now. All of it. Starting from the beginning. I’m just warning you right now that I may not get to it all. There’s quite a bit to tell. But I will start.

Part One: The Faint

We start midweek with a fainting spell. I go to the doctor for a routine blood test. I faint. I faint real bad. So bad that it takes two nurses to hold me up after thirty seconds of unconsciousness. The one nurse looks shaken. She is saying something to me… something along the lines of, “It helps to put your head between your knees” and the other nurse responds, “Usually they can’t move when they go out like this”. I am so weak I can barely open my eyes. The room comes into focus slowly. Sounds are muted and strange and I can only hear out of my left ear. My body feels like it’s been filled with lead. I look slowly to my left and see that my arm has flopped onto to the metal surgical table and that I’ve knocked over several empty plastic vials. I am trying to figure out when my arm got to the table. I am trying to respond to the nurse’s suggestion to sit up, but I cannot move. I am so weak. I am nauseous. It takes all the energy in me to respond to my name. I am being held up in the chair by two strong nurses who are bracing the weight of their whole beings against my knees and shoulders.

After ten minutes, I am ready to move to the reclining chair, which is just a few feet away. The nurse chides that I should have told her that I was a fainter; she would have drawn my blood while I was lying down. I smile faintly and apologize. I don’t have the energy to say anything witty. I feel sick. I lay down. After five minutes, I ask the nurse to hand me my phone. I call CLH. Luckily, he is in the neighborhood. I can hardly get my voice above a whisper, so he asks me to repeat myself three times. “I fainted”, I say. I tell him to come get me. There is no way I can drive back to work.

In the meantime, a third nurse comes to the room. The first nurse has fed me a Tootsie Roll and some juice, but my body doesn’t really want to eat anything. I eat it all anyway, knowing that I need to restore my blood sugar level. The third nurse is a senior nurse. I can tell by the way she tells the first nurse “no more Tootsie Rolls”, and asks me what I ate that day. I sheepishly admit that I’ve only had an apple and some granola. I know I should have eaten more that day, but it’s days before we are leaving for vacation, and when I get busy I sometimes forget to eat and I’ve been working long days to make up for all the days I will be missing and I am stressed out. The nurse shakes her head ruefully as I list what I’ve eaten that day and says that I just have super low blood sugar from not eating and asks if I will eat a protein bar if she brings it down. I say yes even though I hate protein bars. I still feel sick but know that I should eat to get my blood sugar up. She brings the bar back and I take two bites and cannot chew. I just let the brown gritty mass sit in my mouth and wait for it to dissolve.

Another ten minutes goes by. CLH arrives, calm and doctor-ly. He asks some questions, doctor-ly questions. I tell him what I’ve eaten that day. I try to take another bite of the protein bar. A few more minutes go by and I finally feel like I might be able to stand up. Well, not really. I feel like I could just sleep in the chair I am lying in. I was covered in sweat, burning with heat fifteen minutes ago and now I am freezing. I just want to sleep. I am so weak, I can barely bring the protein bar to my lips. The nurse and CLH help me out of the chair. My eyes are not right. Maybe they are dilated? It’s like I can see the entire floor of the clinic in one glance. I can barely lift my head, so I am concentrating on my feet. Left foot, right foot. Keep moving. The car is not far away, I keep thinking. Just get through the door. Now just get through the hallway. Now to the end of the hallway. Now up the stairs. Go slow on the stairs. CLH is holding on to me and I imagine, from a distance, we must look like an old couple. I imagine that this is what it feels like to be really, really old. Like your body is full of lead. Like you just want to sleep all day long.

I get to the outside and inhale deeply. I kneel down next to the car and puke up the apple. A man walks by and asks if I am alright, if we need help. CLH smiles at him and says we are okay. I stand up and inhale deeply again while CLH fishes for a napkin inside the car. I get in the car and feel remarkably better. I say that I almost feel good enough to go back to work. We laugh a little. It’s been nearly an hour and a half since the nurse finished filling that vial with my blood. I tell CLH to call my client, tell him I can’t make it back in. We drive home and I get right into bed. I sleep for two hours. When I wake, I still feel dizzy and nauseous and the feeling stays with me for nearly a day. The hearing never really returns to my right ear.

This is not the first time I have fainted this bad this year. In the late summer, I fainted while CLH was giving me a fancy cramp-relieving massage. It freaked him out (strangely enough, in all the years we have been together, he has never seen me faint). When I came to, he was holding me in his arms like a soldier holds his wounded buddy. We made a little Pieta right there in the massage room. Me, limp and feeling like my body was full of liquid metal, and him looking down at me, concentrating, and a little scared. That faint was the first really bad one of my life. The first one that took me a whole day to recover from.

I’ve fainted other times in my life. There was that time, that first fainting in a clinician’s office- when my pet guinea pig received a little impromptu swabbing at his rump to remove the pus and scabbing… that sentence alone should make you want to faint. I remember something about a red tricycle going around my head real fast- like stars or birds around the heads of conked-out cartoon characters. And the next thing I know, my dad is smiling down at me telling me I fainted. I remember thinking that I was too young to faint, that that was for Victorian ladies wearing too-tight corsets.

Then there were the times when we made ourselves faint on purpose. One of us had learned that if you pressed your Catholic school uniform tie up against some one’s trachea for just a few seconds, they blacked out. But just for a few seconds, and then they came to. And the dreams they had while they were out were absolutely amazing. I remember having it done to me, and I remember having about a dozen, cacophonous dreams, all vivid and loud… and being so confused and giddy when I came to. I remember feeling thrilled, euphoric afterward. It was like doing drugs without the drugs. And the high was just seconds, with no side effects.

There were noises and colors this time around too. But they all came together in a loud, dissonant way. Like a car crash of sound. All my dreams smashed into one another at high speeds and every image bled into one another and when I came to, I was in pain. I thought maybe I actually had been in a car accident. The sounds lasted even after I opened my eyes and tried to focus. The unconscious was bleeding into the conscious and I could not sort it out. I wanted the noise to stop but it wouldn’t. I was confused and angry and couldn’t do anything about it.

The lab results came back perfectly normal. My thyroid is behaving normally. My vitamin D levels are low, typical of folks who live under constant cloud cover. My iron is a little low too, typical of people who don’t eat meat. No anemia. Just normal, normal, normal. A recommendation to take a vitamin D supplement, and maybe an iron tablet every now and again.

My naturopath said that, in Chinese medicine, it is believed that people who faint frequently are suffering from a lack of energy input because they are giving it away faster than they are receiving it. In other words, they are doing too much for too many people and not taking enough time for themselves. Like what I had been doing every day of my life for most of my life. Of course. I got it. I got it right then and there. I was standing in the library at the time, talking on my cell phone to my doctor about the lab results and about Chinese medicine. A stack of checked-out books was under my arm. I was checking them out because I wanted to pack them in my suitcase to take on my trip. I’m going to Panama in 24 hours, I told the doctor. I am going to a place where I will serve no one. Where I will be taking no phone calls. Where I will be unable to be reached by email. Where my task list will have nothing on it. Where there will be no fainting for a very long time.