It Happened to Me: I'm A Fainter

I’m a fainter. No, I don’t need to loosen my stays. No, I don’t have smelling salts. I don’t have the vapors. There is nothing coquettish or old-timey or ladylike about it.

Nov 3, 2011 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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There’s a video making its way around the Internet this week of a woman who faints dead away after being proposed to by her boyfriend. The Internet being what it is, responses have run the gamut from “FAKE!!!” to a sarcastic “Oh my what a proper lady, overcome by a wedding proposal, tut-tut.”

Well, I can’t speak for people who videotape their question-poppings and put them on the Internet because, c’mon guys, but I am going stand up for the fainters of the world.

I’m a fainter. No, I don’t need to loosen my stays. No, I don’t have smelling salts. I don’t have the vapors. There is nothing coquettish or old-timey or ladylike about it. Though it’s culturally coded as dainty and feminine, fainting is, in reality, really scary.

Gravity can do a lot of damage when it’s allowed to run rampant. Think of all the times during the day when you are holding something sharp or walking near moving vehicles or standing next to something with a head-bashing-in edge.

One particularly memorable faint happened when I was in a bar enjoying a nice glass of wine. The wine glass, unfortunately, beat me to floor, shattered, and then I landed on it, jamming my shin through just-broken glass. I woke up to a gash that required a hospital trip and 11 stitches. The best part was when the ambulance guys refused to believe that I wasn’t wasted out of my mind and wouldn’t give me any anesthesia before sewing me up.

Even if you manage not to land on anything pokey or in the way of anything moving -- my nightmare is fainting onto the train tracks, oh god please somebody catch me if this happens -- fainting feels awful and is also very very embarrassing. Trust me, I’ve done it all kinds of places: at parties, at shows, in bars, on the football field during a marching band performance (yes, marching band, deal with it).

Here is what fainting feels like. Imagine you’re at a party, chatting with someone. Maybe it is a cute boy, or your boss, or a complete stranger. Suddenly, you don’t feel so good. You start sweating. You feel instantly completely exhausted. The idea of walking over to a chair and sitting down distantly occurs to you, but you are too tired to even consider moving. Walking would be impossible, you might as well decide to summit Everest. Usually this is when the person you’re talking to starts to look concerned.

Wine, why would you hurt me like this?

Bright white starry blobs creep into the edges of your vision, and sound drains away from your ears. The world is tinny and far-away, and your face feels hot. There’s a strange draining feeling all over, actually, like your blood is running down your veins and pooling in your feet, leaving the rest of you bloodless and spinny. You feel an uncomfortably intense fluttering in your chest and stomach, millions of very vehement butterflies. Generally this is when  you think to say something really insightful like, “Uh, I don’t feel so hot,” but it is far too late for that. Instead, you open your eyes what feels like quite a bit later and you are on the floor.

Once I had a nice dream that I was floating, floating downward, catching breezes like a feather, for 20 minutes or so, until I gently landed on the ground. I was told later that in reality I got pale, stuttered, and whumped down like a sack of dirty laundry.

But the fainting isn’t even the worst part. When your eyes open, everyone in the once-loud room is now gathered around, silently staring at you, looking worried. There’s always the “give her air” person. There’s the person who you have to convince not to call an ambulance, even though your mouth isn’t really functioning correctly.

“No, no, izzokay, I do this a lot, chocolate banana what? sorry,” you mumble.

Someone wants to give you water. Someone wants to talk loudly in your face and ask if you need anything, are you breathing, are you OK, what happened?!?! Hopefully, a friend is nearby to take over because what you need is for everyone to go away and leave you alone so that you can sit quietly for a minute and be embarrassed about causing a giant scene.

I mean, bless those people trying to help, they mean well. I really do appreciate it. And I recently saw someone else faint at work event I was at, and now I get it -- she pretty much face-planted on the floor out of nowhere and it was terrifying! And of course, not everyone who hits the ground in public is OK. There are tons of non-fainting reasons why a person might collapse, and even fainting can be a sign of a serious problem, if you weren’t born with a vascular system as janky as mine.

So I get it, I really do. It is nice to know that when someone around them is visibly in distress, most people (even in New York!) want to help, or at the very least make sure you aren’t getting dead person all over their carpet. But in the interest of helping out my fellow fainties, I would like to give everyone some Friend of a Fainter Basic Tips.

1. The fainter is almost certainly very embarrassed. Do your best to shoo everyone away, reassuring them that you have it under control. Leave your friend alone for a minute. She might need water or a chair to put her feet up or whatever nice thing the nice people are offering, but for a second she just needs to get hear bearings and figure out if anything was harmed on the way down.

2. If you see someone acting odd, falling, or stumbling, for fuck’s sake, CATCH THEM! When I did the aforementioned damage to my knee area, my roommate was standing right next to me and saw me go down, but turned away and ignored me because he thought I was acting drunk and he was embarrassed. Suffice to say we are no longer roommates but still, sheesh.

3. If someone faints, then after a while stands up and rejoins the party, don’t feel the need to rush up to them be like OMIGOD ARE YOU OKAY I TOTALLY SAW YOU FAINT WHAT HAPPENED?!? Just play it cool! And let them act normal!

4. Don’t ask, “Did you eat today?” in an accusatory tone. What difference does it make? If not, it’s too late now anyway! We know that we need food to live. Fainting doesn’t erase the basic knowledge of how to be alive from one’s brain.

5. If someone goes down and wakes up right away and appears to be breathing and speaking and generally acting okay, ask before you call 911. Ambulances are expensive and they won’t really let you send them away once they get there.

6. Don’t ask your girlfriend to marry you at a surprise party in front of everyone and videotape it. This just seems like common sense.