Thursday, 4 September 2008

Out of it.

So, a strange thing happened to me last weekend.

I had just emerged from the shower, on Sunday morning, when I felt a bit light headed. I was both excited and nervous about the organisation and execution of my birthday party later that day, so I put it down to adrenaline; and, in fact, maybe adrenaline had something to do with it. In any case, I took a deep breath (of what, in retrospect, and in a poorly ventilated bathroom, was probably mostly steam) and started to shave.

As I dragged my, perhaps fortuitously blunt, razor down my throat, I started to feel further lightheadedness, which quickly became outright nausea. I felt that strange feeling you get in the backs of your teeth and gums that comes when you're about to be sick, and I made the sensible decision to put the razor down. I haven't thrown up for a good thirteen or fourteen years, a record I'm quite proud of, and I tried to resist the churning feeling in my stomach, and the increasingly dizzy feeling in my head, sitting down on the bathroom chair to try and steady myself.

After a few moments seated, the feeling of nausea began to pass, but was replaced by a far more concerning loss of vision - grey splotches, edged with black began to creep into my view, and I closed my eyes to try to get rid of them. When I opened them, they were still there, and I felt my brain start to slip into that state you find yourself in in dreams, where events are clearly happening to you, but you take the role of the narrator - directing and describing the action in the third person. In the dream it feels perfectly natural, of course, and so it did at this point, as I pondered my options very calmly but also very slowly.

I decided, apparently after several seconds of thought, that what a person in this situation should really do is find some fresh air, so I got up from the chair and opened the bathroom door. By this point, I was almost entirely in third person mode, and can remember feeling very disconnected from the environment, and, both mentally and physically, very numb. I can remember getting two or three steps onto the landing, heading for the room at the end of the hall, with a window, and fresh air; all the time my vision worsening, until I couldn't see anything but greyness. I guess somewhere between here and the wall of the room with the window, I blacked out.

My next memory is waking up crumpled against the wall of the room I was trying to get to, with my dad shaking my shoulder and checking I was ok. I couldn't initially explain what had happened, because the memory felt so much like a dream - like I'd watched, or imagined, or made up the previous ninety seconds. I also felt no physical discomfort - the dizziness and nausea were gone, and my vision cleared up quickly. After a sit down and a cup of tea, in fact, I felt shaken, but otherwise physically fine. This seems odd to me, since I must have collapsed or fallen pretty hard - certainly loudly enough for my parents to have heard it from a couple of rooms away - and yet I had no bruising or pain at all. By the evening I had developed a pain in my back and in my left wrist (the side I fell on), though I dont know whether to attribute these symptoms to the fall, or to stresses and strains of the rest of the day. It certainly seems odd to me that I would not feel the pains for another 14 or 15 hours after the event.

As I say, I felt absolutely fine after a mug of hot, sweet tea (the restorative powers of which I had up until that moment never fully appreciated), but two things struck me about the events almost straight away. The first was that I was very lucky - I was lucky that I didn't black out while still in the bathroom, or while holding my razor and I was lucky my parents were home. I have no memory of the seven or eight steps I must have taken along the landing before collapsing, and during that time, I passed the top of the stairs - if I'd gone over them I'd have more than likely done myself a serious injury. I fell a foot away from the edge of the radiator, which could have done some serious damage, on one side, and the edge of a wooden table piled up with boxes and plants on the other, which could also have been very painful to hit. I'm therefore massively thankful that I subconsciously managed to avoid these fates.

The second thing that came to mind was that I gained a sudden empathy for characters in television shows and movies who have been overcome by fumes, or trappped in burning buildings. It sounds silly, perhaps, but in the back of my mind, I've always been slightly dubious of the disabling effects of that kind of situation, and when putting myself in the character's position (as we all do), I generally assumed that I could have got to safety, or done whatever else was required. If, however, the effect of those situations is anything like that which I experienced, I can totally understand anyone's inability to cope. I don't really know how to describe the feeling, but it was dreamlike. Nothing particularly mattered, and every action was dictated and performed with real delay. And the period from me realising something was really wrong to falling unconscious was a maximum of ten seconds or so, and during that period I certainly didn't have full mental or physical capabilities.

In any case, I thought I'd relay that bizarre and slightly distressing moment from last Sunday for your enjoyment, utilizing the internet to its full potential as a communication medium by clogging it with meaningless personal stories.


Hanspan said...

You probably didn't hurt yourself too badly because, as long as you fell down and didn't hit anything on the way, your body would have been totally relaxed and you wouldn't have offered any resistance to the fall. A certain amount of going with it will save you from injury.

Thus people can fall downstairs drunk and do themselves considerably less damage falling downstairs drunk than they would if they were sober and knew what danger they were in and tried hard to avoid it. It's like people failing to breakfall and putting their hands out palm down rather than allowing themselves to roll along the back of the hand and wrist.

When I nearly blacked out in the shower at uni, I was thinking as myself and thinking quite quickly "I need to unlock the door and get the hell out of this shower cubicle, but maybe that's because I was locked in. The scary thing was that my body wasn't responding anything like as quickly as my mind was progressing.

I am glad you are not dead too :)

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

I've had similar experiences on a couple of occasions, one of which was pretty similar to the one you described. I'd woken up in the middle of the night to go the toilet, managed to go for a wee and wash my hands and then realised that I was about to collapse. Which I proceeded to do. I was dimly aware that I'd hurt myself in some way, but was content to dream for a bit until I regained consciousness (a matter of seconds no doubt, but it felt like longer). As I became more of the pain in my face I proceeded to sware, in a distant and slurred way, which was all I could manage. I eventually dragged myself onto the toilet and sat to recain my ability to function. My housemate had come to see what had happened and make sure I was ok, then disappeared as he didn't much like blood. The odd bit was that, having hit my nose on the floor, I only noticed I was covered in blood when I was fully conscious and able to understand what had happened, which made me laugh as I was initially surprised by the blood on my hands etc, but soon realised that made sense.

THe other time I fainted (recenltyish) was after not eating for a whole day (I just forgot) and then doing some exercise type thing, felt sick, went to the bar (as it was in the back hall of a bar) to get some water then woke up with some guy over me and a t-shirt under my head. I felt rather silly as I regained consciousness with no ill effects other than a bump on my head.

So you seem to have done better than I have whenever I've collapsed.