I’m usually a pretty good observer of my own life, but you probably shouldn’t take my word on the following account. You should take my husband’s.
There he and I were, sitting on the floor of our bathroom at four in the morning last week. By then, I had blacked out three separate times, he told me. The first time, I’d fallen against the bathroom door. The second and third times, he’d been there to catch me.
I didn’t say anything. I was too busy looking at the vivid pink flower in my field of vision. It looked like a big pink carnation.
Minutes passed and the carnation faded. You know what? It isn’t clear what you should do at a time like this. Nobody had given us an instructional manual.
“I think we should call an ambulance,” he said.
“That seems a little extreme,” I said. “I just want to go back to bed.”
Since my husband is kind of pushy, we compromised. We got dressed and he drove me to a nearby hospital.
“I think I want to be cremated,” I told him as he drove. “Just make sure I’m really dead before you do it.”
The emergency room was deserted. The people behind the desk didn’t look terribly interested in us, since nobody was screaming or bleeding heavily. But they did perk up when they realized we had insurance. With a fresh i.d. bracelet on my wrist, I was propped in a wheelchair and propelled into the bowels of the hospital.
By the time my husband found me, I’d had an ekg, gotten my blood drawn and blood pressure taken. I’d bonded with Will, the nurse. I was feeling OK, except for some of the bruises I’d collected on my way down to the tile floor.
The doctor came in. He told us all my tests were normal. No heart attack or stroke; blood pressure low.
He pointed out I was 62 and I told him not to rub it in. If I were 70, he continued, ignoring my usual descent into desperate attempts at humor, he would keep me overnight at the hospital. Since I wasn’t, I could go.
Falls like mine were “normal,” the doctor concluded; they happened all the time. I shouldn’t rocket out of bed in the middle of the night. I should move more gradually.
My husband and I left, driving back through the empty streets to our condo. Since then, slowly, I’ve been feeling better. This episode, we’ve decided, resulted from a new medication and low blood pressure. But, still.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve noticed that when I’m deeply stressed, I can’t write transitions; instead, I number my thoughts. So:
1) You know you’re at a weird time in your life when the fact you don’t black out during the past 24 hours is a good day;
2) My husband has noted that this whole episode has deeply affected me psychologically. I told him, no shit, Sigmund, the inability to stay conscious while standing would lower anybody’s self-esteem;
3) If you’re going to black out, you should ideally do it in a carpeted area;
4) Physically, I’m not a whirlwind. However, emotionally, I can turn on a skinny dime, going from unconscious to melodrama to black humor in a matter of seconds. The older I get, the more this strikes me as useful;
5) I really, really meant it about being dead before I’m cremated;
6) I am not deeply opposed to fainting, but I do object to blacking out without proper notice; and
7) The funniest things linger with you at a time like this. As we left the hospital, dawn was breaking and the birds were singing loudly. This is a time of day I now have little familiarity with, preferring to turn over and sleep till a civilized hour.
But decades ago, in this same town I love, I was always up early. Morning after morning, I gulped instant coffee, threw my books into our rattly VW bug and hightailed it up and down the hills leading to the law school. Most mornings, I could see the sun rise as I flew along the streets. Those were days when time stretched on infinitely and my pace was feverish because I had so much to do, so many things to accomplish.
I can’t recall hearing them, but the birds must have sung in that same way when dawn broke all those years ago. Now, at a different point in life, you notice different things. As my husband and I left the hospital, the birds were exultant, riotous, almost deafening as the sun came up.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
If you want to read more, please check out this gentle essay about how I won’t lie about my age, so just shut up about it