Send Me No Carnations

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

27 comments… add one
  • Growing old is a bitch, but it beats the alternative. Which, unfortunately, is not growing young.

    Take care of yourself, Ruth.

  • Cindy D. Link

    I’m glad you are all right. We are at an “interesting” stage of life, aren’t we?

  • Sorry to hear about your blackouts and why does it always happen on hard floors? Glad to see it didn’t erase any of your humor. I love your excuse for not writing transitions. I may have to borrow that.

  • So sorry this happened but I’m glad you’re ok. I love that you figured out the reason for it yourself and the ER didn’t (typical). I didn’t like getting up early for law school (and really, I didn’t like much about law school at all), so I think you are probably suffering from a medication side effect that is causing you to misremember that!

  • Now you have a good excuse to swoon if you need it. Always useful.

  • Sheryl Link

    Scary stuff! So glad you’re okay, Ruth. Things like this sure sharpen your focus, don’t they?

  • I had a strikingly similar incident a few years ago. We also went to the ER very early in the morning hours. I looked like a truck had run over my face, and then backed up over the rest of me. The staff quickly separated us, asked many questions as to how it happened, and asked repeatedly if I felt safe in my home. My husband realized quickly that they all thought that he had beaten me up, and was outraged at being viewed as an SOB who would do such a thing. I have had several other incidents, but have now learned to anticipate a bit and get myself to the ground/floor before hitting it from a standing position. Much better.
    Hope you are feeling your feet sturdily beneath you soon. And be careful, the state takes away driver’s licenses for such things.

  • I definitely agree with #6, and with Melanie. Swooning should be reserved for times when you need to have an effect–make an impact–be noticed (and not by E.R. nurses.) Unfortunately, I have lost that knack, and it seems you are losing it.

  • Cindy Link

    Glad you are okay and have No Shit Sigmund to worry about you!

  • Don’t you just hate it when that happens? All that fuss and no diagnosis to give it some sort of definition? You could be a gentile Southern lady and call it “the vapors,” but then again maybe not. I always thought “the vapors” referred to an incident when a refined young woman would faint. Someone recently told me that it really refers to the expulsion of noxious bodily gas. I’m not sure which I would prefer.

    Feel better!

  • merr Link

    Reading your post reminded me of what my mother used to tell us (similar to what you told your husband and apropos to #5)…”Hold a mirror up in front of my mouth to make sure I’m dead.”

  • It’s amazing that you can write so well and with such humor about such a disconcerting experience. I’m three years older and have noticed recently that I have to sit down to put on a sock on my left foot. The right foot, no problem. But the left, I fall over if I try. Having these small changes in balance creep up on you is no fun. I hope you continue to be well. Take the doctor’s advice. I think I will do the same.

  • What an experience–I’m glad you’re okay. Sometimes I don’t know what’s worse–figuring out that there is something wrong or having your doc say, “there’s nothing wrong.”

  • Ruth! I’m glad you’re okay. That sounds awful to black out like that. Sixty two is supposed to be the new 40 or whatever but I think that’s a load of baloney. It’s good you’ve got your sense of humor, and that the birds insist on deafening you.

    Hugs and love.

  • I LOL’d at passing out in a carpeted area. You’re right about the things we notice at different points in our lives. Your post reminded me of all of those mornings I left the hospital after staying the night with my mother when she was dying. As the weeks wore on from late winter to early spring, I noted how the birds sung louder as we got closer to spring. I think we take in more, especially when we’re contemplating mortality. I hope you’re feeling better now.

  • Marsha Canright Link

    I’m always glad when someone (you) can find the humor in losing consciousness three times. I’ll just say that I too have a memory of the birds singing … but that was in 1969 following a dalliance with psychedelics. I’m glad you’re okay … so I only have these two little words: SECOND OPINION. Please. Take care.

  • Since I turned 60, I have fallen on my way from bed to kitchen, I finally realized that I get hungry in the wee hours and don’t have enough energy to make it down the hallway to the kitchen, without blacking out, so I keep a bottle of soda at bedside, to drink from when I awake (my metabolism rate is high, so I suddenly have no fuel to burn) then start for the kitchen to eat toast or something more filling. I awoke on the floor, many times. My dog would lick my face to awake me but he died last year, so now I don’t have anyone to revive me, I have to get up and start slow. I cremated him, so he’s right with me, but he cannot lick me into consciousness now.

  • I’m so sorry that this is happening to you. Maybe you’re falling because of orthostatic hypotension. You said your BP is low. Maybe it drops when you change position.

  • Mark Link

    “I think I want to be cremated,” I told him as he drove. “Just make sure I’m really dead before you do it.” My sentiments exactly, Ruth.

  • Wow! How frightening this must have been. I hope it frightened you into a check-up…I never trust ERs
    Best, Irene

  • Christine Link

    Your last two paragraphs are so poignant. Take care of yourself, Ruth. Thinking of you.

  • When I was first put on a blood pressure medicine, years ago, I had a similar, sorta, experience. We were camping and I went to the pump to get a bucket of water, was walking back to the camper feeling well and strong, and was suddenly on the pavement, water spilled all over! Bruised knee and elbow, but fortunately no other damage. I went back to fill the bucket again, and I was a bit light-headed for a while, but ok after that. Spooky stuff. I insisted on a lower dosage of the meds and it hasn’t happened again. Hope it doesn’t happen for you either.

  • Craig Link

    I’ve adopted the count to 3 routine when I stand up before I set sail.
    I was always clumsy, now it is compounded.
    By the way I want the painting in the dining room after he cremates you.

  • WOW Craig,
    Be sure to get those requests in early before the gas-jets come on.

    Maybe Ruth could post a list of belongings for her readers to choose from before she goes down for the count of three.

  • Terry Link

    You make me feel better about getting older…kind of like other cool people are getting old too…

  • What a scary experience, but as usual, you turn it into a witty piece of writing. Growing old isn’t for sissies.

  • I’m 84, and trying valiantly to remain upright too. Haven’t bit the dust yet, but recent checkup is allowing me to sit and write for awhile instead of flying off the sunny Spain for a little warm weather. Love your blogs, you always say what we are thinking and aren’t smart enough to put into words.

Leave a Comment