So, today I’ll tell you about the time I almost fainted. 🙂
(It’s kind of long so you might want to get some tea (I had English Breakfast decaf) or iced tea depending on your weather. 🙂 )
It’s an oft-referred to story (mostly in jest) in my household and one of the biggest events to happen both in the practice & my family – probably due to the surprising and sudden nature of fainting, and probably partly (within my family) the idea that I’d come close to such a thing is unexpected.
All of us in my family are pretty stalwart people, with one thing each that scares us. I’m the only one who actually has a phobia, but then I can deal with the 2 things they can’t, so it’s a give and take situation.
Medically, not much will get our goat, and if it’s logical, we’ll do it. My body oft threatens me with complete shutdown, but with years of rambunctious activity in the heat, anorexia and intense cleaning jobs, and feeling my body say “that’s enough!” but being able to do it anyway, I’ve realized, I can usually take just as much as they can (but I look 10 times worse! XD)
I redden in the heat and with physical activity (like frisbee) and people ask me “Hey… do you want to go sit down?” and I’ll be like, “No, I’m good, why?” if it’s my brother, he’ll point to something tinged dark magenta or intense red and say, “Because this is what you look like” and then take a picture on his phone camera to prove it. We sometimes institute frequent breaks for me.
But the only time my body has gone over to the dark side was when I fell while riding. With all the lore of “get back up on your horse” (which I don’t recommend by the way — your horse feels bad, you feel bad, the entire lesson is off – My advice is to just give them an apple and a pet and brush ’em down and reestablish rapport that way) I got back on, finished the lesson, and walked my mount back to the barn to remove her tack and groom her.
That’s when things turned x-ray filter colored. “Okay,” I thought, “…okay.” I started to panic a little when I felt it getting stronger, but realized, I was still standing up right! I could do this.
I took off her tack, and then fumbled for the brushes by feel. I now couldn’t see anything. I gave the horse some brushing, and at some point, I called it and said “Hey, I need to go see my mom for a minute,” and surprisingly my hard teacher said, “Okay.”
I walked to my waiting family by memory, and said, “Hey, do you have any of that soda she gave you still?” I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was already not a soda drinker or how I looked, but I saw them start (maybe I could see now, or maybe I felt it) and heard them say, “No, no we’re sooo sorry. Um, sit down. Um. We’ll um, we’ll um find something!” Eventually my sight restored, but I burned the pre-symptoms into my brain so I could recognize it the next time it came.
That next time was yeeears later in the veterinary office.
I had a list of 200 skills I had to practice and do within 2-3 months. Some came up more frequently than others at the practice, so when I was bathing a dog, and a surgery came up they called me to the surgery suite to assist.
I was ready (mentally). Remove street clothes, shoes; assist the vet with donning the gown, don a gown yourself, assist the vet with donning gloves, don gloves yourself. Hair nets, washing hands, only one person fetching supplies (that would probably be me). Wet packs. Spay packs. How to fold drapes.
When I got out there, I was directed to get some gloves (as if it was obvious) by a vet who wore… nothing. No cap, no gown, no mask. As he stood waiting on me I hurriedly washed my hands in a sink I hoped I could (I hadn’t been shown how I could wash my hands yet and there was no soap – I used cleaning solution) and I finally located the gloves (simple nitrile or latex ones) and guessed my size and fearfully entered the surgery suite covered in germs, long hair swinging free (in a braid). There was no circulating nurse, just a vet-in training, a vet assistant the vet-vet and me standing around a sleeping cat.
I could feel the book being mentally thrown out the window. The rest of my time there, surgery practice was irreconcilable with what I’d learned and I made several rookie mistakes just by not being able to see the similarities between what I knew and their practices.
(It wasn’t until near the end of my externship that I saw a surgery being done by a visiting vet the way I’d heard of in my textbook. My brother had been right – there was a difference – a huge one! – between minor, routine surgery and major surgery. I was only prepared for major surgery.)
I stood beside the other assistant. The vet-in-training, in between directives to the other vet assistant, said to me “See how she’s holding it? Okay!” and then when she went on to the next paw said, “Now you do it!” and the vet assistant willingly gave me her place. (I felt bad for encroaching on someone else’s training). The other VA slipped out of the room, and I held the paw as I’d seen done.
Now, I was getting up at 6am for being at the clinic by 7:30, I think. I wasn’t always hungry, and on this day like several others, I’d skipped breakfast.
It took 3 claws, but I got the idea and was able to understand what the vet-in-training required and the angles required and we quickly worked through the rest of the other ones.
Here’s the setting:
I’m standing over a warm, furry, cat in that odd and flaccid state of complete muscular limpness from the anesthesia. I’m holding it’s paw, and extending its claws one by one, so the vet can do her job.
Which is to take the cauterizer and remove the first bone. I know all of that (though a cauterizer like this also never featured in my textbook).
Cauterizer = good. No blood = good. Smell of burning, flesh, fur, and bone? = decidedly not.
The room is lit up brightly with fluorescent lights, the cauterizer emits radio signals, so that every time she uses it the radio playing in the background plays static only, and there is no air movement in that room.
I try not to breath the fumes, but eventually when I say “Sod that, I should be breathing” my body feels the air and says “that’s not a good idea” and refuses it. I’m short and holding this kitty’s paw in the air, perfectly, completely still, out on the other side of a table that is slightly higher than my waist. Oh, and also she said “Keep your fingers out of the way so I don’t burn them. That’s what the gloves are for. They won’t really protect your fingers, but it’s something.” So it was my dual responsiblity to hold as much paw pad, and fur (which on the paws are reeeally short) away from the cauterizer and to keep my fingers away from the cauterizer – simultaneously.
In other words, lots of effort, very little breathing, fetid air, and exertion and panic to do the right thing while smoke curls up from a living paw and the radio and lights beam down ennui.
I started to feel the symptoms. I started to lose my sight. “I’m sorry. I um, I um, I have to go.”
I lost. In my mind I failed, but I realized it would be much worse for the vet-in-training, and the cat if I didn’t admit defeat.
But the vet-in-training said, “Go! Go!” and I stripped off my gloves as I’d been taught, walked quickly to the break room, squatted (getting a heavy bag and coat-laden chair out was much too much effort and a full admission of defeat) and felt gravity center returning, drank some water, and ate some grapes to combat the shakiness I felt. I’d beg low blood sugar and no breakfast. I’d also return. Something in me felt like she wanted me to give it another shot.
I gathered more gravity to my middle, ate another few grapes and chugged some water, washed my hands donned gloves and poked my head in.
The replacement vet assistant nodded at me, the vet-in-training said, “You good? Want to give it a go?” and the VA and I switched.
I made it through (and breathed this time) as the vet-in-training told me what I didn’t know.
“This is actually one of the hardest surgeries to start out on, actually just, one of the hardest.”
She referenced the smell of the cauterizer, and I also thought, “the effect it has on the radio is also big” and I told her I didn’t have breakfast and she adjured me to always eat breakfast before I came in, that she used to have the same thing, but. always. eat. breakfast.
On her instructions, I did.
That time I made it through 5 claws in 2 stints.
Being a common minor surgery I was called up for it a few times, and each time battled this great enemy of greying out or whatever it is. I also assisted in a couple spays and neuters. I did not encounter the same problem with assisting in those surgeries.
One time I was called to help a different vet-in-training who went very much slower, so even though I knew I could make it through 12 claws, it wasn’t at that pace.
But feeling like the responsible one because I knew how to hold, and this was her first time doing a declaw like this, I managed to stay – through deep inhalations, and using the secret weapon of a perfumed scrub sleeve.
At home, the smell of the cauterizer haunted me. I’d be going about my business, or trying to fall asleep and all of a sudden smell its burning fetor just randomly as if I was still in the suite.
I used a friend’s body sprays on my pillow to psyche myself into good thoughts through the night. The power of the cauterizer was odd and not one I was prepared for or could even explain.
I had one more chance to get through a declaw without incident, and I hadn’t yet discovered my greatest need, which was to keep one arm on the table (which is hard to do without also putting your arm on the cat and making breathing difficult for them. That was the key to keeping me sane and able to go on. Otherwise I was standing and suspended both arms in the air, trying to breathe shallowly and sufficiently, while holding everything perfectly, perfectly still.
But I had one more chance to not be the one who had to vacate the room and one more chance to get all the way through a declaw procedure (maybe I didn’t make it with the other vet-in-training, or maybe it wasn’t the same because it was front paws only).
I had eaten breakfast, preloaded my bloodstream with grapes, and my belly with water. I had gloves, and everything was ready for our last hurah.
The cat was going to receive a total declaw. We had 4 paws to declaw and we set ourselves up and began. “Did you eat breakfast?” she checked before we began, and I assured her I had. A big one, too.
I loved working with this vet in training. She’d tell me stories as we worked through the repetitious and mind-blurning work and as I struggled for life. She’d check in every so often and ask if I was good and I pulled myself from the brink a couple times.
We were very close to the end, when two claws decided to bleed. She tried to find the source, and I felt myself going downhill fast. Blood doesn’t bother me, but something did, and I got through one of the bleeders, and was glad I’d risen to a new unforeseen difficulty and had helped the vet through the danger, even with my little training.
But the last, the very last claw, bled, too. And finding the source was taking a while. One moment, I thought I was good, the next I felt the world go sideways. I eeked out our assigned emergency phrase, and she said, “Go go go!” and I gave my brain the signal.
I gave my brain the signal.
I g… But there was a table blocking my path. A surgery table on wheels. I had gloves on, bloody, hairy gloves on. – Could I touch it? No. But I had to get out.
But there are rules. The vet tried to move it and next thing I know, my legs are rubber, and I’m sitting on the floor. Hands up, so I don’t touch anything, and so when I recover I can go right back to help her.
Well, none of that was what the vet-in-training was thinking. “SHE FAINTED!” I heard yelled out to the main room, “GET SOME WATER!” Another vet assistant came in with a dixie cup of water which I gratefully sipped, and the other assistant assisted the vet-in-training with the final claw and sewing up and bandaging of the foot as I made my way out.
I felt bad. Bad for letting the vet-in-training down, bad that my favorite super-capable vet assistant had to take my place, bad that I couldn’t get out in time so the vet-in-training didn’t have to see that. But mostly bad for letting everyone down so terribly.
That lunch, I burst in the door and told my family the news. I kind of thought, “Isn’t that something you don’t want to share?” but I felt like I couldn’t keep it to myself, that it was definitely something to share with my family. “I almost fainted!” and repeated the story which held much, “What?” “Really?!” “How?” for them, and by the time I’d finished I felt better. They treated me like I’d given a valiant try and anyone would have done it. My brother got a kick out of me having protected my gloves.
The next day I arrived to overhear the vet-in-training retelling the story too.
Only hers was slightly different.
In hers, I had full-out fainted, and she had had to catch me. I knew that wasn’t the case, because I sat very carefully cross-legged on the floor behind that pesky table out of reach from her, but I smiled and let her tell it her way. And just responded in the positive to their questions to me. I tried to correct a few things, but the vet-in-training was convinced it was a full-out faint. So, I let it be.
I didn’t get another chance to redeem myself, but what I learned was nobody really seemed sore about it. For that I was glad.
I had precious few chances to prove myself there. I let a partially anesthesized cat jump off a table, I dropped a dog bowl on a vet assistants head, I was accused of being bitten, I was berated for wasting product, and once discovered at lunch that my lips had reacted with a balm and all day I’d been working front desk with white lips…
The fact that none of this seemed to bother my coworkers deep-down was pretty amazing. But not amazing enough to make me stay.
I wanted to. I loved the comraderie, the daily battles, and the familial feel of the workplace. But with mild hypoglycemia, and a general innate clumsiness, I was uncomfortable working anything but front desk, and by the time I got offered a job, I was already employed elsewhere.
So 10 more people got shifted into the “I used to know” column of life that I don’t understand, but I know I’ll treasure those memories forever. The time a coworker and I raced to save dead deer having been told it might be an alive dog. The time I fetched a file and nearly ran into the person going back to fetch it and her saying, “Can we keep her?”. The feeling of the time I worked through lunch for 3 days in a row and we all rushed to complete my externship. The last day of that string, the last day of my externship was from 7-9pm and we saw the first emergency of the whole 3 months I’d been there. There were 3 emergencies in that one night, four that day, involving 5-7 animals in the last 5 hours. We all went home exhausted that night into the pitch black darkness. That same night when we had a respite and we tried to clean the charcoal from the floor and every surface of the main room, 1/2 of us being covered with charcoal ourselves. The vet assistant just looked up at us from her mopping and said “This isn’t going to work” and we all burst into laughing as we saw charcoal footprints on a freshly mopped floor that led right to her as she mopped up more charcoal.
These and several others are imprinted into my memory like the first play I did, the first time I saw my life-long friends, the first time I learned how to play basketball for real, the feel and the time I visited some of the most remote and favorite destinations, the respite and hard cookies of the hotel breakroom when I stayed there for 2 weeks. The oddest things get imprinted into my brain, really.
And my family and I will still nod at me when we see someone faint in a movie. 😄 Even though I didn’t, it’s like a nod to the experience not one of us had ever come close to before.
Have you ever fainted? What circumstances brought it on?
What are some things that are imprinted on your brain?