What I Remember
On Tuesday I lost consciousness, control, and my lunch. I had had lunch with my friends Buddy and Cindy, who had driven down to the island on a rare day off to spend it with me at the beach. They’d had a rough morning already, had a hard time getting out of home, and we’d finally gotten together at 3 pm at the Mar Vista. They’d gotten a table in shade near a fan, where we could easily see the water. Not very hungry, but feeling celebratory, I ate a strange meal of nachos and a margarita. I drank only half the Margarita, though, and couldn’t seem to make it taste right no matter how much lime I added.
At the end of the meal I happened to be talking about my mother and how dehydrated she gets, how if I don’t follow her around with a glass of soft drinks or clear liquids she will drink only tea and wine all day, and then she gets weak and dizzy and sick, and sometimes has to go to the hospital because she’s so dehydrated.
At the end of a long, leisurely meal, when it was time to leave, I stood up and felt dizzy. I took a few steps but it seemed dark and I couldn’t walk properly. Feeling weak and strange and embarrassed, I leaned on the table briefly and then I had to sit down again. I put my head on my arms on the table and from a long way away I heard my friends asking if I was okay. I think I said, “I’m hot, very hot.” I think someone told me to take deep breaths. I and took some deep breath I and lifted my head off the table and asked if I could have the glass of water in front of Cindy. She said “It’s not very cold; Buddy’s has more ice in it.”
I said “I’m not going to drink it.” I got the big glass and leaned back in my chair to let my hair fall down over the backrest. As I did in Israel on the day when I walked many miles in the sun along the beach, I poured the water over my head. In Israel, doing that same thing repeatedly at all the little water fountains along the beach made it possible for me to walk back to my hotel, But this time I didn’t even feel the water. It made no difference at all. I just sat there for a few minutes with a black fog in my mind, and then took more deep breaths and looked up again and said, “Ladies room. I’ll splash myself with cool water.” Buddy said, “Cindy, if you want to help Gillian I’ll carry the purses.”
I said, “They won’t go with your outfit.”
He said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about.”
I started walking in the general direction of the restaurant but it seemed dark I couldn’t see very well and I couldn’t remember where the ladies’ room was. I don’t recall how it happened but I sat down again, at a table under the awning, and after that my memories are fragmented.
I felt embarrassed at not be able to walk normally and having to hold up my friends. I put my head on my arms and rested. People were saying, “ Are you okay?” I felt dizzy. I pulled my long skirt up to try to cool my legs. Someone said, “It’s okay.” A man with black hair stood in front of me. He seemed very interested in my illness. He asked my name and address, which I gave him carefully but doubtfully; I always have trouble remembering the street number of my house and often get it wrong. I couldn’t seem to sit up properly. I was extremely hot. I asked if I could have a cold cloth. There seemed to be movement around and behind me. I wanted to rest my head in my arms but sometimes someone stopped me. There were people eating lunch at tables under the trees. I felt very thirsty. The man with black hair asked what I’d eaten and I said nachos and half a margarita. He wrote that down. Someone brought me a cold cloth. I put it to my face. There were more cloths on the table, folded.
There two big bags of ice. Someone said one was for my chest and one for my neck. One lay on the gray slate table. I felt very sick; sometimes I tried to lean forward to make the nausea stop. Someone said something about CMS. I didn’t know what that meant. I covered my eyes and leaned on my arms on the table. I sat up. I felt very sick. Someone moved my hand and skirt down. I wanted to lean back but someone kept stopping me. There were strong people behind me. People seemed to be moving my limbs around. I wanted to get cool. I saw Cindy’s face. She was sitting down on my right and she looked extremely worried.
Someone held the bag of ice on my neck at the back; it didn’t feel cold but it felt solid and comforting. Someone said something about “CMS.” I asked for a drink of water but the man with black hair said no. He said something else I didn’t understand. Someone said, “I don’t like the look of this.”
I was seeing a scene, perhaps in California, with many, many people in it and much activity going on. A lot of people were trying to do something important. I was involved and very interested in story. The color red was there. I was sitting up at the Mar Vista and feeling sick. I said, “Oh, I was dreaming!” Cindy said no, that’s not what had happened.
I needed to vomit. I held a cool cloth up. Someone said, “Do you feel sick?” There was no cup or bowl or anything. I didn’t want to vomit on the table so I moved my head to the side and vomited a long way down to the floor. I threw up three or four times. I thought, “I will never eat nachos again.” Someone said, “Get a bucket” and a black man who seemed to work in the kitchen put a gray dish bowl under where I was vomiting. I apologized to him. I don’t think he heard me. He kept a good distance. I was glad that we’d tipped well.
I was appalled to be vomiting within sight and earshot of people who were trying to have a civilized afternoon drink at the Mar Vista. I looked at one table to see the people were disgusted but they seemed to be looking away and I was glad but also horrified. I said, “I’m sorry.” Cindy said, “Would you stop apologizing!” which seemed very funny although I don’t think I laughed. Someone said the EMS was coming. I thought maybe that was an ambulance.
A lot of people were there, mostly behind me. People were talking about things I didn’t understand. A man in a dark blue uniform was right in front of me. He seemed to be where the table had been. Someone asked if Buddy was my husband, and I said, “I wish.” Buddy was a solid good presence behind me, holding ice on my neck. Someone asked my name. Someone was taking my pulse. A plump black man with curly hair leaned over from the right and said, “Now, I need to put these on your legs; don’t slap me,” and I wanted to tell him that of course I wouldn’t slap him. I knew he was helping me. Someone said, “This will sting” and there was a sting on my right side. I knew that several people were helping me. I felt dim and sleepy although not as bad as before I’d vomited. There were people in blue and people talking to me and asking questions. Buddy said, “Her eyes rolled up in her head and she went rigid.”
One man in a blue uniform kept talking to me. He said things I didn’t understand. There seemed to be a lot of numbers and acronyms and jargon in what he was saying. Someone asked me if I suffered from many different things, if I took any medication, what I’d had to eat and drink. I kept saying no, not asthmatic diabetic epileptic nothing, I have nothing wrong with me except a little overweight, I only had half the margarita, I’m not drunk. I live here; I’m not a tourist. I’m sorry. Someone did something to my left hand that hurt. There were a lot of numbers being spoken and people moving things around my body. I was very hot.
The man in the uniform said he’d like to do some more tests in the ambulance where it was cooler asked if I would consent. He and someone else were pushing me into the ambulance on a stretcher. I was impressed by the size of the space. The man who had been talking to me stayed with me and he was reaching around, getting things, putting things on me and around me; more tabs and sticky things I didn’t recognize. There were cords and lines and things in both arms and hands. I knew that they’d put things like that on my mother sometimes in hospital. I was glad to lie there in the coolness and be helped. People kept asking me if I was okay, was I dizzy or nauseous. I said yes.
The man kept looking at me and at the same time he was reaching for things and saying things that I didn’t understand, things like, “Run that Isis under the Frankenthaler at six and a half.” “Why isn’t the Oh four seven C in the black?” He said something about the B shift. He told me that the other man in the ambulance was on the B shift. He asked how I was feeling and I said better. He said to tell him if I got too cold to tell him. That seemed unlikely. A man apologized for putting something under my shirt. The man who kept looking at my face said things like, “I want the AKG at forty-eleven on half piece.”
He recommended that I go to Blake. I asked him to please get my cell phone from my bag and to please ask my friends to go back to my house. Someone tossed my bag into the ambulance. Someone said my friends were going to follow up to the hospital. I said, they were silly. He said there was a lot of that going around.
He told me it was nearly my birthday. He said we were the same age. He told me he had a pacemaker. He said my sugar was very low. I said I didn’t know what that meant. The ambulance was moving. Someone put a line with oxygen coming out of it under my nose. The man said it would help me cool down and feel better. He said something else was a different number. He pointed to a small plastic bag of clear liquid and said he was giving me saline and sugar. He said a lot about the mix of water and sugar, and using words I didn’t know. I told him I didn’t understand. I had the impression that he wanted to keep me awake. I breathed the oxygen. It smelled odd. It didn’t seem to help cool me down.
The sleeveless pink cotton shirt I was wearing felt like a suit of armor. My bra was constricting my chest. The ambulance was going to Blake, he said. The man kept complaining about the driving. He said we were going over a lot of bumps. I didn’t feel any bumps. I felt weak and I needed badly to urinate. The man who was my age and had a pacemaker asked if I knew the date. I told him it was the 8th of July, the day before Nic’s birthday, the day Buddy and Cindy were coming to visit. He asked me if I knew what day it was. I said it was either Tuesday or Wednesday and he seemed to agree.
He told me I reminded him of someone he used to work with in Hillsborough County. I told him that I grew up there. He said something about my blood pressure going back down very low. He said my sugar was very low. I told him that I wanted to pee. He said that he had a special pan that he could put under me if I needed it.
Blake and Getting Better
I was lying on the stretcher in the ER at Blake. Someone asked if I felt sick and I did. Someone asked for a bucket. Someone handed me an emesis bowl. I knew what it was called from writing Mark’s autobiography. A man on my left said, “I’m Dr. Blend by the way.” He asked me some questions about what had happened. I told him I’d had lunch and then got very hot and very sick. I was put into a cubicle and the man in the dark blue uniform asked if I could move myself from the stretcher to the bed or if I needed help. People were attaching things to my legs and arms and chest. Someone apologized for something. I said I could move myself, and I hoped I could. He said, “Not yet, not yet.” He said gravity would help me. Then I leaned to my right and moved sideways slowly. I was proud that I kept my skirt from getting tangled. He said, “Good job.”
A lady came in and asked for my insurance details. A nurse put a blue gown on my lap. Someone said, “This will be a sharp sting.” There was a sting in my left hand and it hurt. Nurses came and went and asked me things and did things behind me. I felt sick. I asked if I could use the restroom. They said they’d bring a toilet in. The doctor complained about the IV stand. The nurse said they were all like that.
My shoes had come off and my feet were cold. People left me alone for a long time and then came back in and asked me things and did things. I asked if the nurse could please put something on my feet. The same doctor came and talked to me. He said they were doing tests. He said my blood pressure had been extremely low. He said something about my heart that I didn’t understand. I asked if I could use the toilet. They left me alone. Someone brought a toilet and said I could use it soon, but not yet. She said they needed a urine sample so not to throw the tissue in the potty. After a while they said I could get up and use it. They asked if I needed help and I said no.
Someone came and looked in the curtain while I was sitting on the toilet. I wasn’t able to pass any urine. She wanted to ask me about insurance. I said, “Can I just have a pee first?” She apologized and withdrew. After a long time, I passed a very small amount of liquid and got back into bed. The doctor came back and said something about the IV line not working. He took it apart and liquid went all down his shirt and pants and onto the bed. He said, “Now we know where it was stuck.” A nurse gave him a syringe and he plugged the syringe in and the needle in my left hand jumped and jabbed and it felt very cold. The doctor asked the nurse if she had anything. She gave him a paper clip. He clipped the bag of liquid to the lamp over me. I hoped it would not fall on my hand.
Someone said that my heart rate was better. The doctor left. The nurses left. The curtain was open and I saw people walking back and forth. The curtain was closed and I thought I heard Buddy just outside the curtain, saying, “It was clear that she wasn’t faking any symptoms,” and I was grateful.
I asked the nurse to let Buddy in. She went out. I found the bed uncomfortable. I wanted to sit up. I wanted to have a drink. The nurse came in and said that she could not find my friends. She left. I felt a great sense of sadness and loss. It was Nicole’s birthday in Australia. She was in Australia.
When someone asked for my next of kin I did not tell them my parents’ information. I told her my sister’s name and address. She looked up my sister’s name in my cell phone. She could not find my wallet. I asked her to hand me the phone and if I could take the clip off my finger and she said okay. I called Buddy. I said, “How are you? Are you here?” He said, “I’m in your living room! How are you?” He went into my filing cabinet for me and found the insurance details. I couldn’t hear him well on the phone. I asked if he had my wallet. He said he had my keys.
Everyone left and my hand hurt and I was weak but I knew where I was and that I was alone and that Nic was not there and I didn’t want to alarm my parents. I was glad that Buddy and Cindy were at my house and not at the hospital, but I was puzzled because I had heard Buddy. I felt tears in my eyes and on my cheeks. A nurse came in. She asked how I was. I said I was confused and I didn’t know what had happened. She said that was because I had passed out, and I didn’t know what had happened.
The doctor came back. I told him, “I feel very strange.” He said, “You’re in a strange place!” I said I’d been upset. He could see I’d been crying. He said, “The emotions…” he sighed. He talked about hormones and reference levels and age and bio-identicals. He said traditional medicine was 10 years behind. I didn’t know what he meant. I said Dr. Kosfeld was a good doctor. He said he knew him and he was a good doctor but a lot of doctors don’t know how to treat women for menopause. He said I should ask Dr. Kosfeld about it or ask him to send me to a gyno. He sat down and held my arm and told me about bio-identical hormones, how they have no side effects, how I shouldn’t be afraid of them. He told me the problems they could solve in women my age. I said they wouldn’t have helped me that day, with my fainting, and he said he wasn’t so sure; it might have helped. I asked him what problems they alleviated and he rattled off a list of things that plague me, including fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, depression, and more. I asked for his card and I told him I still wanted to try diet and exercise to lose weight but if it didn’t work by the end of the summer, I’d find out more about the hormones. I asked him for his card and I asked him if I could go home.
Someone gave me some papers and went over them with me. I didn’t understand most of it but they told me it was all written down. I’d had a “vasovagal reaction” they said. I asked why my blood sugar had been so low, what that meant, and the nurse said she didn’t know. She asked me to sign something saying that I’d received a copy of the paper and all my questions had been answered. I signed it. The doctor came in and said that the low blood sugar was a side effect of my body’s extreme low blood pressure.
A while later, the second or third time I asked, I was allowed to get dressed and go home. Buddy was waiting for me in a huge white van. I was very glad to see him. He said cheerfully, “No offense, but you’re looking a whole lot better than last time I saw you. Would you like some water?” I said yes I would, thank you. I heard about what he’d experienced: my going into convulsions, my eyes rolling back, his holding my arms when they started flailing before I went rigid. I thanked him again and again and felt I could never repay him for his solidity and his kindness. I felt very bad about his day off at the beach being spent in such a horrible way. He said something about “Divine appointments.” I believed him. While he was holding me so I didn’t hit anything or swallow my tongue, he said, “Cindy was clearly in prayer.”
If Buddy and Cindy hadn’t been there, if I’d collapsed like that alone on the beach or in my garden, I don’t know what would have happened. Maybe it would never have happened if I hadn’t met them for lunch that day or maybe it would have been much worse. But I am glad that they were there to help when I lost control.
What interests me most is the dream that I was having while unconscious. I wish I could remember it, but all I know is it was a heavy, crowded scene in black and white and many colors, including red, and that I was seeing it as if it were an animation. In it a lot of people were trying hard to achieve something in which I had a great interest. I don’t know if I was out of my body and seeing the scene from above or if I was just out of my mind and hallucinating an unrelated story. It ended abruptly and I was sorry.
It occurred to me as I was in the hospital that although this was the first time anything like this has happened to me, it’s probably not the last. I’m 53. From now on when something like this happens, I will have to admit that something like it has happened before. I now have lost control of myself, however briefly, and had to be helped.
Finally, this is what I’ve learnt: I will never eat nachos again.