Monday, July 16, 2012

That Syncope, That Saturday (Part 2)

If you didn't read the first installment of this story, the following will make no sense. You can read Part 1 here.

Looking back on last Saturday’s events, I keep asking myself, “Scott, why didn’t you get yourself the heck out of that packed room? Why on earth did you stay?”

The truth is I waited too long for that to be possible. Had I been more proactive after the first onslaught of vertigo, I might have been able to walk gingerly to the door—find help, or a private place to lie down. 

But there I was, completely struck down, in front of half the mothers in the neighborhood.

In the last post, I used the word “collapsed.” But I should clarify. I never actually came crashing down on the floor like a sack of potatoes. It was more of an incremental collapse—like the last scene in Terminator, where the cyborg is systematically dismembered down to a torso that will not die. I went from bending over with my hands on my knees, to squatting, to kneeling, to sitting, to lying down—all while the sea of barbells continued to go up and down all around me.

My eyesight came and went, as did the audibility of the music. I kept lifting my water bottle to my mouth, but the thought of drinking made my nausea worse. I had the reflexes of a wet vegetable, and was trying to give the appearance of a prize fighter.

As I lay there on my back with my knees bent, a woman broke into my tiny tunnel vision. I think she had shoulder-length curly brown hair and was wearing a purple polo.

“Hi, I’m one of the wellness workers in the class today. Here, put this on the back of your neck.” She handed me a white gym towel that felt like it had been steeping in a bucket of ice water all night. “And you really should not be lying down. You need to sit up. I’ll be back with a chair for you.”

Oh, fabulous. A chair.

I think she thought I was overheated, but I was actually overcome by the spinning ceiling over my head. I knew that lying down was best. But like a good patient, I went ahead and took her advice. She came back with the chair, plopped it in my tiny 6 ft. square, and helped me up into it.

Sitting. Did. Not. Help.

As I sat in the chair with that icy towel over my head (in the middle of the front row of a workout room full of people), my ears started ringing like a 747 was in the room. My field of vision shrunk to pinhole size. I wanted a trash can to throw up in. All I could do was moan. And I really moaned, loudly. The driving bass music was so loud that it drowned out my moaning (thank goodness).

After about 5 minutes of feeling like I was going to die in that chair, the instructor turned on some kind of new age dreamy music for the 5-minute cool down. “Oh crap,” I thought. “This is going to put me completely out.”

I remember leaning forward, and kind of sideways, in the chair. I came SO close to falling out of it. I must have looked like a complete stooge with a white towel over my head, all hunched over. But I never fell out of it.

The class ended, and the room cleared of all those poor people whose routines were probably ruined by my whole ordeal. Joy, along with the instructor and the "wellness" worker (who had not made me well), came over to me with concerned looks.

The wellness worker started violently beating 2 ice packs on the wood floor to activate them. She put one on the back of my neck and one on my forehead. I’m telling you, the ice did not help at all.

They all helped lower me back down onto the floor (what a relief) and elevated my feet on my riser. This was good. They took my pulse. 57. They took my blood pressure. 90s over 60s. That was low for me.

Then the wellness ice pack princess said, “Normally, the recovery time doesn’t take this long. Since it’s taking you a while to come out of this, we’re going to go ahead and call the squad and have them check you out. They’ll want to take you to the hospital. Is that OK?”


In what seemed like a couple hundred seconds, two men in midnight blue clothes, and a couple of firemen wearing grimy yellow coats with glow-in-the-dark stripes and huge boots came lumbering across the fitness room floor with a gurney in tow. They took my blood pressure again, which by then was more like 100 over 60s, up a little. They listened to my heart. They pricked my finger; my sugar was 101.

I think all self-respecting ambulance drivers feel a strong obligation to transport the afflicted, even if they check out OK. So in my weakened condition, I decided not to fight them. They helped me onto the gurney and wheeled me out of the fitness room.

It was raining for the first time in weeks, as I rode out on that gurney for the first time in my life.

I lay still in the ambulance, staring at the ceiling and feeling better with each mile. I thought about all of those for whom that ceiling—the oxygen ports, the handles and the gauges—might have been the last thing they ever saw. I thanked God that on my first ride in an ambulance, I was neither in pain nor bleeding. He had been so gracious. This was going to be OK.

They wheeled me to Room 9, where I stayed for 2 or 3 hours while doctors gave me IV fluids, examined me and performed several tests—all of which came back completely normal. I had fallen into the 30% category of unexplainable syncope (pun intended).

At about 1pm, I signed my discharge papers, got up and walked out of the ER with Joy. The rain had stopped, and the sun was shining again. I was thankful to be alive after that syncope, that Saturday.

So if anyone ever tries to persuade you to go to Body Pump, don’t feel bad about saying no. Just tell them you’d rather not wind up in the hospital like someone you know.


  1. Great story-telling, Scott. And I am so very sorry! Has the vertigo subsided by now? When mine hits, it lasts (in a mild form) for several weeks. Generally, I can push through it, if I get up and down slowly and concentrate on walking straight. There was no way you could push through this one - but you gave it a good try!

    1. Yes - For me, vertigo usually behaves like a big cannonball splash, with gradually decreasing ripples over a period of days, or weeks. It never leaves all at once, like you describe. I'm in the outer ripples now. It only hits me sometimes when I roll over too fast in bed.

  2. Good to hear you are OK! Hope next time you try Body Pump you can make it through the whole class in one piece. :)

  3. A note to help you salvage some self esteem after this experience: we were swapping medical horror stories tonight with some EMT friends of ours, and we shared your story with them. Our friend, a 50 year old ex-Marine who is in incredible shape and works out every day himself, says they get more calls to the gym for Body Pump and similar classes than any other type of injury or class. He and other EMTs/paramedics have had many conversations with gym owners and trainers asking them to warn participants who suffer from cardiac conditions and vertigo to choose other classes, or even to eliminate these classes entirely. Some people aren't as lucky as you - there have even been fatalities related to these type of courses. Glad you are okay - and you are definitely not alone for having struggled with syncope!

    1. That is crazy, Genevieve! Good to know I'm not alone! I was thinking about going back, but this makes me wonder if I'm just not cut out for all the vertical up and down. How sad to know that some couldn't recover. I am very thankful that I walked out of the hospital.

  4. This happened to me the other day while working out at home in the terrace outside on a humid Saturday morning... I haven't worked out in like two weeks and started doing some kickboxing videos, and at almost the end I felt I was going to pass out, or what you call vertigo, where your sight goes pitch dark, the room is spinning but you can't see it, and seating makes it worst. Once I laid down and put up my feet, I was able to get up. It lasted like 10 mins but it felt like forever. I was working out while the kids watched cartoons and my husband was sleeping so no one could come to my rescue. I felt I was not going to live to tell it. It was that bad. In my case, I have had low hemogoblin levels which means if it is too low, not enough oxygen gets to your brain, particularly when you are dehydrated or doing a lot of exercise (heat + sweat). Went to the doctor a couple of days after and indeed, my hemogoblin, iron levels, etc were below the low limit. Hope you are not anemic as I am and you can continue doing exercise regularly with Joy. Take care and keep writing. Love your postings. God bless.

    1. Wow, I'm glad you're OK, and were able to get some answers. Being alone must have been really scary. And yes, you do feel like you're in a time warp, and you're going to die; I can totally relate to that feeling. Thanks for reading, and God bless!

  5. Well, that's enough to put me off exercise for another decade. So glad you're alright.

    One question though, did you do something to upset Joy before she invited you to the class? ;)

    1. Michael, no :-) ... her invitation was completely innocent. I don't think she would have ever invited me had she known what would happen.

  6. Oh man, you gotta love it when people try to "help" having no idea what's going on. Glad to see it ended up okay, and I love your perspective on the ambulance ride.

  7. I'm totally not laughing at you even though I'm slightly glad I'm not alone in public humiliation this month. I went to the doctors office just to get some antibiotics for Strep - in and out in 15 minutes, right? I ended up blacking out in the waiting room fortunately into my husband's arms. When I came to they put me in a wheelchair and all I could think of to ask was, "Are there people here watching this because I can walk?" No, I totally couldn't walk and I have no idea where I got that stroke of vanity. Some meds and IV fluids and a few hours later and I was home to be pampered for the weekend.
    It was a family adventure. I'm glad you're ok.

    1. Wow ... glad you're OK, too, Heather! And good to know I'm not alone. :-) Thanks for stopping by!


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