Thirty years ago today, I was lying awake in a hospital bed, alone in a semi-private room, listening to someone screaming on the ward, scared out of my tiny mind. It was the wee hours of a Sunday. On the Saturday I had been with my family at Canada’s Wonderland. As the weather went from cold and rainy to hot and beating-down sunny — with not a spot of shade anywhere — I went from my usual teenage energetic self to feeling dizzy and sick. I was being bounced between parents when I found myself alone on one of the crowded, shadeless paths. Suddenly, the concrete was rushing up at me. I had one thought: I’m alone, I can’t hit that concrete face first, else I’m totally screwed. I stopped myself mid-faint. I stood there, bent double, staring at the concrete, sensing the crowds flowing round me on either side. Not one person stopped to ask me if I was OK. So I knew that I had to get myself vertical again and find my mother and Aunt, who I figured were closer than my father and Uncle. I did. I have no idea how. And within minutes I was horizontal on a bed in the kids’ lost and found area and soon after that I was in the ambulance area, having my blood pressure taken. Zero. And awhile after that, after Mr. Macho Male ambulance driver and my father argued over which hospital to take me to and my father prevailed, I was strapped to a stretcher in the ambulance under a thermal blanket. In those days, ambulance attendants were not paramedics and could not put in IVs to boost my blood pressure up from zero. I was frozen. I was so cold, I started shivering and wondering why they were so chintzy with the blankets and why it couldn’t go all the way up to my chin. I was horrified when the ambulance attendant, sweat dripping down her face, asked me if she could open the window. The ambulance had no air conditioning, and the June sun made the air inside stifling as Mr. Macho Male ambulance attendant decided if he couldn’t go to the hospital he wanted to, he’d just sit on the 401 and make no move to try and get through the traffic faster, even when the attendant with me asked him to do so. My mother beat him to the hospital in our car.
It wasn’t till late Sunday morning that I was able to stand and only when hanging onto a nurse and the IV pole. My blood pressure remained quite low that entire summer. And me and salt tablets and salted lemonade and espresso became best buds. It wasn’t till years later, I asked myself: why did God save my sorry ass?
In my adolescent arrogance, I thought I had such phenomenal willpower that I could stop a faint. But when one’s blood pressure drops to zero, the body is going to get itself horizontal fast, and the conscious mind usually has no say in the matter. So how exactly did I stop myself?
I read in Harrison’s a few months later that syncope can be fatal. If I had done a face plant on the concrete, I probably would’ve died because of my blood pressure dropping faster than a stone, because of not being anywhere near my family, because no one in those crowds around me was too bothered about helping a teen in distress, and because I would’ve been taken to a hospital, alone, where the care would not have been what I received at TGH. I would’ve been alone because I had no ID on me. Being out cold, I couldn’t have told anyone who I was or who I was with, and it would’ve been extremely difficult to find my family. And given how rapidly my body temperature dropped on such a sweltering afternoon, I’m absolutely amazed I was still conscious by the time we got to the hospital, even if I was a tad delusional in thinking it a freezing day.
So in the wee hours of this morning with a lead blanket of sharp pain covering my skull and driving down my neck and a clamp of pain squeezing my temples and neither of those being anywhere near the level of the relentless emotional pain I’ve experienced the last 11 years, which always increases just as I think things are getting better, I wonder: why did God save my sorry ass for this? Death that day would’ve been merciful.