The first time I ever fainted, it was immediately after getting a yellow fever vaccination.
This was in 1998. Our university nurse had offered, for the cost of the shot, to inoculate any student going on the Ecuador trip. Practically the whole class showed up at the same time and, because yellow fever is a vaccine, she thawed out just four at a time. I was second in line.
After I got my shot, I stood up and walked out into the waiting room. There was a girl in our class that had a terrible fear of needles and, on my way out, I slowed down to reassure her. I remember saying, “It’s really not bad at all, just a pinch. I am feeling a little dizzy, however…” Then, as I understand it, my eyes rolled up and I crumpled to the floor.
Always felt bad about that.
I came to just a few seconds later, but it felt like I was waking up from a long afternoon nap. It took me a while to understand that there were voices around me and another moment or two to understand what they were saying. The first sentence I could make out was, “Here, break this and put it under his nose!” Suddenly, I knew where I was and what had happened.
I didn’t want to smell the smelling salt! My eyes popped open and I exclaimed, “That’s okay! I’m all right!” But our school nurse was insistent and she persuaded me to take a little sniff.
I tried to get up after that, but she put her hand on my shoulder and gently, but firmly, forced me back down. “You’re white as a ghost and profusely sweating. You’re not going anywhere.” And then, because the live vaccines had to be used before they thawed completely, she went back to work. The next few students in line literally had to step over me because I had fainted in the doorway; she wouldn’t even let me roll off to the side.
I’d be much more embarrassed about what happened that day if two other students hadn’t also fainted. One made it back to the waiting area and sat down at the table where we were supposed to be watching each other for signs of lightheadedness. Unfortunately, they didn’t catch her in time and she fell forward and smacked her forehead on the table before sliding out of her chair. On the way down to the floor, she scratched her cheek pretty badly along the corner of a desk.
After that, the nurse scolded us about our low blood sugar and wouldn’t let anyone else get vaccinated without first eating breakfast.
(Update: I completely forgot that there was a student reporter there that day, taking pictures for the campus newspaper! I found some of them — not great, but proof enough! — while packing up my photo albums. I’ll add them to the end of this blog entry…)
Since that day, I’ve only ever lost consciousness one other time, after struggling with a prolonged queasy feeling resulting from an I.V. put into my arm by an oral surgeon… but that’s another story.
Now when I get vaccinations, I tell the person giving me the shot that I have a history of fainting. They seem appreciative – no one enjoys dealing with floppy, falling humans – and I get to lie down.
It’s weird. I guess there’s something to the whole “low blood sugar” thing, because I’ve never been afraid of needles, before or after these incidents. Which is good because Oksana and I having been getting more than our fare share of vaccinations lately.
Just before I went back to Ecuador last year, I decided to look at the yellow card tucked away with my passport. It just so happened that the yellow fever vaccination that knocked me out a decade before had just expired, along with the ever-popular TDAP. I need to renew both of them for that trip, but it got me thinking about what vaccinations Oksana and I might need for our upcoming world trip, as well.
Hoo boy! Surfing the CDC travel site, country-by-country, would have taken forever. I quickly realized that the only way to do it would be by region. I started writing things down. When I was done going through all the places we might like to visit, I had a big list of diseases I wanted to bring to our doctor.
Oksana and I went in to talk with her and we came out with a plan to get something like 10 vaccinations each. Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Combined Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (TDAP), Japanese Encephalitis, Meningococcal Meningitis, Polio, Pneumonia, not to mention inoculations against various Influenza strains. The only thing we turned down were the anti-malarials. I’ve yet to meet someone that hasn’t quit taking them because of the side effects.
Some of the vaccinations we signed up for, like Hep B with its series of three boosters over six months, are pretty brutal. Others, like typhoid’s 5 days of oral pills, are super easy. So far, we’ve been pretty lucky with our (non)reactions. We started up the vaccinations back in October and despite getting stabbed in each arm on two separate visits, the worst we’ve felt is the usual soreness associated with shots (the TDAP left a week-long, hardened lump of muscle in my upper arm, but it wasn’t actually that painful.) We probably won’t always be so fortunate. When I asked about Pneumovax, our doctor smiled and said, “Oh, that one’ll knock you out! You’ll need at least a day off.”
Yesterday was exactly six-months after our first series of shots, so it looks like it’s time to psych ourselves up for another go-around. Oksana is one shot behind me (she didn’t get the yellow fever vaccination when I did because she wasn’t going to Ecuador with me) so we’re heading in to the doctor’s office this afternoon to get her caught up.
Who knows? If I’m feeling up to it, I might also get me an order of Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine-4 to go…