On the morning of the second day of my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher decided to begin class by sharing with us a brief anecdote about the unfortunate end to her summer. A synopsis of her story: Paying little regard to the cautionary ‘wet floor’ signs in the school’s bathroom, she slipped and fell. Her head hit the ground with enough impact to push her hair clip into her scalp, requiring a visit to the hospital and some stitches.
As she described her ill-fated bathroom break, I began to feel a little flushed myself. I guess my affliction was apparent because my teacher turned to me and asked, “Hilary, you look a little pale. Do you want to get some water?” I accepted the offer and after that, the last thing I remember is walking out of the classroom door.
Later retold to me by my classmates, I had walked up the handicap ramp, fainted, and hit my head on the side railing. “Bang, thump!’ resonated inside the classroom, encouraging a classmate to inquire, “Should I go check on Hilary?” He returned a millisecond later to announce, “Umm…Hilary passed out.”
I was wheel-chaired to the school clinic, not by my best friend who was in the class at the time, but by a loud-mouthed girl who volunteered to chaperone solely to get a pass to leave class. After the visit to the clinic, came a ride in an ambulance, and admittance to the hospital.
In my hospital bed I regained consciousness, but with a delayed memory that could only recall events from two weeks prior. Some IVs and attention later, the diagnosis was vasovagal syncope, a fainting attack resulting in a minor concussion. The fainting was triggered by a malfunction in the sections of my nervous system that regulates my heart rate and blood pressure, more easily explained as an overly sympathetic imagination, which could not withstand the painful story my teacher was describing to the class. After the neurological reaction rendered me unconscious, the minor concussion was inflicted when my head collided with a very sturdy metal railing.
It took about a day for me to regain my memory, though I was prescribed bed rest for the rest of the week, earning me a week off from school and the reputation as ‘the girl who fainted.’ Friends sent me some ‘Get Well’ paraphernalia including balloons, flowers, and a card with heartfelt messages such as, “Don’t die, Hilary,” or “What happened to you?”
I kept the card my classmates wrote to me in the Fall of 2004 and just came upon it while searching my photo box. I still don’t recall the actual episode—probably due to the fact that I was unconscious during it—but I have heard the tale countless times; it even made its way into that teacher’s commencement speech at my graduation ceremony. My friends have shared this story so often that even though I don’t fully remember it, I can recite the experience flawlessly.
It’s interesting to think that a brief anecdote told properly—in this case by my English teacher—can have such a powerful effect as to demand immediate medical attention and provide decades of amusement. A story that is able to not only survive, but also breed solely through word-of-mouth, is a true testament to the power of storytelling.