A cold November day in one of London’s many hospitals. Kate, a young blonde nurse, takes me in to a cubicle sectioned off by a thin blue curtain. I sit down on a hard plastic chair as she chirps away, presumably to distract me from the approaching activity. It’s her first day working here and she seems a little nervous.
Me (smiling): Just so you know, I’ll faint.
Kate (in a heavy South African accent): Oh, are you sure?
Me: Yes, I always faint when I have a blood test. I often faint when I get a needle, but I always faint when blood is taken.
Kate (slightly apprehensive but maintaining her chirpiness): Oh, okay. Well just relax and take a deep breath and I’ll try to be as gentle as possible.
The needle goes in and after a few seconds I feel the familiar woozy rush.
Me: I’m going to faint now.
Kate: Are you sure?
I wake up.
I feel clammy and damp from head to toe. My hair is sticking to my face. A woman in her late-fifties is standing in front of me, Kate at her side.
Woman: Hello dear. You’re in hospital. I’m the nurse in charge. Kate just tried to take some blood from you, but when she did you fainted and you actually had a bit of a fit. Your eyes rolled back and you were gurgling …
She wants me to say something, but I’m embarrassed so I just look at her blankly until she continues.
Woman: You also had a bit of an accident… you’ve unfortunately wet yourself.
With slow horror, it dawns on me that the damp feeling on the seat isn’t sweat. I’m mortified.
Woman: Kate, get her some water. Do you feel okay?
I shake my head. The truth is I feel physically fine, but I’m so excruciatingly embarrassed that I can’t bring myself to speak. I need a moment to regain my composure. This is horrendous.
Thankfully I’m wearing black trousers – if I’d been in a light summer dress this would have been worse. Unfortunately the failed test means I have to go home and come back another day. The humiliation isn’t over as I realise that today I’M going to be the person on the bus smelling of urine.
That was in 2001. Eleven years later, on Friday 16 November 2012, and I’m in another London hospital about to have an MRI scan. An injection is required.
Me (commencing a monologue I’ve repeated many times): Just so you know, I’ll faint. And I might have a fit. That’s happened before and I wet myself so I need to let you know it’s a possibility. I’m okay most of the time though, so I’m likely to be fine. I’m sorry to be a problem.
The nurse isn’t taking any chances and brings in two other members of staff (the “reserves” for special cases …) and takes me to a room so I’m not in the open area. One of the “reserves” takes over as she’s apparently the best. She talks me through the process far too much (hearing “I’ve got a good vein here!” isn’t helpful) and cheerfully announces when it’s over. She’s pleased the procedure was successful and turns to complete her paperwork.
With her back to me, I faint.
God. Damn. It.