(Please note that this post has been revised as of 10/12/2015)
I have talked about forests and hunting, but today, I am talking about a more fun topic—that is, if you are a psychopathic writing. Fainting can make for interesting scenes in our writing. Today, we are focusing on fainting caused by sickness, lack of nutrients, heat stroke, etc. Fortunately, I have never been knocked out or had someone press a rag with chloroform to my face, so I don’t know anything about that type of fainting 😉 However, I will briefly cover other types of fainting at the end of this post.
Originally, I wrote this post under the assumption that most fainting experiences are relatively similar. Yet, through the comments, I have discovered that fainting happens and feels differently depending on what causes the faint. However, here are four general rules to follow:
- Fainting is not a sudden feeling of cold nothingness and then blackness (see specific causes and stories below for more detail on this)
- Where your character lands can add additional injuries to the faint (Want to give your character a concussion, too? Missing teeth? How did your character land?)
- Recovering from fainting is slower than you think. As Brina puts it: “The point is, trying to push yourself after, will lead to fainting again. And again. And again.”
- Your character will have to deal with what caused the faint in the first place (Whether it was an emotional shock, hunger, dehydration, or something else, your character will still have to deal with what caused their faint after they wake up)
To elaborate on these points, I am including my personal experience with fainting and several testimonies of people who commented. I have corrected grammar and spelling in the comments copied here, but otherwise have used the commenter’s direct words. Now, I can’t testify for the medical accuracy of any of these stories, but I think they will be useful for us writers. Hopefully, you can scroll through these quickly and find the specific type of faint to use in your novel (or you can use mine as a general example.)
Fainting due to Anemia (lack of iron)/General Example (My experience):
Whenever I have fainted, I always feel like I have a fever first, and then I keep getting hotter and hotter until I feel like I am going to throw up. In addition, I feel really dizzy, and my vision completely fades to black, but I am still conscious and have complete control over my body. This is where most people would sit down, and then either their sight would slowly come back or they would pass out while sitting down. At this point, my hearing fades out, and I collapse shortly afterwards. (Yes, I should have sat down sooner, but I am stubborn.)
After I wake up, I feel very weak and sick (again, like I have a fever), and I think I threw up once. It takes me at least an hour before I feel like I can walk anywhere without someone supporting me, and a whole day (including a good night’s sleep) before I felt back to normal. However, I am functioning relatively normally after two or three hours.
Please note that many commenters have talked about similar experiences with only a couple variations. If you could like other details, you should consider reading the comments, but I consider my experience with fainting to be a good basis for most fictional faints.
Fainting due to Blood Loss (Commenter: Jeanette)
“I have once fainted due to blood loss. I had donated blood… and walked up a single flight of stairs. I felt very hot, winded and I started feeling dizzy. I have fainted before, so I knew to sit down, put my head between my knees and take deep breaths. I felt a bit better and then my neighbor comes out, sees me, and ask if I’m ok. I raised my head and said that I was not feeling well… [the next thing I remember was] dreaming something about going about daily chores, but my dream was interrupted by a pain in the back of my neck just below the skull. I opened my eyes and saw my neighbor inches from my face. I was profoundly confused…. I wanted to get up, but she pushed me down; I was too weak to fight her. From there on I spent 10 minutes lying on the floor drinking cola with a straw. My lips were blue, I was pale, and my hands were tingling. The paramedics came, and they got me sitting, talked to me, checked my stats, and so forth. After about 10 more minutes they follow me home and order me to spend the day on the couch.
“I had hit my head when I fainted and it took me 3 days before I could walk without feeling like puking. Another week before I felt almost like myself again. This is what happened when I fainted due to blood loss. I knew I was about to faint, but I lost the memory of actually fainting. Which resulted in a gap between feeling dizzy and waking up.”
(Please note that the results of Jeanette’s faint could be due to a concussion and not the blood loss.)
Fainting due to Head Trauma (Various commenters)
I am not including the comment here, but the experience of head trauma seems to be forgetting the events directly after passing out and relatively little pain when they passed out.
Fainting due to Pain/Fear of Pain (Commenter: kzgraphicdesigns)
“I have blacked out several times – and once was definitely from pain – I still don’t know what caused it, but I was in my room and my side seized up and I was in enough pain that I couldn’t breathe. Within seconds my vision went black, and I tried to make it to my bed to lie down. The next thing I knew I was on my back on the floor and very disoriented. (I thought I was waking up in the morning, and was trying to figure out why I had slept on the floor – and then it took a while to remember what day it was and what I had been doing…) What I remember most is how my mouth itched – and my lips were super tingly – similar feeling to when your foot has fallen asleep and is getting the pins-and-needles of ‘waking up’. The other time I came super close to blacking out from pain was when I took a good spill in gravel. Again, my vision went black and I couldn’t hear anything. I was determined not to black out so I took slow, deep breaths and just when I was on the edge of completely blacking out my vision slowly began to return. I was super shaky afterwards both times.”
(Please note that one commenter suggesting that people don’t truly pass out from pain but from something else. So I will leave this story here, and you as the writer can decide what to do.)
Fainting due to a Sedative (Commenter: Kat and Olorim)
Kat: “I had surgery last year and was in the hospital about five days. I was on pain killers most of the first three days. They injected dilaudid (probably misspelled that!) for the pain into my arm several times a day (into one of those tube thingies they insert). It felt both icy cold and hot at the same time, and almost like you could feel it rushing in your veins up your arm toward your brain. Then there would be like a “whooshing” feeling as it hit my head and I’d just go right straight out. It would be like just seconds from injection to “whoosh”. Like “fade to black” in the movies but really fast. I’d wake up like 5 minutes later except it would actually be hours. And I’d be thirsty and disoriented for half an hour or so. Same thing happens when you’re knocked with anesthesia for surgery.”
Olorim: “All I remember was that they gave me a shot and left the room for a while, and then I woke up. Apparently, I had been awake for some time, babbling away unintelligibly… and what I thought was me waking up was just the beginning of me remembering things. I was a bit unsteady on my feet, kind of like when you have been sitting or lying down for a long time and you stand up suddenly (which I guess is how you feel when you are about to faint), but without the clouding of your vision. Apparently, most people can’t stand without help, because they WOULD NOT let me walk by myself. It would be my guess that some people can’t see very well, either, or they just can’t think straight at all, because they kept showing me where we were going, even though there were no other cars anywhere near our car. I was very tired for the rest of the day. I felt weak for a while, and it was probably about a week before I was back to full strength, though I was feeling pretty good in about two days….”
Fainting due to a Heat/Dehydration
The symptoms seem to be pretty similar to what I experienced, so I would suggest using my experience to write about this type of faint. If anyone had fainted due to heat and experienced something different, then I would appreciate your comments.
Fainting due to a Heart Arrhythmia (Commenter: Emilymstanton)
“I have a heart arrhythmia, and I’ve fainted from it before. For that kind of fainting, it’s almost exactly what you describe, with a few additions. I started being able to feel my heart jumping in my chest, then got very hot, even sweaty. I sat down on the floor and immediately passed out. I have no idea how long I was passed out but I think it was only a few seconds. When I woke up it took me several minutes to be able to even lift myself up without collapsing, and several more to be able to stand up. I didn’t feel right until the next morning.”
Fainting due to a Fever (Commenter: Inconceivablemeg)
“I’d had a fever for a day or two and had just woken up early one morning to use the bathroom (right next to the bedroom) everything was fine, though it’s a little foggy. I remember standing in the bathroom, and my mom knocked on the door to ask if I was alright. I think I was talking to her one moment. I faintly remember sharp pain in my head and a loud bang (as my head hit the toilet) but I think I was unconscious during the fall. I woke up a few seconds later wedged between the toilet and the wall with a splitting headache. My mom asked what had happened. I told her “I think I fell” (she freaked out because she knew what was going on, but I was oddly calm). I stood up, pressed myself against the wall and assured myself I was fine. A moment later, I woke up on the floor again. I didn’t really get a dizzy feeling or any black fringes to warn me of it, it just happened. I did end up with a concussion, though from the first fall…”
Of course, and not all fiction needs an accurately portrayed faint. However, if you want to write a realistic faint, maybe this post has helped.
We have had a ton of awesome commenters adding their experience to this post, so please feel free to add your own opinion and experience in the comments below! Also if you want more details or to hear different stories about fainting, you can read the comments. I have not included some of the stories in this post for various reasons, but you are welcome to read them.