The worst kind of worry

Amelia fainted yesterday.

We were in the pharmacy in town. It is small and airless and forever filled with a crush of people paying for malaria drugs which the WHO insist no longer work but which are still sold here (by shopkeepers who either don’t know or don’t care what the WHO says) and purchased by desperate people who either don’t know that the WHO feel so strongly about combined drug therapies in the treatment of malaria that they have articulated a desire to have anything else pulled off dusty shelves across Africa. Or cannot afford them.

So I – because I can read English and because, given our geography, have had to educate myself to a degree about medicine and because I have a tome about health care published by the BMJ and a copy of the drug bible, BNF – am leaning over the counter having reached the head of the hot little crush and am reading the insert in a box of antibiotics.

Amelia is behind me.

I feel sick, she says.

I only half hear her. I presume this is her fourteen year old way of complaining about the wait and the heat and the warm-body smells exuding all around us.

I feel sick, she says again. A bit more insistently this time.

I turn around. She is the colour of chalk. I realise I need to get her out fast.

But we don’t make it. As we turn to leave, she crumples in a heap on the floor, her head is saved from crashing to the cement because of the heaving density of the crowd and the counter she collapses against.

For a few seconds I do not hear anything. I don’t see anything except my young daughter’s blanched expression and pale lips and glazed eyes. And then, thank God, thank God, the colour returns to her face, she registers mine, and bursts into tears.

We stumble out of the pharmacy, I try to put my arm about her shoulders to draw her protectively towards me but she is too tall. Instead I clutch her elbow and guide her to the car, watched by a gathering crowd, and we drive home, all windows wide open.

I used to faint. My mum did too. We were swooners who ought to have been armed with smelling salts. 

But it’s different when it’s your daughter. It’s not something, then, to boast to your mates about, ”I fainted you know”. Now it’s something to worry about.

And it’s a big worry when you live this far away. In the bush. Living in the bush exacerbates your health paranoia to the point of hypochondria. albeit by proxy in the case of loved ones.

We get home and I make Amelia drink a pint of coke and eat a bar of chocolate and lie down with a book. And then I fuss over her all day, shadowing her, insisting that she leaves the bathroom door unlocked when she goes to the loo whilst I hover outside anxiously.

“I’m fine, Mum”, she says, sweetly trying hard not to sound impatient at my clucking.

Teenage girls are liable to faints. Especially when they’re so tall. Especially when they’re growing. Especially when they can’t be bothered with breakfast. Especially when their mothers make them stand and wait too long in hot, airless, little dukas.

I know all this. But I get online and re-read it all anyway.

My children’s health is my greatest concern here. Where the medical facilities are lacking. Basic. Extend, at most, to a laboratory where you can get a blood slide read – though not necessariy accurately – for signs of malaria. Or a stool sample, dysentery.  If any one of us were really sick I would be obliged to phone Flying Doctor in Kenya for an airlift. And even if they could scramble a plane then and there, we’d have a nail-biting, sky-scanning, three hour wait for it.  And during that interminable wait, I would forget that I am lucky I can afford such a luxury.

I try not to think too hard about it.

I resort to the internet. I make calls to friendly doctors. I put my worries to them. Which is unfair: how could they diagnose over the phone. I subject Amelia to a blood test to check her iron levels. I make a promise to myself to make her eat breakfast.

And I continue to watch all three like a hawk.

Whilst my daugher MSNs her mates, ”I fainted, you know!”

23 Responses to “The worst kind of worry”

  1. Mom de Plume Says:

    How terrifying RM, and to be so far from help!!! My sister used to faint. I don’t know why, I just remember catching her on the way down. Once I got used to it I was sometimes secretly pleased – how evil – as I was also given a coke (which was usually reserved for special occasions in our house) perhaps so I didn’t feel left out or perhaps to prevent me fainting too. How different the reaction from sister to mother!!!

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks Mom d P; i gather it’s very common in teens, esp girls (ratio of 8:1 to boys). it’s the fainting during exertion that you need to worry about apparently,not the fainting because your mother’s deliberations have forced you to stand for too long in a badly ventilated, hot shop. amelia drank her coke but observed afterwards, ”so sad to be FORCED to drink coke where normally I can’t wait to have one” (also reserved for highdays and holidays in our home). Bet you enjoyed yours more than your sister did hers!

  3. Janelle Says:

    pole sana anthea and to amelia! my sister, who is 6 ft 3, always used to faint when we were growing up….low blood sugar levels or something…she was a tall long skinny thing… lots lots love xxx janelle

  4. Yvonne Young Says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks for the encouraging comment. Read your blog and it`s amazing, if you don`t mind can I put your link on my blog?
    Loved the photo of the pastry cutters, kind of sums us up doesn`t it. My kids are 28 and 30, the youngest married to an Indian girl, will be moving house soon to a place called Millhouse Green near the Peak District, nearer to us, so I`m pleased about that, more visits. They visited Bombay during their honeymoon, her mother is from Chandigargh and father from Delhi.

    I also have memories of fainting, at school, always when I had a monthly period, got me out of lessons, but the cramps were ferocious.

    I met Judith O`Reilly last month at her book launch in Newcastle, she`s so amusing and a role model for us all. Keep blogging.


  5. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks J. reassuring to know it really is not uncommon. amelia too a long legged coltish thing. apparently the standing means their blood pools in those long legs and not enough can be bothered to make the long trek north to the head.

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Yvonne – I am delighted you called by. Please do link to my blog; I am flattered that you should ask. I think your son’s marriage will bring a fascinating dimension to your life. My mother was born in Bombay and her mother loved India – more than anywhere, I think, more, even, than Ireland which was ‘home’ for her. My longing to go to India – I have never been – has infected all my children but only my son has been: to play cricket. I keep trying to persuade Mum to join me – a three generation trip I tell her. But she just wrinkles her nose!

    Thank you, too, for encouraging comments about fainting; it is so helpful to know it’s not unusual. Especially when I have nobody to ask. Except wonderful fellow bloggers, of course.

    It must have been incredible to meet Judith O’Reilly aka Wife in the North. Her writing is sublime and I cannot wait to get my hands on her book. I thought she was very funny in recent post about meeting Richard and Judy.

    I look forwarding to ‘seeing’ you again soon, RM x

  7. mamank Says:

    I’ve been reading your blog lately and love it! For the glimpse into Africa (how I miss it!) and also into your family. I just wanted to sympathize with your fear. We were in the Mara with our toddler when she fell off a chair onto a stone floor and went LIMP. Terrifying. The whole world just swayed (or was that me?). No doctors around, of course, but thankfully a sat phone that had a reception. Turns out that the episode had much more lasting effect on me. I’m so glad your daughter is alright!

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    mamank: thank you for kind words. How frightening for you: much worse. I realised what had happened straight away with my daughter – but it would be quite different if a child/teen fell and then went limp, especially a toddler for they cannot articulate how they feel as precisely as a 14 year old can. I can quite imagine that your world rocked. And not in a good way either.

  9. Potty Mummy Says:

    Poor Amelia – I hope she (and you!) feels better soon. Liver sausage for breakfast, I think…

  10. lori Says:

    Dear RM, How scary for you and Amelia, I don’t know what I would do in a similar situation. When something happens to one of my children I feel it so intensly it’s almost like its happening to me, i probably would’ve fainted too! Not very helpful of me. I could just picture you with your daughter, trying to wrap yourself around her to help her to the car. You just want to gather them up and hold them, make everything be alright. I am so glad it is.

  11. Roberta Says:

    Nothing in this world prepares you for, and nothing in this world is worse than having a child hurt or in trouble.

    Prayers sent your way!

  12. livvy u Says:

    Hello, thanks so much for coming to my blog and making yourself known by leaving such a lovely comment… so I came to yours and got a kind of frisson, because it’s the best blog I’ve come across for some time – I mean, that the writing is so real, and vibrant and accessible but full of lovely words… I’m gushing, I know, but it IS always exciting to come across someone new with whom you instantly empathise.
    I’m going to ask the same thing as a previous commenter – may I link to you in my Blogroll? I know immediately that I will be coming back here, and would like others to, as well.
    By the way, I used to faint left, right and centre as a teenager, too. Usually on the train going to school in the morning, when my long-suffering younger sister would have to clear the crowd around me and prop me upright again! I think I was a little anaemic,but other than that there was nothing wrong with me, just teenage-dom.
    With very best wishes, Livvy

  13. Mozi Esme's Mommy Says:

    Glad she seems to be okay – at least taking it in stride!

    I use the internet for self diagnoses all the time – scary, but it works better than some of the doctors we’ve tried here. And it’s a bit far to get to South Africa for every little thing.

  14. Expat Mum Says:

    Oh ogd, I used to faint all the time in my early teens when I was “slightly built”. They put it down to anaemia (sp?) but now I still have to watch my blood sugar. The trick, as I’m sure you’ll know, is to recognise the signs so that she can either get herself something to eat, or sit down so that she doesn’t crack her head on the floor.
    Very worrying for you, but probably nothing serious at all. Kids eh?

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks PM. She’s fine. I’m recovering. ”Yuk man Mum!” she said in disgust when i mentioned the liver sausage thing.

    thank you lori: I agree – I hate it when my kids are sick. I have spent long nights wide awake in bed beside febrile children, my hand on their brow, clock watching between administering brufen and temperature taking. Horrid.

    I agree wholeheartedly, Roberta: thank you x

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Livvy – I’m delighted to called by, and thank you for your lovey generous words about mine. I’m very flattered, and yes, please do link to me; thank you. It’s hugely reassuring to hear of other people’s experiences of fainting – especially when I don’t have an expert here on the ground. It gave me such a fright, but my anxiety is being salved by kind readers.

  17. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mozi: I’m glad its not just me. Sometimes one feels a bit irresponsible self (or offspring) diagnosing. But I agree, options are limited when facilities on the ground are. And as you say, you can’t keep whipping over borders at the slightest twinge.

  18. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Expat Mum. I agree: trick is to recognise signs of imminent swoon and get your head between your knees. I tried to do that but I was too late: she was already on the floor. She was indignant when I told her later, OMG Mum! thank goodness I was wearing a long skirt!

  19. nuttycow Says:

    Poor Amelia – it does make me laugh to think of her msn-ing her friends while you fret. I was exactly the same (although no msn of course… good ol’ fashioned scroll and ink – no, hang on, I’m not that old)

    Hope she’s feeling better and hasn’t been teasing you by pretending to faint (which is another thing I used to do, evil woman I am!)

  20. Rob Says:

    I remember fainting once, during church service at primary (boarding) school. I think it was the heat and the constricting tie and blazer. In those days of letter writing I think the incident made it into quite a few letters home that day – it was always difficult to fill up the mandatory two page (double spaced) letter home, so any bit of news made it into our weekly epistles.

    Funnily enough a young girl fainted in front of me during another church service more recently during a hot summer day. I certainly felt for the mother who was in a state of panic and the proceedings came to a halt. She came around though a short time later, blissfully unaware of the consternation and panic which had arisen. I think in that case, together with the heat and not drinking enough water, it was probably a sudden standing up which caused the even more sudden falling down.

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    that’s a great story Rob! i remember being at a wedding (you’d have been there); we were young. A girl called Mary fainted, standing in the hot sun during the service. Her father dragged her head beneath his black jacket, ”take her into the shade, you fool”, mum was hissing crossly beside me!

  22. Mama Kalila Says:

    That sounds scary! I hope she’s ok!

  23. sandrar Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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