I woke up this morning just like most other mornings, because November 2 is just an ordinary day in the life of Leigh. But when my phone's screen reminded me of the day, I couldn't help but chuckle at the throwback memory and send an emoji-filled #tbt text to my friend, Erin, who spent the better part of November 2, 2014 by my side.
I listened to the Serial podcast on my latest trip up to and back from Colorado Springs and Denver in September, and was struck by the leading principle of the series. So many of our days blend together that it is nearly impossible to recall what happened on any specific day in the past unless something out of the ordinary occurred. While listening, I tried to think of a personal example to illustrate the plight of human memory. Alas, nearly two months later, I have found it. All because of a little blood.
November 2, 2014 was a Sunday like most other Sundays. It was filled with my routine activities: hanging out with Erin, studying at Starbucks for a reading quiz in my literature class the next morning, and a bit of shopping at the Oaks Mall (Anthropologie and stationery stores are my biggest weaknesses, and Erin and I couldn't resist a trip to T.O.). Like most Sundays, there was nothing special about this day: no friends' birthdays, no national holidays. It was simply the second day of November. Ordinarily, if asked what I did on any given Sunday, I would respond with an assumption that I'd spent my day studying with Erin. Because that's just what we did on Sundays. But thanks to my good friend, Joan Didion (please note my exaggerated tone of sarcasm), I can now recall the entirety of the afternoon of November 2, 2014 fairly lucidly, save for the minute or so I was rendered unconscious.
November 2, 2014 stands out as one of the most embarrassing and stressful days of my college experience. However, with a year's distance between me and Ms. Didion, I can appreciate the simultaneous hilarity in the situation. Let me tell the story, as best as I can remember.
Like I've said, that particular Sunday was nothing but ordinary. After a relaxing morning, Erin and I decided to go shopping in Thousand Oaks, where I ogled over all the beautiful clothes at Anthro and bought too many cards to send to my friends abroad at the stationery store. Like usual, we planned on stopping at Starbucks to get our studying done, since shopping hadn't been quite so conducive to the necessary productivity. Instead of driving back to study at the Lumberyard location (hello, too many Pepperdine students), we decided to stay on the east side of the canyon and see if the Calabasas location was less busy. It was, so we got our drinks (hello, 2 dirty chais with coconut milk; could we be more basic?), camped out in a little corner at a tall table with equally tall stools, and got to work: Erin on her Spanish translations and me on my Literature and Film in Hollywood reading.
Now, for those of you who don't know me, I am just about the most needle phobic person in the world. I used to sob and crumple into a fetal position on the floor whenever it was time for me to get my routine blood tests, and even researched the topic for a psychology paper just so I could prove that it was a real issue people other than me and my sister have. Oh, and the blood component? Yeah, that's really not up my alley either. Combine the two, and you get psychological and physiological havoc!
To my utter delight, Joan decided to write about an abortion in her novel. I'll skip over the details, but will say that my imagination went a little bit too far with Didion's description of the scene. Although my professor laughingly claimed that the scene was "barely graphic," I was sent straight into lightheaded oblivion.
What felt like hours later, I awoke to a horrifyingly confusing scene: Erin was by my side, rubbing my shoulder and asking me if I was awake, and trying to explain to me what happened once I regained consciousness. Though I knew exactly what had happened - I was just putting my head down because I thought I would pass out; no I knew I would pass out - I was nevertheless extremely disoriented, my mind fogged by the loss of blood to my brain - I passed out? Why is everyone staring? I could have sworn I was dreaming. Evidently I had not only passed out, but had also apparently started convulsing. The barista was on the phone with 9-1-1, and asked if I needed an ambulance. As if needles and blood weren't enough shock for one day, I had to go to the hospital, the source of needles and blood and everything gross and....obviously I refused. I'd been through this before, only with an actual needle poking into my back (see why I'm not so keen on needles?) and had survived, so I didn't need no doctor to tell me I'd passed out. Then there was the pandemonium inside the café. All eyes shifting nervously in my direction. Is she okay? I never wanted to be the girl to pass out and convulse in public. And I will admit I was so embarrassed, especially being the type who would prefer self-sufficiency and privacy in these vulnerable situations. It was all I could do not to prove my independence by grabbing all my things and walking, unshaken, to Erin's car, somehow being able to wipe people's memories of the sad little blonde girl who passed out because her mind got away from her...
But in those next hours, I had to learn to be dependent and open to vulnerability.
After an emotional call to my parents, Erin drove me to Malibu urgent care, where the doctor suggested I go to the ER to get a CT scan after hearing Erin's recollection, seizing and all. The more detail I received, the more emotional I became until I was a mess of tears. I made yet another emotional call to my parents, who agreed with the doctor. Though I could remember convulsing the last time I'd passed out, I hadn't thought it was a problem. But being so far from my parents, who hadn't been present this time, I understood it was safer to get definitive answers in their absence than risk skipping over a potentially larger problem. So Erin and I made a pit stop for food and comfier clothes at our apartments before making the drive to Santa Monica and waiting what seemed like forever in the ER.
All the while, I felt increasingly dependent upon Erin, as she had become my surrogate mother for the evening, driving me around, packing food, and making executive medical decisions (I hadn't wanted to go to urgent care, but having a doctor as a mother and a personal background in medical missions, she was more of a medical expert in that moment than I). I felt extremely powerless. That's coming from the girl who would prefer to drive herself everywhere. I also felt extremely vulnerable. I don't think you can be any more defenseless than when you're lying face-down, unconscious on a café table with a couple dozen people watching. Erin certainly got to see the messiest part of my fears and emotions that evening. To top it all off, I had to help lead formal chapter that night and had forgotten about my commitment to talking to the new members about chapter operations and programming at their meeting. There was no way I could make it to urgent care and the hospital and back in time, and I didn't want to draw attention to myself or make any grand assumptions about what Erin and the doctor suspected had been seizures. It was stressful to back out of an important responsibility and lose hours of studying time, but I couldn't just not show up without letting our president know, so I did my best to back out gracefully, feeling guilty and vulnerable once again.
The ER wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting it to be, though. It was mostly a ton of questions and waiting. And a blood test. And an IV in my arm for about five ungodly hours. Though I was admittedly terrified, I knew I had my best friend by my side to hold my hand and talk to me about irrelevant, funny things as the nurse drew my blood and put the IV in my arm. And somehow, within that ER room, as we spent the empty hours of waiting together, the initial shock and embarrassment of the evening wore off. Erin and I were soon in tear-streaked laughter, talking about our greatest moments of friendship, appreciating the time we had together, even if it meant that I would fail my reading quiz the next day (I ended up ditching class as a rebellion against the reading materials, take that, Joan!!!) or that Erin would be behind in her Spanish translations and homework. We laughed at the irony of our raucous laughter in the ER of a hospital and saw the utter positivity of the situation where before we had only seen dread. In those moments of intense vulnerability, we came even closer together than we had before. I realized that it didn't matter if Erin saw me in my most vulnerable state; we'd already been through some of the most painful experiences of our lives together, and this only meant that our friendship was becoming stronger. If anything, we'd have something to laugh at a year later. And we do.
After waiting too many hours in a quiet hospital filled with bursts of loud Erin and Leigh laughter, we got my blood results back to find that I was totally okay. My convulsions were normal, not seizure-like. I just needed to rest and ensure that I get enough blood to my brain when I do become lightheaded by lying on my back with my feet in the air. Though the outcome was wildly underwhelming (we just spent six hours in the hospital for a couple pieces of paper that tell me I go through vasovagal syncope every time I pass out?!), I will admit that November 2, 2014 was an incredible day for understanding the power of friendship, dependence, and vulnerability.
Looking back, I still shake my head that I was the girl who passed out in Starbucks. Thankfully it's lost most of its embarrassment factor (but still, I passed out in the midst of a ton of people because of a book with "barely graphic" descriptions of an abortion. Why do things like this happen to me?), and gained a ton of hilarity (after all, I did pass out, and that would happen to me). What stands out the most is the positivity that arose from an initially overwhelming situation. Despite all the hours lost in that room in the ER, Erin stuck by me, uncomplaining, the entire time. She held my hand through the hardest and scariest parts, and comforted me with her patient and loving presence. I could not have asked for anything else to get me through such a stressful situation. Even more, the things that made November 2 such a typical Sunday are some of the things I appreciate most about my friendship with Erin: eating bean and rice tacos for lunch; shopping; studying together; laughing at ourselves; spending quality time with each other; and being fully, vulnerably ourselves in the other's presence. Though, on a normal day, these activities might not stand out as awesome adventures, they truly mean the world to me. The added drama of an ER trip, if nothing else, gives me so many reasons to be grateful for my friendship with Erin, and also challenges me to think of all the ordinary experiences I have with all my friends that make our relationships as strong as they are. Though I left the hospital with just a couple pieces of paper and an enormous bill to pay for an IV and blood test, I'm glad I got to spend the evening with an incredible friend, filling the ER with the sounds of our strengthening relationship. So I guess thanks, Joan Didion, for the fond memories.