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June 11, 2011
Consciousness is more slippery a thing than we knew, it turns out. We think it the signal fact about us, imagine it to be firmly in control of our waking hours -- but it can slip away as casually as a summer shower begins. You think you can will it to stay, but it turns out that your will is not the powerhouse you thought it was, either: Remain standing! it orders sternly, but nobody in your body obeys, and you sink to the floor, with barely enough time to wonder briefly if this might be what dying is like.

Although fainting dead away is not a medically unimportant event, it's not the end of the world, either. It seems to me a re-booting of an overloaded system, the revision of unfair demands on the body, scaling them back to a level your available power can handle. I have even invented a way to head it off when I begin to faint: you employ the breathing they taught you in Lamaze class: rapid, shallow panting, continuing until your vision stops tunneling and you can stagger offstage. I think panting may raise your blood pressure. Try it next
time, fainters -- it'll fix you right up.

But my as-yet-unpatented anti-syncopal prophylaxis is like putting a penny in a blown fuse -- yes, it'll get the lights back on, but you're still going to have to turn something off. You're still overloaded. Something that enables you to persist in doing something that's too much for you is not really your friend. It remains important to know how it is that getting up out a chair can constitute an unfair demand. We leave this discovery to those who went to school for it.

Fainting carries a certain dramatic flair -- I've done it four times
in front of packed churches, and it really got the congregation's attention.
Funny in retrospect -- as almost anything can be if you're built that way -- but not at the time, not even if you know from experience that you are not really in danger. No, not funny. Unwelcome, is what that dreadful sagging is: the unwelcome overruling of all the powers upon which you have counted your life long.

Get my feet up, you manage to whisper to one of the anxious faces assembled above you. I'm okay, you whisper, though you know that they don't know that, that they're already calling 911, that you are about to be overruled again, that you will spend the afternoon in the ER and emerge hours later knowing what you knew when you entered. This happens to me sometimes, you want to say. It's not as bad as it looks. Save your breath; they won't listen to you. You are overruled.

Which may also be what dying is like.
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