Spock isn’t the only one who can render someone unconscious.
Last Friday evening I was invited to a gathering at a friend’s house for dinner and the hockey game. We (7 of us) feasted on BBQ ribs, chicken, roast potatoes, and Andy’s famous Caesar salad while we watched the game.
The Canuck’s held a comfortable lead so I went into the kitchen to tidy up and wash the dishes. I joined the others for the final period; sitting in a swivel office chair directly in front of a fellow named Brian. I had complained earlier of stiffness in my neck and shoulders (excessive work on computer) so he offered to give me a massage.
He dug deep and pressed the knots in my muscles trying to get me to loosen up. He concentrated his efforts on the neck, shoulders and upper arms. (what he could comfortably reach while we both sat in chairs) I shrugged off the pain thinking that a deep tissue workout was just what I needed. After several minutes he stopped to rest claiming that his thumbs were sore. A few minutes later when he started to dig in again I began feeling light-headed. There was a tingling in my ears and I felt a bit sick to my stomach. I told him to stop for a minute and waited till the dizziness subsided at bit. When he began rubbing and digging again I felt myself starting to pass out.
Immediately I knew that something was wrong. I was fighting to remain conscious and a black fog obscured my vision. I had no pain but I couldn’t stay awake. I told my friends that something was wrong and they should call 911. After that I concentrated all my energy on staying conscious. I kept drifting in and out and apparently had what appeared to be a seizure of sorts. My eyes rolled back and I was shaking then passed out again.
The ringing and rushing sounds in my ears made it difficult to hear and my vision was fluctuating from blurring to blackness. I could hear voices around me but couldn’t get them to answer my calls for help.
By the time the paramedics arrived (about 10 minutes after they called 911) I was completely blue from head to toe (cyanotic), waxen and unable to move or speak. I had no blood pressure, no pulse and had stopped breathing several times. (for up to 20 seconds at a time) I was floating in and out of consciousness and knew that I was at risk of slipping into a coma if I didn’t get oxygen to my brain and heart.
The EMT’s moved quickly and efficiently. They lowered me from the chair to the floor and elevated my feet to help bring blood and oxygen to my head. They called for an ALS Unit (which I found out later meant Advanced Life Support) and transferred me to a stretcher for transport to hospital. I instantly found myself gaining strength when they put an oxygen mask over my face. I still had no idea what had caused the attack. I was scared and disoriented as I mumbled answers to medical history they were taking. I was given 2 baby aspirin which led me to think I was having a heart attack. I listened for words and picked out some scary ones from the conversations going on around me… stroke, seizure, heart attack, no radial, no pulse, blue… I tried to stay composed as I instructed a friend to contact my family.
Once inside the ambulance they inserted an IV and gave me Gravol for nausea. They hooked me up to monitoring equipment and we stopped a few times on route for them to take some readings. I became more and more coherent and alert as we drove and by the time we were at the hospital I felt confident that the worst was over.
It was then that I learned what had happened. Apparently the Vagus Nerves in my neck had been over-stimulated leading to my heart slowing down and bronchial passages constricting. This caused oxygen deprivation which had caused me to faint. The results were much the same as Spock had used in Star Trek. I was rendered unconscious.
The good news is that paramedics arrived before permanent damage was done. Usually massage is done while you are laying down which helps keep blood flowing to the brain. In my case I was sitting upright in a chair. Had I been standing I would have fainted and recovered (laying flat keeps blood-flow going to head) faster but since they kept me sitting in the chair, the problem compounded.
NOTE: If someone complains that they are dizzy or light headed, get them to lay down and elevate the feet if they start to turn blue.
Turning blue is an indicator that the blood has no oxygen, we need oxygen to survive. Watch for signs of blue around mouth and nose.
I was tested for diabetic coma (blood sugar levels were safe)and ECG (Electro Cardiogram) monitoring for several hours at hospital was normal. After my blood work came back normal, I was released and sent home. The only side effects were grogginess from the Gravol and bruising at the intravenous site on my arm.
All in all it was a valuable learning experience and one I will never forget. I am thankful that I was saved by the prompt response of the emergency team and will suffer no permanent damage due to loss of oxygen (which could have caused death, paralysis or brain damage)
So… word of caution… excessive pressure from massage can cause damage to or over stimulate nerves in the neck region.
The saying “No pain, no gain” doesn’t ring true in this instance. Use care and attention when giving or receiving a massage.
This diagram demonstrates what the Vagus Nerve does:
Here’s more about the Vagus Nerve from http://www.wisegeek.com
Vagus is Latin for “wandering,” and it is an accurate description of this nerve, which emerges at the back of the skull and meanders in a leisurely way through the abdomen, with a number of branching nerves coming into contact with the heart, lungs, voicebox,stomach, and ears, among other body parts. The vagus nerve carries incoming information from the nervous system to the brain, providing information about what the body is doing, and it also transmits outgoing information which governs a range of reflexresponses.
The vagus nerve helps to regulate the heart beat, control muscle movement, keep a person breathing, and to transmit a variety of chemicals through the body. It is also responsible for keeping thedigestive tract in working order, contracting the muscles of the stomach and intestines to help process food, and sending back information about what is being digested and what the body is getting out of it.
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, the response is often a reduction in heart-rate or breathing. In some cases, excessive stimulation can cause someone to have what is known as a vaso-vagal response, appearing to fall into a faint or coma because his or her heart rate and blood pressure drop so much.