Syncope and Other Matters
** "Bortrum" is changing to Thursday. Next column will be
posted by 2/14.
I''m writing this column on Marco Island in Florida. Longtime
readers will remember my fondness for Marco and the more
relaxed approach to science and technology that results. This
year the trip down provided a couple reminders of the September
11 and subsequent developments. We stopped in Virginia to see
Jake, a classmate of mine from Dickinson College, and his
family. At Dickinson, Jake and I were the only students in our
meteorology class and typically comprised around half of those
attending our other physics classes. This was during World War
II and Jake subsequently worked for the Pentagon. On
September 11, their son was also at the Pentagon and had left just
about 20 minutes before the plane struck the building. Needless
to say, all were grateful that their son left when he did.
After an overnight ride on the Amtrak Autotrain, we stopped
near Orlando to see our niece and nephew. There we learned that
our nephew''s brother is a postal worker in the Trenton, New
Jersey area. You''re right, he contracted anthrax. Thankfully
he''s one of those who no doubt are grateful for the benefits of the
drug Cipro. These are just two of many firsthand stories we have
heard where luck was with potential victims of terrorism.
While we were visiting our niece and nephew, the probable
Democrat candidate running for governor in Florida, Janet Reno,
was a victim of syncope while at the podium. Syncope is just a
fancy word for fainting, as far as I know. You may remember
that President Bush 41 had an episode of syncope while sitting
next to the Japanese premier, if I recall correctly. In that case,
there were also other aspects to the incident that certainly must
have shaken the premier. I had the very same experience not too
long after that event, only on an airplane traveling over the
Pacific from Hawaii to Los Angeles. Not too long ago, President
Bush 43 also suffered from syncope, this time after indulging in
that infamous pretzel. He survived the incident quite well, aside
from his bruised face. In fact, he has since "fired up" another
pretzel or so without incident.
But back to our journey and a bit of automotive technology.
After a 3-hour drive on the hottest January day in that general
area in history, we stopped in Venice to visit some very good
friends. My wife stepped out of the car and nearly fell, slipping
on the driveway. It turned out the passenger side floor mat was
dripping wet, the source of the water a mystery. We concluded
that she had not screwed the cap on tightly enough on her water
bottle. After a couple days in the Florida sun, the mats were dry.
So, it was on to Marco; however, after an hour on the road my
wife found the mats again flooded with water! This prompted a
side trip to a randomly selected garage. I explained my problem
to the gal at the desk and she ventured the opinion that it was the
air conditioner, a diagnosis confirmed by the mechanic in
residence. He said he could fix the problem next week, not a
rational solution this being a hundred miles from Marco Island.
In the interim, he suggested a towel could soak up the water until
we reached our destination.
Upon reaching Marco and our new unfamiliar condo, we found
that the previous renters had failed to leave the keys behind!
Fortunately, a master key was located and I completed the
exhausting unpacking of our heavily loaded, still flooded vehicle.
At my advanced age, the heat and the trying events of the day
left me in the mood for a relaxing gin and tonic. Bob, another
nephew staying in the same area, joined my wife and me in this
libation. You probably are saying, "Why bother me with all
these details?" Let me remind you of syncope. I had only
imbibed about half of the drink when, you guessed it, syncope
struck again! Fortunately for my wife, Bob was there to help to
lift me down to the floor and raise my legs.
Don''t worry, a couple more days have passed since then and I''m
fine, having taken the first of my pre-dawn walks on the beach
here. The highlight this morning was a flock of about 15
pelicans in the most perfect V-formation I''ve ever seen. I saw no
evidence of the red tide that I wrote about in years past so things
hopefully should go more smoothly.
However, to be perfectly frank, I have an ulterior motive for
describing these incidents in such detail. I have one more
stressful situation to report. Before leaving home, I carefully
checked out my ability to enter my column on the Web site with
the laptop computer given to me by Brian Trumbore for just this
purpose. Now, on Marco Island, I find that every time I try to go
online a Fatal Error message shows up! I''m going to try to resist
the temptation to imbibe another gin and tonic but it won''t be
easy. After spending a full day trying to rectify the situation, I
have given up, admitting that my limited expertise is not up to
the job. My motive by now must be clear. I''m absolutely at a
loss for something scientific to write about.
I had thought I could explore the subject of syncope but find that
I can''t go on the Internet to research the subject. On the other
hand, I could discuss the opinion of one of my internists on
another occasion back in 1988. I may even have mentioned that
incident before in a column but, hey, I''m desperate! It was just
before Christmas that year and the Battery Development
Department at Bell Labs was in bad shape. It was to turn out
that, within the next year or so, the department was to go out of
existence. Our department head, Harry, was a humorous sort of
guy and to lighten the atmosphere at our annual Christmas party
he suggested that we all play Christmas carols on kazoos! I was
assigned the job of coordinating this momentous event and had
duly purchased some 40 or so kazoos. The morning of party day,
we had to attend a wedding in a town in New York State, the
drive somewhat stressful due to a lack of total direction
information. No alcohol served at the reception. So, that
evening at the party, I was standing drinking a glass of white
wine and discussing the worrisome sate of our department. The
kazoo event was imminent. And syncope struck! In the
emergency room, I missed the unique musical performance. At
my retirement dinner I was, however, presented with a trophy
that included a mounted kazoo!
According to my internist, this was a classic case of the "fight or
flight" syndrome. In the good old days of prehistoric man, if
something bothered a guy, he would either fight it or run from it.
This instinctive reaction is seldom possible or even acceptable in
today''s civilized society. The resulting stress can lead to a
lowering of blood pressure and syncope. In my case, his
diagnosis was that the stressful subject of discussion could not be
fought or run from. In the case of George Bush the pretzel did
him in. In my latest case, perhaps it was because I did not "fire
up" one of the available pretzels with my gin and tonic that led to
my syncope? Or was it that seafood strudel that I had for lunch?
Allen F. Bortrum