Dehydration Is No Joke
“I saw this happen to someone on TV and I thought it was exaggerated, but clearly this is a reality.” This was a text from one of my buddies, about people who are hospitalized due to dehydration. I, too, always called bullshit whenever some celeb was rushed to the hospital because of exhaustion or dehydration. In June, Brandy lost consciousness on a flight just before takeoff. The reason? Exhaustion. Reclusive fitness guru, and lover of short shorts, Richard Simmons was hospitalized last June. Dehydration once again. Jezebel calls dehydration the “go-to celebrity alibi”. Sites like Celeb Buzz and Fox News have gone as far as investigating whether celebrities are really dehydrated or just sleepy. But I can attest—dehydration is no joke. I was having this health-centered text convo because I’d fainted a day earlier. And my reason? Dehydration.
How It All Went Down
I’m a healthy person. And I’m not basing this statement on intuition. A week before my fainting spell, I had my annual physical. There wasn’t one number out of normal range in my test results. I was literally the picture of health.
In the days following my physical, my husband and I desperately needed to get out of the city. (New York’ll do that to you sometimes.) We booked a stay at a quaint bed and breakfast in Salisbury Mills, the kind of Hudson Valley town where you can see the stars, listen to the birds chirp, and shop in a grocery store that’s bigger than your living room. We were far removed from the stressors of city livin’. We’d both had a tough week and needed some R&R. I’d been tired all week, especially by the day’s end. And I’d noticed some dry spots showing up on my hands. I needed a couple good nights of sleep, a weekend without work, and a shower in water that wasn’t pumped through Manhattan’s pipes.
Friday night, we had dinner at an Irish pub that was clearly a locals’ spot. We were the only non-white, gay, city folk in the joint. I think less heads would’ve turned if an alien walked in and ordered a Blue Moon. The experience prompted a bit of my signature humor. “Some of the places up here remind me of the rural town in Get Out,” I wrote on Facebook. “If I’m not home by Sunday evening, send the motherfucking TSA.” Little did I know, the lack of diversity was the least of my problems.
We spent Saturday wandering around Newburgh and Beacon, getting acquainted with two very different slices of life beyond the Big Apple. We had lunch in Newburgh—delicious fish dishes and sauvignon blanc. And we embraced the hippie life at the Bank Square Coffeehouse. I never drink coffee but when in Rome…
We rested at the B&B for a bit. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, and our exploring wasn’t too strenuous, but we needed a quick recharge. I was a little tired then but I figured it was from the wine earlier in the day and all the walking. We opted to go back to Newburgh for dinner. After walking the strip of restaurants along the waterfront, we chose The River Grill for its steak and seafood offerings. And there was no wait. I scarfed down my filet caprese and half of glass of—you guessed it—sauvignon blanc. Then, I was midway through my garden salad when my stomach started to rumble.
Nothing major. But I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the meal without an interlude in the bathroom. I excused myself and proceeded to the front of the restaurant. Both bathrooms were occupied (always the case when you need to go), and there were two people waiting in front of me. I joked with them about how the bathroom line was the place to be and then started scrolling through my Instagram feed to pass the time (and to think about something other than needing to use the bathroom). But the pain grew more intense and rapidly so. That minor rumbling turned to a sharp pain. I was ready to break through the bathroom door. Then, I started to feel nauseous. Tunnel vision set in. I felt lightheaded. The same way I feel every time I use the complimentary personal training session at a new gym. Next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor with a sweaty forehead and a group of onlookers and restaurant staff gathered around me. I knew I’d passed out as soon as I came to, but there was no time to panic—I still needed to use the bathroom. I refused water and an ambulance, calmly asked the hostess to get my husband from the table, and I bee lined for the toilet-which was now available. All I had to do to get in was faint.
We canceled the rest of our dinner order, and sped off to the ER at St. Luke’s Cornwall. Within 30 minutes, I learned I’d suffered what’s called a vasovagal episode. Vasovagal syncope is the medical term for fainting. It’s typically brought on by an internal or external trigger. And apparently, a lot of people experience some form of this during bowel movements. But an everyday bowel movement wasn’t solely to blame for my fainting spell. Turns out I was a little dehydrated. The physician’s assistant who cared for me stressed that I wasn’t severely dehydrated but it was serious enough to trigger vasovagal syncope.
I spent a total of 4 hours in the ER hydrating, peeing, and being poked, prodded, and monitored. All my tests came back normal. I just needed to increase my fluid intake.
Duh, I Knew That
I felt like a moron hearing that. I know the importance of water for the body. I’ve taken nutrition classes and done a lot of supplemental reading about health. I take mine seriously, hence the A+ results on my physical. Telling me I needed to drink water was like telling me I needed to turn the computer on to start writing. So, I needed to consume 8 8-ounce glasses of water per day to get back on track, right? Not quite. That outdated guideline is really nothing more than a soundbite. It’s not even based on hard evidence—it’s just easy to remember. Like food intake and everything else, the amount of water I should drink depends on my weight. And based on my lbs and workouts, I need to drink closer to 3 liters a day. At least 2 liters, even if I lie around like a sloth from sunup to sundown. I was drinking a liter a day. And the week prior to the fainting episode, I was drinking even less.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’d been neglecting my body, and the signs had been there all along. The fatigue at the end of the work day. The dry patches on my hands. How tired I felt just before we went to dinner. Hell, the only liquids I’d consumed on Saturday were coffee and wine. The signs of dehydration were slapping me in the face. But I paid them no mind. And because of my negligence, I had the scare of a lifetime.
Our bodies are 60% water, and water controls everything from our fluid regulation to distribution of nutrients to different body parts. When I missed my daily intake goals, I was putting dozens of bodily functions at risk.
If you think you’re drinking enough water every day, you’re probably not. But there are tons of water calculators out there to help you figure out the right number for your weight and activity level. There are water reminder apps. And there’s even a water bottle that links to an app and tracks every sip you take (mind blown!).
I’ve NEVER fainted before, and I have no intention of doing so again. My key to staying upright? More water! I keep a 1.5-liter bottle of spring water on my desk during the work day. And I make sure I fill it and drink it down once more before day’s end. I’m taking this seriously. And you should too.
Before you worry about your workout and stress about counting your calories, make sure your water intake is on point. I was only mildly dehydrated and passed out. Mildly. Imagine what happens to people who are severely dehydrated. I don’t want to know.
All in all, this was a great reminder for me—a busy guy who considers himself more knowledgeable than most about health—to revisit the basics. I’m lucky that this was just a blip. That there wasn’t an underlying issue. That I didn’t hit my head on the way down. That I could get care and reverse the effects right away. Not everyone is that fortunate. But hopefully, with my story, you can avoid experiencing any aspect of this firsthand.