Fainting while getting Tattooed aka Cerebral Hypoxia

March 30, 2012

I’ve had many people in my chair and I’ve had many different reactions. Some get a little nervous right before; some are completely relaxed and carrying on a conversation, and some plain scream the entire time. But it’s the fainter that you have to worry about.

The reality of what is going on doesn’t hit until a few minutes into the procedure. I will notice when a client starts to feel clammy and will lose all the color in their skin. A sick, panic feeling will overcome them and the more panicked they get the quicker they are subject to passing out. This is the critical time to do something before they go down.
The client is suffering from an inappropriate body reaction to pain partly physical but mostly psychological. The condition is known as cerebral hypoxia. The body runs on glucose so if a client has not eaten all day or has been outside all day in the sun or simply sleep deprived they have depleted their glucose levels. Just like a diabetic getting sleepy after eating sugar (a natural reaction to too much glucose so the body doesn’t take anymore sugar). It’s the opposite where the client’s glucose level is temporarily insufficient the body plays a trick on the brain and wants to shut off so the body can produce more glucose. So assuming there is time to catch your client before it happens you need to regroup between surges and control their breathing and comfort their fears until moments pass. Fear will turn to faith and tolerance will set in.
There is another kind of reaction that is seen too often, it goes beyond what was just described, and the person not only experiences the normal doubts and anxieties but also appears greenish, pale, and weak. They will typically ask for a drink very abruptly. They may appear very sweaty and unable to focus. Do not panic, this too can be resolved. The next few minutes are critical, do not leave your client by himself or herself and be prepared to catch them if they fall from the chair. Ask a coworker in a calm and collect voice to bring some water or soda. Most studios don’t have soft drinks on hand so if they have a friend ask them to get a sugary beverage. Smart tattoo artists may want to carry candy or better yet glucose tablets in their stations but I have found that all the chocolate get eaten up during the week. So when I need one the only person who has had too much sugar is me! You may place a cool damp paper towel on their forehead and turn off the harsh work light. It’s not uncommon during this time for the client to confide similar instances of fainting, either at the doctor’s office or another tattoo studio. It’s best not to make a big deal of it and act as routinely as possible, especially if they’re with family or friends. Family will assume the worst and wonder what you did to their loved one and the friends will most likely give their buddy a hard time but it is your professionalism that will triumph over their negativity when you explain to them that this can happen to the biggest guy or the smallest lady. 95% of the time it’s one of three things as described before: sleep deprivation, starvation, or heat exhaustion. After 10-15 minutes the clients color will come back and they will seem to have sprung back to life, apologizing profusely. Just try to make them feel comfortable and say, “It’s no big deal”. Assure them if it’s happens, it only happens once, although I remember one extreme case where I had to lay the client down just to finish a name, laughs. Getting light-headed and feeling sick is a horrible feeling, especially in the presence of strangers so if you take the time to help your client, it will be worth it to know that they will have great respect for your knowledge of their condition.