The Kargman Affliction

Article excerpt

The vasovagal syncope--called a dizzy spell by the untutored--is the Kargman family failing. It happens like this: At an inconvenient moment, sometimes but not always following a spicy meal or an unprintable thought, the blood in a Kargman brain rushes to the Kargman stomach, leaving the Kargman wobbly and faint. Sitting down and ramming the head between the knees helps some; lying down flat helps more. Something cold under the neck speeds recovery. The ten-minute event is not medically significant--but try telling that to Uncle Oscar Kargman, who had his first syncope at age 60. Supine in the aisle at a concert, he dictated a revised will to an usher while the silenced mezzo on the stage stared at her rings.

Great-grandmother Temma, may she rest in peace, often felt the beginning of a Vaigele in the fishmarket. Elbowing aside her fellow shoppers, including those with canes, she'd lie down in front of the whitefish. "Take me," she'd order the Almighty, in English, Russian, Yiddish. He expressed no interest. Temma finally got up and brushed sawdust from her wig.

More recently, young Cousin Simon Kargman, just graduated from medical school, experienced a syncope while in line at a Manhattan restaurant. He lowered his head to his knees and, maintaining that posture--buttocks in air, hands grasping ankles--staggered into the Gentlemen's. Reclining on the tiles, he arranged his limbs in a semblance of authority. Everyone who entered peered down. "Shall I call a doctor?"

"I am a doctor," he could not refrain from saying.

"Oh, in that case," the New Yorkers said, stepped over him, and went about their business.

Rachel Kargman's worst attack occurred during a flight from Israel. She was unable to lower her head because the seat in front of her had been severely canted--its inhabitant virtually sleeping in her lap. She managed to wriggle sideways and flop into the aisle. Then, on her back, she slithered into the galley. A stewardess, glancing down at Rachel's probable corpse, asked if she were drunk. In faulty Hebrew, Rachel managed: "No. Also not sick; merciful of you to inquire." A second stewardess joined the first, stepping on Rachel's skirt. Rachel was too far below the women for productive eavesdropping, but they seemed to be debating the relative merits of returning to Tel Aviv; making an unscheduled stop at the Canaries; or, as soon as the movie started, jettisoning the passenger through the hatch. Instead, they brought ice for her nape and let her recover.


On a memorable occasion, in a busy Tokyo subway station, five Kargmans participated in one syncope. Rachel and her husband, their grown son and daughter, and Rachel's sister Libby were on their way to meet the parents of the son's fiancee. …