I’d love to tell you that I remember much about the day, except that I don’t. It was a quiet afternoon after college and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Mum and I visited the now-abandoned Focus Do It All store and browsed for some much-needed hardware supplies.
“I just want to have a look at some wallpaper a moment, are you coming?” she asked, steering the shopping trolley towards the wallpaper aisle. Dutifully, I followed.
Mum picked up the book of wallpaper samples and began to flip through. There were all kinds of styles and patterns, some I liked, some I didn’t, and nothing we could agree on. Mum finished that book and moved on to the next one. A brief glimpse of a vase of lilies and I blinked and felt weak. When I woke up, I was on my way to hospital.
The trip in the ambulance was nothing too out of the ordinary. My vital signs were all good and I’d managed to avoid injuring myself. As I came around, I became vaguely aware of the oxygen mask and the 3-lead ECG.
“Good morning” my Mum said, half laughing, and half petrified.
“What the hell happened?” I asked, trying to sit myself up.
“You saw a painting of some flowers and foof! Over you went!” she laughed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ambulance technician grinning.
Now that I was awake, I asked to discharge myself from the hospital and my mother refused. I’d never fainted before, and my mother wanted to get to the bottom of the cause. I sat on my gurney and waited to be seen by the doctor, trying to seem as co-operative as possible.
“Do you remember anything before you fainted?” the doctor asked as he examined my head.
“Flowers, lilies” I replied, “in a vase, it was a painting on some wallpaper. That’s all I remember”. He looked at me quizzically.
“Do you like flowers?”
I met his gaze, what a bizarre question.
“Some I don’t mind, some I hate” I shrugged.
“What kind of flowers do you hate?” he asked, waggling a finger in front of my eyes. I followed his finger fine and he seemed to relax, at least momentarily.
“I don’t know, like daffodils, and pond lilies”. What kind of questions were these?
“Calia lilies” my Mum interrupted, the doctor stood up, reconsidering me carefully.
“How do those flowers make you feel?”
“I need to look away, I hate to look at them. I can’t look at them” I said. Again, he nodded.
Perhaps the worst part of the whole ordeal was the precautionary blood tests. I tried to negotiate that they really weren’t necessary, and my mother held me. It wasn’t as bad as the first time I’d had blood taken, but I still hated it.
“Do you have any bad memories involving flowers?” the doctor asked, disposing of the gauze and nitrile gloves in the medical waste bin. I glowered at him. You pinpricked me, now you resume interrogating me?
“Only some very big ones I saw on TV!” I laughed.
We waited over an hour for the blood test results to come back from the laboratory. Any time I asked to be allowed to leave my bed, I was told that I’d fainted and I needed to rest. The doctor was happy that I had no signs of a head injury, but we still needed my blood workup before I was free.
“That all seems fine, nothing out of the ordinary” the doctor said, pushing back the ward curtain. Oh hallelujah! I can go home!
“It does seem like you might have a phobia though, from everything you’ve said”. Our eyes met, “a phobia of flowers”, he concluded.
“Don’t be silly, that can’t exist!” I scoffed.
“Hmm, you can have a phobia of absolutely anything if something triggers it. Even drinking water,” he said. I stopped laughing.
“You were exposed suddenly to the flowers and your brain was overwhelmed” he continued, “albeit they were painted flowers, not real ones” he said with a smirk.
Sure enough, anthophobia absolutely does exist, and perhaps more unfortunately, I have it. Since this horrendous ordeal, I have even identified a traumatic experience involving flowers that may have triggered it – the day I went seed pod picking with my brother. One of the seed pods was still attached, causing the flower to bow and almost hit me in the face.
I am getting better, but not all flowers are created equal. Roses, carnations and peonies are allowed. Hydrangea, impatiens and primroses pass, too. Anything with large and visible stamen, like lilies and daffodils, will have to get to the back of the queue. Looking is also okay, touching flowers absolutely is not. Fake flowers are fine to touch – as long as they look like one of the flowers that I can handle!