Last Tuesday, Sept. 18, a male student was admitted to McCullough-Hyde Hospital after his blood pressure spiked dangerously high. According to reports, Kenneth Johnson fainted on Spring Street, outside of Armstrong Student Center.
“I thought it might have been from heat exhaustion,” said Dr. Margaret Albertson, “but my heart dropped into my stomach when I found out the real cause.”
Doctors say that the cause of the incident was 19-year-old Johnson encountering junior linguistic major Holli Minnick, an acquaintance he barely knew well enough to interact with.
“I was walking by Armstrong when I saw this girl from my microbiology class last semester,” Johnson said. “I saw her coming from a distance, but I wasn’t sure if it was really her or not.”
Johnson’s first mistake, he says, was making eye contact.
“She looked back at me right away,” he said. “That was deadly. By then I had already decided to look down at my phone, but, like, she saw me, and it was definitely her. So, already, I was in too deep.”
Dr. Albertson says this is not the first time she’s had a student come into McCullough-Hyde after passing out from an awkward interaction.
“We call people like Kenneth victims of ‘sidewalk culture,’” she said. “When a student sees someone they hardly know, they will have a fight-or-flight response. To greet or not to greet?”
It turns out that Johnson had indeed taken MBI 111 with Minnick last spring.
“Yeah, we sat, like, three seats apart from each other all semester,” Minnick said. “Sometimes we complained about the readings we had to do. I don’t think Kenneth ever did them, though.”
Eyewitnesses say that around 15 seconds after Johnson passed Minnick, he fell over onto the sidewalk.
“I remember saying something like, ‘Hey,’ and that was all,” Johnson said. “It was terrifying. I didn’t know what to do because we’d made eye contact about three times, but I didn’t want it to look like I was checking her out, because I wasn’t.”
Minnick’s account of the event tells a different story.
“I just saw him and smiled,” she said. “That was all. It wasn’t that weird to me. We acknowledged each other and moved on. I wasn’t even there long enough to notice him faint, because by then, I was already inside Armstrong.”
Johnson said this is not the first time he’s experienced a spike in blood pressure from a social interaction.
“I remember sitting in the hospital bed and being like, ‘Dude, wow, it’s never been this bad,’” he said. “I think it just needs to stop. Let me stare at my phone intensely if I’m passing by you.”
Johnson believes that others should change their sidewalk behavior to suit his own wants and needs.
“People just need to stop saying ‘hi’ to me,” he said. “I hate feeling like I need to talk to people. Don’t even look at me. I hate this stupid sidewalk culture.”
Dr. Albertson says that she and her colleagues knew exactly what to do to treat Johnson’s recurring problem.
“We told him to stop interacting with people he barely knew because he’ll probably make it awkward again,” Albertson said. “He said that it’s not easy to make that happen.”
Minnick said she has not heard from her former classmate since the incident.
“Like I said, I didn’t even know he passed out,” she said. “I thought saying ‘hey’ would be a nice thing to do despite not being friends.”
Johnson has no future plans to make eye contact with anyone next time he walks around campus.
“I’m practicing how convincingly I can look down at my phone on demand,” he said. “I might even pretend I’m calling someone if I see more than one acquaintance at the same time. I can’t take huge risks like this anymore.”