On Vertigo

One  beautiful, virgin Monday morning I awoke to see the room swirling around at top speed. I was stationary, but our “busy on a normal day” wallpaper resembled the very inner circle of a Kaleidoscope.  Sitting up in bed, I was unsure what had happened to me. Had I gone on a drinking binge while sleepwalking? Had I suffered closed head trauma? Or, was I only imagining to be awake and was actually still in a bad dream?  I blinked several times to no avail.  I laid down and slowly sat up, swung my legs over the side of the bed, and planted my feet flat on the floor.  Nothing changed.  The room was speeding left, left, left.  “Honey, I am so dizzy!” I told my husband, who was full swing readying for work.  Being diabetic, he assumed it was low blood sugar. “Test your levels,” he urged. Fine, I thought, but how would I make it to the kitchen, 4 rooms away, to pick up the glucose monitor when everything around me was dancing upside down?  Stumbled is how I managed in the end.  Like a zombie, bumping into walls, holding on to counters, I tested my blood sugar and it came up normal. Welcome, vertigo.

Thankfully, I’m “between” jobs and didn’t have to hurry to go anywhere.  Except take a mid morning tennis lesson.  I should have cancelled, but I thought somehow that exercise, always a cure all for high blood sugar, would rid me of the dizzies.  Miraculously, I had no trouble driving. That would have clinched the tennis lesson.  But the earth seemed to stand still when I was behind the wheel. Yes, the inside of the car looked too close, but I was focused on the road, traffic, and speed limit, not my radio, or seat or dashboard.  Once inside the tennis gym, I joined  about 8 women in a group lesson.  Stumbling a bit, I ran up to the net to hit a ball, and then turned left to follow the woman in front of me to the end of the line.  Over and over until a normal person was dizzy! When we switched directions, bearing right, I could hardly stand up straight.  The vast tennis barn was zooming left at breakneck speed.  I turned to our captain and said, “I have vertigo. I’m not sure how long I’ll last.”

Well, I made it in to the first game before I realized that if I focused on the ball coming at me, I couldn’t run.  And if I focused on running, I couldn’t see the ball coming at me. So I was forced to bail. Returning home, I went online and Googled vertigo to diagnose myself. I love diagnosing myself. About 95% of the time, I’m wrong.  And maybe 5% of the time, I’m halfway correct. Anyway, there are two kinds of vertigo, according to WebMd.  One is viral, usually appearing after a cold or flu where there is mucous drainage, ending up in your middle ear.  Otitis media is the medical term. I’d suffered from this same thing about 10 years ago, and fortunately, it cleared up in about 3 days.  A second kind of vertigo is called Positional, whereby small pieces of calcium deposits in the middle ear are disturbed, and move.  Upon moving, they create inequilibrium, thereby throwing off your balance and creating the dizzies.

WebMd went on to explain how Positional Vertigo can be helped with head exercises, so I, of course, tried them.  It was a disaster. I’m lucky I didn’t land on my head! What you had to do was lie on your back and hang your head off the side, turning from left to right to left to right quickly. An already dizzy reaction intensified.  I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. So, okay, maybe I didn’t have Positional Vertigo.  Maybe I had a brain tumor, also a possible diagnosis on WebMd.  This is exactly why doctors HATE patients trying to diagnose themselves.  We always think the worst.

As the next day wore on, with no respite overnight, I realized I couldn’t read. Any movement of my head would set the room moving, backwards, forwards, and always to the left.  I couldn’t read, write, surf the Internet, or walk up or down steps without falling. Vertigo.  A totally symptomless disease, excluding the dizzies, of course, but painless.  What was up with that?  Yes, I did get a headache, but who wouldn’t with the dizzies? Just trying to focus was stressful. So I took an antihistamine, which turned out, in the end, to be just what the doctor ordered.  The only thing I could do, for some unfathomable reason, was watch TV.  I hate TV.  Most of it, at least. But since I couldn’t write, work on my novel, email friends, or do homework, I figured I might as well “go with the flow” and watch mind numbing TV.  Now, I must admit, I like Ellen deGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, Flipping Out, The Middle, and Housewives of ATL.  Shameless, I know, for a writer to admit to like such junk shows, but watching TV that week saved me from going insane with boredom.

By Wednesday, I decided I needed to at least try to get active.  I didn’t want to let my team down. I had to give it my best shot (no pun intended). Surely, the barn wouldn’t quake if I concentrated harder.  As soon as I moved my head to serve, the room went on a tilt.  So off to the doctor I went.  Diagnosis? No brain tumor, not Positional Vertigo, but instead, a whopping case of viral vertigo, which might last a week, or longer, or I would never get my sense of equilibrium back again.  I don’t even want to go there – thinking I’d have vertigo for the rest of my life. Intolerable comes to mind.  In the meantime, I was to take antihistamines, or plain old Dramamine, a travel sickness pill.  Being that I’m not working, and not insured, the OTC meds were a lifesaver, as the prescription, containing the same ingredients, would have cost me about $100.  I was to take 3 per day, and if not better after a week, call the doctor back.

That night was the first night that when I closed my eyes, the room continued to spin. Apparently that is a sign of true vertigo.  As if I’d been making it all up, I had to suffer more when I closed my eyes, to prove that I really had the condition?  I’ve never done recreational drugs in my life, but I imagine being dizzy all the time is similar to a drug induced high.  I wanted none of it.  I took a sleeping pill.  Until I fell asleep, I felt as though I was on a merry go round where the animals on which I sat had sprung lose throwing me up and down in a whirling dervish sort of ride. I gripped the side of the bed and prayed for peace.

Some people suffering from vertigo vomit.  They vomit ceaselessly for the entire time the disease seizes them. Fortunately, I never vomited. I felt sick at bedtime, but I didn’t have to make a dash for the bathroom. Of course, there was no dashing going on at all that week.  Eventually, friends and family had to hold my arm to keep me steady when walking, take away the car keys, and help me fix meals. I am a person on the go. I hate sitting still with nothing to do.  And usually, that is never the case.  If I’m not writing, I’m taking online courses, if I’m not doing that, I’m reading, if I’m not reading, I’m playing tennis.  Or Words with Friends. Or, Flow.

My vertigo lasted 7 full days, with 4 more to get used to not having the dizzies. Even now, 2 weeks later, when I move quickly, I expect to fall over.  When I close my eyes at night and reopen them in the morning, I fear watching the room dash past, but am always steady and stable.

Goodbye vertigo, may we never meet again.

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