Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Vertigo

No, not the movie - although it's one of my favourite films. And not the comic line, either. If you thought of that first, you are an even bigger geek than I am.

No, I mean the actual symptom, i.e. " a false illusion of motion with a distinct sensation of rotation." This was the major symptom I was experencing as I was sick over the last three weeks, and it's more of a pain in the ass than you might imagine. I mean, I thought it was bad when I had the symptoms of a throat infection and possible stomach flu the week before. But, it turned out it could get worse, because I didn't go to the doctor and it progressed to a combined sinus and ear infection that gave me... well, you guessed it.

Just how much of a pain in the ass is vertigo? Well, strike one: if you have vertigo, nobody can tell you have it. You look perfectly fine, until you find yourself putting your head between your knees or clinging to nearby wall or lamp-post to remain upright. I have a feeling that I was probably doing weird squinty and popping things with my eyeballs, too, and making pissy faces, but just enough that the casual observer probably thought I was either crazy or had a minor case of Tourette's, not so much that it would be clear I was ill and thus garner some pardon or sympathy. In any case, I found myself feeling defensive while I was sick in a way I wouldn't have if, say, I had a rattling cough or a blood-soaked bandage on my head. "I may look fine," I'd silently mind-thrust at those around me, "but I feel like I've been tossed in a sack and hammered - wanna make somethin' out of it?"

Strike two: it is remarkably incapacitating. Even if you otherwise feel fine (which is unlikely, because headaches, fatigue and nausea tend to tag along with their friend vertigo, but I'm just saying), try doing almost anything when the little steadycam in your brain that keeps your every waking moment from looking like the chase scene in a COPS video is not working and you will pretty soon start wishing for temporary blindness. Work on the computer? No. Watch TV? Not for more than a few minutes, if you don't want to revisit your breakfast. Read a good book? Try a page or two, at most. When I did have to move around, I found myself navigating through many familiar spaces - and some unfamiliar ones - with my eyes closed. I'd sometimes catch myself doing this walking down the hallway at work or, say, Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn on the way to the pharmacy. I'd have to stop and force myself to pry my lids open and walk slowly, to lessen the chance of blundering into other pedestrians, obstacles or passing vehicles. To be fair to myself, I submit that even when I was blinded and dizzy, I was at least as careful and safe as most of the drivers on that familiar roadway ("bike lane? What bike lane? I think I'll make a U-Turn at 35 miles per hour with this Salvation Army couch plopped on my car roof and the 5 kids sliding around in the back, between the blown-out, blaring gajillion-watt speakers.").

Finally, strike three: there's just not a heck of a lot you can do for vertigo. The strongest thing my doctor threw at me was a version of your basic Dramamine, which did almost nothing for me (except make me even more sleepy, which I did not expect was possible). So, I basically had to wait until it went away, not knowing when or if it would. I knew I was supposed to be on antibiotics for at least a week, but as that stretched into ten days and on to nearly two weeks with little improvement, I began to worry. What if the infection was gone, but I had some weird condition or damage in my brain, which meant I'd be doomed, dooooooomed, to feeling like I'd just spent three hours on the Goodship Gutspew for the rest of my life? All things told, this one symptom, which, on the surface, would not seem like something that would put one out of commission, did. Put me out. And I was mad about it, too!

I mean, not only did I have to use up most of my sick days, but I had to spend them staring at... nothing, or reading for five minutes and then sleeping for fifteen. And I'd find myself raging at myself, too, as in "you pussy! You're just a little woozy! It's not even a flesh wound!" But it didn't help. And it was depressing, because I also couldn't enjoy eating, or talking with anyone for very long, much less keep up my AC practice, which was probably the most disheartening. I mean, it's one thing to feel just generally useless, but another entirely when someone calls you weeping that their innocent little animal is dying or lost somewhere, and you have to say "sorry, got a bit of the spins, can't help you." Well, I could refer them elsewhere, but still. I ended up having to do quite a bit of soul-searching and telling myself that just because I couldn't be "useful" in the way I'd like to be at that time, I was still an okay person. I'm still mulling over that one, but I guess it was an important "life lesson." Or whatever. Bleah.

Anyway, I'm back again (somewhat) and starting to catch up, so I hope to be writing more. I'm sure millions have been waiting with breath a-baited. Stay tuned for what one hopes will be less hostile, if probably equally self-involved, updates.

1 comment:

Mickie said...

Say, what a coniky-dinky! I had vertigo, too, about three weeks ago. I had it for about six hours. Then, the next day, I started having the symptoms of what was to become a two-week annoying laryngitis-cold combo!

You're description is very accurate. I felt like I was in a fun-house, in one of those "tilted houses". The right side of my office seemed very close and raised up, and the left corner seemed far away and downward-sloping. The office nurse was completely unhelpful. The only thing that helped was leaning my head against a wall or filing cabinet, and drinking copious amounts of ice water.

Glad to hear you're feeling better.