I didn’t drink much in college. It wasn’t a big part of the culture of Sarah Lawrence, (weed was way more popular) but I did a guest semester at Mount Holyoke, and that was, absolutely, a drinking school. Girls at Mount Holyoke actually had bars in the dorms. They would stock the top of the dresser with what you might put in a bar cart, they had mixers, they had CHERRIES in jars and LEMON slices. It was not uncommon to drop by an acquaintance’s room at 5 pm to discuss a project (remember, there was no texting then, people actually had to talk to each other, it seems positively quaint now) and be asked if you wanted a drink. Like, a real drink. What would you like? A gin and tonic? An old fashioned? I barely knew the world of mixed drinks, even though the drinking age, then, was eighteen. At Sarah Lawrence, if we did drink, it usually meant a group of us sharing a large bottle of Almaden. (Is that still a brand?) This whole making- a-drink-thing was kind of amazing to me, until one night when I drank four different cocktails and not much later vomited all over my comforter. Then it wasn’t so amazing. And you know how they say that once you are sick, you feel better? Nah. All I remember is the room spinning, and spinning and spinning (while I was attempting to clean up) until morning. Maybe other people don’t have this reaction to too much alcohol, but if everyone did, my bet is that nobody would become alcoholic, it is just awful. The being sick is terrible, but the spins….
This week, without any alcohol to bring this about, my world started spinning. Apart from feeling disoriented, vulnerable, non functional and nauseated….I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. My husband has Meniere’s disease, an auto immune disease that causes profound dizziness and hearing loss, so I am well acquainted with dizzy episodes. His were so extreme that we called 911, I thought he was having a stroke or a seizure, they were epic and beyond horrible. I, myself, have had two episodes of the far less serious (really not serious at all, unless the dizziness makes you drive into a telephone pole) positional vertigo, but for some reason I didn’t think this was that. Part of the reason was in the two epsiodes in the past the dizziness was so profound there was no way I could ignore it. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had it, it’s close to having the “spins” from drinking, or a fever episode but I don’t remember those spins as making the ceiling become the floor and vice versa. It’s like you’re Alice and you’ve gone down the rabbit hole.
This time was more gradual, initially just kind of a swimmy feeling, and I quickly decided (because, you know, I went to med school) that it was from these new progressive glasses I was trying out to wear at night when it was time to take out my contacts. So I went longer than I should have before seeing a doctor.
This isn’t an amazing story, there is no surprise ending. But I thought I would just let people know that as we age we are more vulnerable to positional vertigo, particularly if there are family members who have had it. It develops when small pieces of calcium crystals find their way to the semicircular canal in your inner ear. And what happened to me, this time, is one of those things that is common knowledge amongst doctors but not patients, and not even all doctors. And, importantly, not all dentists (but, fortunately, mine.) This bout of vertigo came from having a long session of dental work done where I was in the chair, with my head tilted back, mouth open, with the drill going…all the fun stuff you associate with dental work. And a perfect trifecta for triggering positional vertigo. I was so darn PROUD of myself, I meditated, I got through it fine. But then the next day it was like someone had slipped something into my bulletproof coffee. But I didn’t put it together. Also, I HATE going to doctors and dentists and, even though (or maybe because) I have a history of cancer, I do the minimum. So, I kept telling myself, this will go away. You are being dramatic. It’s the glasses.
But none of that was true. And I finally did get to an ENT two days ago, and he did a version of the treatment I have had before, which makes you PROFOUNDLY, like you are going to be sick, dizzy, but then gets you better. But I went through five days of not feeling like myself, not being able to do simple things, like chat with people at a party, not being able to do yoga or even lean my head back to wash my hair, without feeling like I was going to keel over. And it was unnecessary. And I was also pretty cranky….partly because I was scared that I had something that might make me die and also super frustrated that I couldn’t MAKE my brain behave.
I have been writing a lot about my parent’s dementia, and of course, while I do wonder how they are feeling about it, much of the writing has focused on my own reaction to it. But this, TINY (by comparison) experience has made me newly empathetic to them, or to anyone who struggles with any kind of brain disease or injury. I don’t like it (who does?) if I injure my knee or back or….but, seriously, leave my brain alone. Feeling dizzy, disoriented, it really brought up the idea of our brain being, more than any other part of our bodies, ourselves. And certain spiritual people will tell you that it is all an illusion, so, yeah, ok, maybe, but it’s an illusion I hold dear. If I turn my ankle and it’s swollen and I have to keep it up and ice it, it’s a giant pain and inconvenience, but I am still me. I didn’t feel like ME dealing with this dizziness, (and the connecting fatigue and headache just from trying to stay upright) and it of course made me think of my husband Mitchell who has been struggling with this for years. (The worst of it has gone, but he still has some residual dizziness and has been left with hearing loss.) The silver lining of this story is that the physician I saw for the vertigo happened to be a new doctor in the practice, a guy who got excited when I told him about Mitchell, who said, “I love Meniere’s! Please send him to me!!!” Okay, maybe a bit too much enthusiasm, but I know he meant he loves to help people with Meniere’s….at least I certainly hope so. So, maybe Mitchell will get some new kind of treatment, who knows. And, maybe that’s why I got this vertigo at this moment in time.
But, man, it sure made me appreciate having, at least to a certain extent, my mental faculties. My brain isn’t perfect, but I am quite attached to it, and this newest episode made me extra grateful for it.
So, please, if you experience dizziness, go see your doctor. There is an expression that doctors hear in medical school, “when you hear the sounds of hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” Yes, you might have something more serious, (which, duh, needs to be checked out) but chances are you have positional vertigo and the treatment is easy and effective (and no prescriptions!) so, spare yourself days of dizziness.
Yes, I know the world is always spinning, but maybe we don’t really need to be reminded this way.