The alarm jangled as it always does, too early. Lying on my back, my eyes reluctantly slid open and focused on the ceiling. What I mean to say is, they tried to focus on the ceiling. “Why is the room going in circles?” I wondered aloud. Almost instantly, I was nauseated. I knew I had to stand up, but I couldn’t. Even an attempt to sit up failed, as I almost toppled off the side of the bed. After I made her understand what I needed, the pretty live-in nurse helped me to the facilities, where I promptly…well, I won’t go into the repulsive details. My nurse helped me back to the bed, where I laid myself down and tried to stay absolutely motionless. It didn’t help much.
The next twenty-four hours are a complete blank. I know (because she told me she did) that the nice nurse ran the music store for me that day. After a full day of complete inactivity and alternating sleep and nausea, the next morning brought a repeat performance of the spinning room and inability to stand. The beautiful red-headed nurse took matters into her own hands. Loosely translated, that means that she made an appointment with the doctor and drove me to see him. The trip was torture. Even with my eyes closed, the motion of the car increased the dizziness exponentially, with all the accompanying symptoms. At the doctor’s office, I could not walk on my own, but had to to be rolled in a wheelchair from the waiting area to the examination room. The good doctor was baffled about the cause, but he knew what to do. “I’m going to give you prescriptions for the nausea and for the vertigo,” he said. “The vertigo medication won’t actually fix the dizziness, but it will fool your brain into thinking that it’s gone and will let you function.” I was helped back into the wheelchair and the nice lady started to push me out. “Oh, one more thing!” He cautioned. “The medication has a tendency to cause mood swings. You want to be careful to stay out of stressful situations. Some patients tend to get a little combative.” A prophetic statement, as it turned out…
I didn’t realize it, but as I was wheeled out, a friend who worked at the clinic, saw me and became very worried. She called her husband and told him that he needed to check on me. “He’s quite sick! I think there’s something seriously wrong with him,” were the words he reported to me later that week. I was to remember those words a few months later, when ironically and quite sadly, my concerned friend was diagnosed with cancer and died within weeks of the diagnosis. The incongruity of her concern for me with a passing, relatively minor illness, while a silent killer was at work in her own body, still gives me pause today.
The doctor’s prescriptions did their job. I was on my feet within 24 hours and back to work soon thereafter. I soon forgot about his warning about side-effects, though. Until one Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks later. My brother-in-law and I had to pick up a piano and bring it back to the music store. Pulling the piano trailer behind my truck and stopped at a stop sign, I grew impatient with the oncoming traffic. Muttering under my breath about “idiots who never should have been given a license,” I picked a gap a little bigger than the others (but still without enough distance to safely enter traffic) and pushed the nose of the truck into it, the trailer naturally following. In the rearview mirror, I saw the dark green pickup truck (itself pulling a stock trailer) approaching at a rapid clip. I didn’t care. All that mattered to me was that I was in the lane and not waiting at the stop sign any longer. Let him put on his brakes. He did, but boy, was he angry! I could see him gesturing and yelling as I looked in the mirror. He was also tailgating me, so I tapped my brakes. Do you begin to see a pattern here? Can we say the words “road rage”? I still didn’t care and, come to think of it, was getting a little enraged myself.
When I pulled into the parking lot at the music store, he was still on my bumper and he pulled in right behind me. The strapping young farmer got out of his truck angrily and headed for my vehicle. He was a lot bigger than I. And, a lot stronger. I didn’t care. I shouted at him, just as loudly as he shouted at me. My brother-in-law, in the truck with me, couldn’t believe what he was seeing (and hearing). Every once in awhile, I could hear his voice saying quietly and apprehensively, “Paul…,” but I ignored him, continuing with my shouting match. Finally, I yelled at the driver of the other truck to get off my property, which he did, after a few more choice words of his own. When I turned to look at my brother-in-law, he was staring at me in disbelief, his mouth hanging open. “That was stupid! I thought you were going to try to fight him! What if he pulled out a gun?” I was dismissive, but realization of what I had done was beginning to dawn on me, and soon, embarrassment took the place of anger.
There is still one more chapter to this narrative. A few months after these events, I had another episode of dizziness and my doctor, concerned because of the reoccurrence, sent me to a specialist. After a few moments of examination, the specialist gave me his diagnosis. “You’ve got rocks loose in your head.” As we laughed together, he went on to explain the tongue-in-cheek statement, telling me that the little pieces of calcium which are present in the ear canal, normally moving in concert to keep the equilibrium of the body, had gotten “out of sync”. A few of the pieces had shifted to a different part of the canal and were moving independently. What I needed was some physical therapy and a regimen of exercises to move the little “rocks” back to their normal location. Within two weeks, the problem was fixed. No aggression-causing medication, no parking lot fights. And, I know what to do the next time the symptoms come.
This is not a conversation about the medical versus the holistic approach, so I would prefer not to have a bunch of proselytizing in response to this post. Both of the doctors I visited were medical doctors. The symptoms of my second bout of vertigo were more localized and easier to pin down than the first one, making the diagnosis possible. My doctor did exactly what he should have in prescribing medication which eased the symptoms. I had to have relief. I mention these events simply to bring some other truths into focus.
Can I talk about the ways we approach life’s problems for a moment or two? I’ve seen firsthand the ways that the issues of life are sometimes handled. Similar to my staying in bed, the denial method has more than a few practitioners. Sooner or later though, the issue has to be faced. Closing our eyes and denying the truth won’t change facts. I also know a number of folks who have decided that fooling the brain into believing the problem is gone will suffice. Daily, I see people who drink to forget, or who take drugs to dull the pain. They even succeed in their goal…for a few moments. The problem with this method? The side-effects are inevitable; the symptoms return. Like my aggressive attitude, serious repercussions result and the latter disaster is as bad or worse than the reason for masking the problem in the first place. Also, a word of caution to those of you who are on the outside looking in on someone who is going through this: Like my friend at the medical center, it is easy to talk about the seriousness of other’s problems, to assume that we’re okay, when in reality we have a bigger, far more serious problem ourselves.
I want you also to understand that the cure for my problem was not enjoyable. First, as I lay on the specialist’s examining table, he forced me to move into a position which made the full effect of the dizziness overwhelm me, so he could observe the physical symptoms of my problem. It was terrifying. It was also necessary, so that the diagnosis could be made and the process of healing be started. The subsequent sessions with the therapist and the exercises done at home were also extremely unpleasant, with the symptoms reoccuring several times in the process. I didn’t want to continue, but I knew that the only path to the goal of healing was through the unpleasantness. Avoiding it would bring temporary respite from the torturous treatment, but I would still have the ongoing dizziness.
Have I preached enough? I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m remembering that this will likely be my last post of this year and the preaching is mostly aimed at myself. The new year approaches rapidly, alongside the ramifications with which we imbue it…namely a new start and a time for resolutions. As usual, I am not making much of a resolution list, simply because at this point in my life, I know the futility of such lists. The old joke about resolutions going in one year and out the other is more truth than otherwise. So, I am going to determine to do this one thing next year, as difficult at it may be. My hope for 2012 is that I will face what lies ahead openly and honestly. My goal is to approach problems with the intent to solve them, not to mask them or to deny them.
I hope that some of you will hold my feet to the fire to achieve this goal. If you do that, I also hope that you will give me the benefit of your help when I need it. And, I will need it. Without it, I might even get into a fist fight or two in the parking lot. That wouldn’t be a good thing, would it?
“Ring out the old; ring in the new.
Ring happy bells across the snow.
The year is going; let him go.
Ring out the false; ring in the true.”
(Alfred Lord Tennyson~Victorian poet~1809-1892)
“Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye, when you have a log in your own? First, take the log out of your own eye and then you can see to help your friend get the speck out of his.”