About a week ago I was diagnosed with labyrinthitis, a disorder I had never heard of and which my word processor doesn’t recognize either so it shows up underlined in red whenever I type it. My experience of it, I have since learned, has been fairly benign, if by benign you mean living in a dryer spin cycle for a few days.
It all started when I did my usual hop out of bed. I’m a quick riser and so I GET Up when I get up. But yesterday I got up and was immediately greeted by a whirling, twirling, you-drank-too-much-last-night sensation. The room, my lower body, my dresser, and nightstand were wheeling and drifting in and out of focus. It felt like those last moments of drunkenness right before you pass out, but without the fun part that precedes it — the laughing, jabbering, goofing, and believing you’re really good looking part that accounts for the widespread love of liquor. I staggered, reached for the dresser, and then fell backwards onto my bed. The ceiled fan gyrated above me, and the ceiling itself slanted right to left and up and down as if on some sort of loop-de-loop plane operated by a maniacal carney. I was terrified.
Lying on my back, watching the carney do his work, wasn’t making things better. Closing my eyes only encouraged me to believe I was a blind bobblehead on the dash of a pick-up being driven down a road littered with rocks and potholes. After a few minutes, I slowly raised my eyelids and tried to focus at far. That seemed to help some, either that or the carney was losing interest in me. The tilt-a-whirl slowed and I sat up like a near hit-and-run from a ditch. My terror gave way to what-the-fuckedness — a mixed state of confusion, fear, raw wonder, and anger that comes with getting sucker punched, being pulled over by the cops for no apparent reason, or learning your boss wants to meet with you and the head of HR.
I elbowed my way upward, trying to keep from rocking from side to side, got my legs over the edge of the bed, and took account of my situation. It was not good. I was on deadline with several writing projects — and being a freelancer, my only sick days are the days I can afford to not be freelancing and which I have to write off whenever life decides to screw with me. In a perfect world, such days are few. The way forward, that being my bedroom doorway, loomed in the corner of the room as a funhouse mirror in the distance, about eight feet away. Breakfast, exercising, a shower, and sitting down to work all beckoned — and being the truculent soul that I am, I persisted in believing that none of these tasks would be left undone. I was coursing through the usual state of denial anyone greeted with unaccountable disaster succumbs to. Even if it means ending sentences with prepositions.
Breakfast, I thought, should be easy enough, but the damn tile pattern on the kitchen floor made walking around tricky since it wouldn’t stay still for shit. Getting around was a bit like making my way across a gigantic rotating New York Times crossword puzzle looking to trip me up. I always start my day with coffee and our French press was in the dishwasher. Pulling out the dishwasher drawer and replacing the crossword puzzle below me with a cavernous silver tub filled with shiny china, sparkling glassware, and glinting cutlery made my head roll, sending a bit of spit-up to the back of my mouth and my torso tumbling toward the counter which I grabbed and held, thinking, maybe I wouldn’t be exercising this morning after all, the first sign that I was acclimating myself to my new spin-cycle life.
I spent the next hour lurching about the kitchen, rocking back and forth like Rain Man, burnishing my vision on ONE thing to steady myself — pouring coffee, putting Eggo’s in the toaster, spreading peanut butter, looking down at the waffles coming toward my face at alarming speed as their size grew exponentially the closer they got to my mouth. It might be the most important meal of the day, but I never thought it could be a 3D movie.
Having crossed exercise off my to-do list, I moved on to the shower. It’s in a narrow bathroom with a huge mirror over a double sink. Every time I turned my head, the walls zoomed in and out as I alternately clutched and pushed at them depending on whether I was falling toward or reaching for them. And the fricking mirror seemed intent on crushing my efforts to cleanse my already aseptic first-world hygienic derma. The shower itself, an even narrower space, was a bit less baffling once I got in and managed to stand perfectly still. But standing still while showering is impractical since it involves reaching for shampoo, soap, the showerhead, turning your head from side to side, twisting this way and that to reach the middle of your back, your thighs, and feet — ever think about how much you move around in a shower? I didn’t till then. Trust me, it’s a daunting undertaking for anyone with a vestibular disorder — yet another term I never heard of but which at least my word processor recognizes. I usually shave in the shower but decided doing so would be unwise given my current circumstances. I was lucky not to end up like Janet Lee yanking down the shower curtain in Psycho, face down on the porcelain, staring vacantly, blood streaming from the gash I could have gotten from the faucet handle. Stepping out of the shower, reaching for a towel, bending this way and that to dry myself came with its own learning curve — sort of an Orientation 101 for doing everyday things while dancing like Elaine Benes at the same time. Quite the feat if I do say so myself.
The spin cycle slowed down as the morning tumbled on, but still left me thinking, yeah, you might want to go to the emergency room. And do what? Tell them I was drunk but hadn’t been drinking? My wife tried calling an ask-a-doc, one of those services (though who is served is unclear) that lets you call and talk to someone about your symptoms but only after you tell them what medications you take, if you’ve had any surgeries, your family tree’s encounters with cancer, heart problems, mental health issues, and disorders too numerous to list here, your pharmacy, and of course your insurance carrier and a credit card just in case insurance didn’t pick up the tab for talking to a doctor you never met and who could be in Istanbul for all I knew. I terminated the call and got in to see someone at the local family practice where I usually go instead.
My wife and I decided she should drive since I was still having trouble navigating the crossword puzzle in the kitchen. The ride was yet another 3D movie that didn’t require those funny glasses. Closing my eyes only revisited my quality time as a blind bobble head. Eventually we arrived and as time passed, my stuporific state gave way to moments of clarity and balance. Moments being the optimum word here. I lurched from the car to the building, rode the elevator without hurling the ginormous waffles I had earlier, and got into to see a doctor.
First they took my stats. Of course I was reminded yet again that I should lose about 15 pounds. But my heart rate was 56 and my blood pressure a surprising 123 over 82. So given my current panic, these were facts I was pretty happy to hear, all things considered.
The doc came in, and having read the symptoms dutifully recorded by the nurse, set about calmly asking me questions, looking in my mouth and nose and ears, asking me to follow the tiny light he passed before me, left to right and up and down.
Given my history and current vitals, he was pretty sure I had an inner-ear infection. He talked a bit about what the inner ear consists of and how it works to help our bodies orient us to time and space as we move though life. I had what was probably labyrinthitis, named for the shape and structure of the inner ear. It turned out that he himself had an episode just like mine. While driving! And another time while walking the streets of Pittsburgh, a disorienting and hilly terrain no matter who you are. Why he was not dead encouraged me.
So I got a prescription — basically the stuff they give people for motion sickness. I went home, slept a lot, and slowly managed to solve the crossword puzzle in my kitchen. I was really lucky to have such a mild case. Those who don’t live in a carnival hell house to be wished on no one.
And so now I am waiting till my what-the-fuckedness recedes completely and I can once more ride my bicycle, which being an avid rider I do either on rollers or along trails and country roads, testing my endurance and balance while meditating on the contents of my next post.
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When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me. Quite of bit of satire, a genre that has become increasingly difficult to work in since reality has become such a farce.