Thursday, June 4, 2009


No, this isn't a blog about Hitchcock movies or a fear of heights (although I am a fan of Hitchcock and I have an intense phobia of open heights). I've heard it said that you learn the most about yourself in your worst moments, and I agree. So this blog is about my recent bout with Vertigo and what I learned from it.

Until last Tuesday, Vertigo as an illness was something I'd heard about only in passing. I thought it was one of those "old-people diseases." I'm certainly not OLD, so it had to be something else. Actually, when I initially started feeling bad on Sunday afternoon, I thought I'd been food-poisoned by the fried catfish at Cracker Barrel. My deepest apologies to Cracker Barrel for any disparagement I might have done before I realized that wasn't it. I dragged my woozy, nauseous butt to school on Monday because final exams started on Tuesday, and I couldn't leave my kids hanging without that last bit of review. It was a long, miserable day, but I got through it.

Then Tuesday morning arrived. Holy cow. Imagine the absolute worst case of motion sickness you've ever had then multiply it times ten. The room was spinning when my alarm went off. I couldn't focus on the numbers on the clock. I knew I was going to throw up, but I literally couldn't walk to the bathroom. I half stumbled, half crawled to the porcelain throne and proceeded to hurl...the first of several such trips. At one point I simply lay on the bathroom floor because it was too hard to crawl back to bed. I explained my final exam procedures to my sub from my bathroom floor. Bruce took me to the doctor later that morning, and it was torture. Getting dressed made me sick. The car ride there made me sick. The car ride home made me sick. You get the idea.

After determining I hadn't had a stroke (always good news), the doctor told me about vertigo. Apparently anyone can get it. It often follows a bad cold or a bout with allergies. Your inner ear gets all jacked up which in turn jacks up your balance and coordination. Your eyesight is affected. Nausea follows which messes with the digestive system. When balance, coordination, eyesight, and the entire digestive system are wrong, nothing is right. Mental function deteriorates quickly.

I'm not one to wallow in my misery. I hate being sick, and I was happy to go back to work this afternoon -- even for those dreaded end-of-the-year meetings.

So why write about it?

Two important truths were revealed to me during this experience. I suppose I was intellectually aware of both of them before my illness, but they became real in a more visceral way.

First, true romance isn't hearts and flowers. True love is taking care of someone even when it's unpleasant. Bruce took care of me. He stood by with a cool rag when I was throwing up. He led me like a drunk old woman from the car to the doctor's office and back. He woke up in the middle of the night to make sure I took the meds on time. He got the kids up and out the door, fed them, and got our younger one shuttled to his activities. He made sure I stayed hydrated, and after the meds calmed my stomach, he made sure I ate. We spent our 20th wedding anniversary last night sitting at the bar in the kitchen eating the food he cooked for me. It was better than a candlelight dinner at a fancy restaurant. In an often difficult and uncertain world, the knowledge that you have someone you can absolutely count on is the best gift you can get.

The other lesson I learned was one of perspective. No matter how much lip service we might give it, we never really understand what it's like to walk in another person's shoes. I'm guilty of becoming impatient with older folks sometimes when they can't move or process fast enough to suit me. I'm never rude, but on the inside I'm thinking, "Let's go, get a move on." I got a big, fat dose of helplessness and confusion this week. I couldn't walk without help. I sure as heck couldn't drive. I couldn't even mentally process things without an effort on Tuesday because I was so discombobulated. Being helpless sucks in the worst possible way, and knowing you are helpless is humbling.

I watched my dad take care of my mom as she withered away from breast cancer. I watched her accept help with quiet dignity and grace. I was moved by both of them, but I was on the outside looking in. My illness only took me out of commission for a couple of days, and mentioning it in the same breath as hers is lame, but it did give me a brief glimpse of the power of "in sickness and in health" -- both sides of it.

Although I'm still walking with a bit of a list, I can focus on the words on my computer screen. I can think clearly enough to compose them. Those are not small things, and I'm grateful for them.


  1. A close friend of mine has Meniers (sp?) Disease which caused random vertigo more often than she'd like. Unfortunately it claimed about 90% of her hearing as well and has also hospitalized her. So I totally feel for ya. She's explained it to me and it sounds awful. I'm sorry you had to experience it!

  2. Thanks Marybeth. I hope I never have to experience it again. The idea of this being a regular thing is horrifying.

  3. Love this, Kathy! I am sorry you had to deal with the vertigo, but it almost makes it worth it when you really realize what a wonderful husband you have. I had the same experience with Ken during my hysterectomy. He did things for me no husband should ever have to do! LOL! Glad you are feeling better!!


  4. I have meniere's disease and the effects on your life are devastating. Unfortunately there isn't a cure for it.