Carolyn J. Rose
On October 27th, the earth tilted and spun.
At least it seemed to from where I was sitting. For the record, that was (thankfully) in the passenger seat as Mike drove down Main Street in Vancouver, Washington.
It took all my will power not to seize his arm when the street in front of us lifted and rippled and the car lurched from side to side. Somehow, while screaming, “Stop the car! Pull over!” I recognized that jerking his arm—and the steering wheel—would make things worse.
By the time he was able to pull into a parking lot—three to five seconds later—the vertigo had passed. I was shaking with jolts of adrenaline and anxiety, but my mind seemed clear.
I raised my hands above my head and asked Mike, “Can I smile with both sides of my mouth? Are both of my eyebrows going up? Is my speech slurred?”
Shook up and frightened, he didn’t seize the opportunity to mess with me, but gave me straight answers. Smile, eyebrows, and speech were normal. So far, so good. I didn’t feel sick to my stomach and when I got out of the car I was able to walk and keep to a straight line. I didn’t have pain in my chest or shortness of breath. Grateful to all the friends who forwarded bulletins listing warning signs and symptoms, I self-diagnosed that I hadn’t suffered a stroke or heart attack.
Mike wanted to take me to the urgent care center a few blocks away but I refused. Going to the doctor meant I was sick and things were out of my control. Going home meant I was in charge—or in denial.
We went home and, after resting for a few minutes, I logged on to the Internet and began entering my symptoms. Not the smartest thing for a person with an active imagination to do. Within an hour I diagnosed myself with heart and artery issues, dehydration, thyroid problems, and a brain tumor.
It was time to relinquish control to someone whose training was many levels above pointing and clicking.
Putting on clean underwear without any rips so my grandmother wouldn’t spend the rest of her afterlife in a state of impacted embarrassment, I went to the urgent care center.
Their diagnosis? Not a stroke. Not a heart attack. Not thyroid issues.
Rocks in my ears.
He’s been gone for nine years, but I can almost hear my father laughing and saying he always knew I had rocks in my head. No one ever accused him of being the sympathetic sort.
Among the many things I didn’t know about the human body is that tiny calcium crystals in the inner ear can fall out of their pouch and into a canal where they roll around and make the brain think the head is moving—in my case, moving like that of the girl in The Exorcist.
Because age is a factor in these “rock slides” and I may have other episodes, I’m armed with coping strategies like closing one eye, getting to the floor or ground as fast as I can, and taking precautions like going downstairs on my butt—not something I want to do in public. I’m also armed with medication to reduce nausea and an exercise/maneuver to try to move the rocks back where they belong.
The condition isn’t serious—at least not anywhere near as serious as the conditions I diagnosed myself with. Those few seconds of vertigo weren’t a near-death experience, but they made me think about THE END and how unexpected and terrifying it might be.
I got up the next morning making all the usual vows—be a kinder person, have more patience, don’t be as snarky and sarcastic, control my temper, and don’t waste time that could be spent writing. No more games of solitaire, no more rearranging the contents of the desk, no more (or at least fewer) trips to the kitchen in search of snacks.
And next time Mike says we should go to the urgent care center, I won’t argue and I won’t stop off at home to check the Internet. To play off an old saying, “She who diagnoses herself has a fool for a patient.”