Monday, January 29, 2018

Adventures in Vertigo

Three weeks ago, on January 9, our bags were packed. We were ready to go to Florida for a two month getaway, starting with a family wedding in Orlando. I woke up at seven o’clock, got out of bed, went downstairs to shower, and immediately the room began to spin. I could not stand up. I could not even sit up.

Surely this would pass, I thought. It did not. I yelled for my wife Jude. She rushed down and asked what she should do. Should she call an ambulance? I replied, “Definitely.” The forty minute ride in the ambulance was exciting. Being nauseous and riding backwards in a van is not fun. In the ER they feared a stroke. They did a CT scan. There was something unusual on it. Perhaps an aneurysm, the doctor said.

He said they better do an MRI. Forty-five minutes of torture later, nauseous, dizzy, and strapped into a mask and what felt like a strait jacket, I emerged. No aneurysm. No stroke. Just a small meningioma, benign growth in the front of my brain. An abnormality but harmless. Nothing to worry about. (I always suspected my brain was a bit abnormal.)

A wheelchair ride over to the ENT doctor confirmed a diagnosis of acute vertigo caused by labyrinthitis, an inflammation of the inner ear, likely caused by a virus.  “No problem,” the doc said. “It should clear up in 4-6 weeks. But if there is permanent nerve damage then full recovery could take 2-8 months.” “Thanks for the good news,” I replied.

For two days I lay in bed. I could not move without vomiting. I could not stand at all. I could barely open my eyes. I could not read or watch television. All I could do was listen to an audiobook and pray. They talked about sending me to a rehab hospital.

On the third day I arose. (The Biblical parallel was not lost on me.) I walked with the aid of a walker all the way to the door of my hospital room. Hooray! By my sixth day in the hospital, I could walk with a walker all the way down the hall. That meant I could go home instead of rehab. In the last two weeks I have graduated to a cane.

This Sunday I even made it to church to worship. It was my first outing in three weeks, besides a follow-up visit to the ENT. I was never so glad to be in church. To be welcomed and greeted and prayed for. To sing hymns. The previous Sunday we had to stay home and listen to a podcast of the church service on the computer. It just wasn’t the same.

Jude has been my savior, nurse and shower attendant. (Not as much fun as it sounds.) Prayer and meditation have been my constants in the midst of vertigo. While the world was spinning around me I reached out to the One who is the Center of the storm, calling out to the Lord who calmed the waves and wind on the Sea of Galilee. God is the Solid Rock that does not move, though the earth shift under my feet.

Today I am on the mend. I am still unstable on my feet. The walls and floor of our house still tilt as I walk. I still use a cane. I often catch myself by leaning against a wall. It has been a humbling experience.

While in the hospital the physical therapist asked me, “Do you normally get around without a walker at home?” I gawked at her, “Of course. Do you think I am an old man or something?” The look on her face confirmed her thoughts. I guess my bald head and grey beard don’t help.

I suddenly knew what it was like to feel like – and be treated like - an elderly person. Upon reflection I realized I am twice the age of the hospitalist and every nurse and aide who was treating me. Oh my! When did I become the oldest person in the room?

I thought of the way I have viewed the elderly throughout my ministry. That is how people are viewing me. It filled me with renewed respect, compassion and appreciation for older people, a club which apparently I had unknowingly joined.

Hopefully in a few weeks (rather than a few months) I will be back to normal. I am still hoping to make it to Florida sometime, but not until the spring at the earliest. In the meantime I will contemplate the joys of being officially older and hopefully a little wiser.