Regaining My Balance…Literally!!
It is probably evident from the fact that I haven’t done any posts in the last 18 months, but for a variety of reasons, life has been more than a little hectic around here lately. For me, a lot of it came to a head last November impacting me in a pretty scary way.
I had just taken on a new role at work which was (and still is) really demanding. Longer hours, faster pace, more travel, etc… It is a positive thing career wise but definitely puts a tax on the whole work-life balance thing. Thankfully, the kids have been taking on more responsibilities around the homestead, taking care of the chickens and rabbits, but it was still becoming awfully hard to keep up with everything. We were also bearing down on the holidays, which felt extraordinarily busy this year for some reason. Thanksgiving was coming up fast, followed by a week long hunting trip with my father-in-law and brother-in-law (a fairly recent addition to my annual tradition which I have come to cherish), followed almost directly by a work trip which would take me out of the country for another whole week, after which we had only a few short weeks until Christmas/New Years. I know…boo-hoo me, getting a great new role at work, having nice holiday time with my family/friends, a rejuvenating week in the woods with the guys, and a trip to Europe for a week before being off for a long Christmas break; but as Maria could tell you, I can get pretty easily overwhelmed by a continuous stream of plans, and with the new job, I knew that this was all going to bring a world of stress trying to keep up with anything.
With all of this on the horizon, I woke up one morning feeling a little stuffy in the head, like I normally feel when a bad cold is coming. I hit the pre-emptives pretty hard that day, taking in as much raw garlic, elderberry syrup, and vitamin C as I could stomach. Things stayed mostly stable the rest of that day, except for a feeling of increasing pressure in my head, to the point where I started feeling “water-logged”, making my vision a little slow to stabilize when I turned my head suddenly. I went to work, but by the middle of the next day, I started to feel what I can only describe as really drunk (without the pleasant feelings of euphoria). It was getting really hard to focus my vision, and I started to lose my balance a bit when walking. Early in the afternoon I had a meeting with my new boss, and was hardly able to keep it together. He probably thought I was crazy as I could hardly look him in the eye without feeling nauseous. I left work right after that meeting…that 45 minute drive home never felt longer. I ended up pulling over at one point to throw up after being at an intersection where I had to look back and forth a bunch of times to find a break in the traffic (sorry to whoever’s front yard that was!).
I got home and laid down hoping that it was just a bad virus and I could sleep it off. Only when I woke up, things had gotten even worse. By that night, I couldn’t focus my eyes enough to make out words (let alone read the kids a bedtime story), and when I walked, I stumbled around like a drunken sailor. I couldn’t keep much food or water down without throwing it up a few minutes later when I moved my head too fast. When I looked blankly at Maria, she said that my eyes were constantly moving back and forth really rapidly despite my best efforts to keep them still. The only thing that didn’t feel completely awful was to lay down in silence with my eyes closed (which even then my eyelids started to get sore from the CONSTANT eye movement).
By this point, I was getting really freaked out. So, I did the one thing you should never do when you are freaked out by an unexplained medical condition…I searched the internet. Fighting with every ounce of energy I had to focus on the screen, I was able to convince myself that I was probably dying from mad cow disease, which I must have contracted from the super-rare cheeseburger I had eaten over the weekend. I went to bed filled with crazy thoughts of what would happen to the family if I died, or maybe worse, what life might be like for all of us if stress had caused a permanent snap in my brain where I would live like this for the rest of my life; a deranged madman…”Crazy Eye” Joe.
At this point we had to wait until the following morning to see the doctor. In the mean time, it came out from discussions with lots of different people that the symptoms were very synonymous with vertigo; a disruption in the inner ear which basically controls every part of your body’s ability to balance itself and equilibrate vision, caused by a number of factors including the dislodging of small stones in your ear (what the hell…I have stones in my ear?!??!) or the rupturing of small liquid “endolymph” sacs in the inner ear (a condition known as Meniere’s disease). Basically, it can cause all of the things I was experiencing; nausea, loss of balance, “horizontal nystagmus” (that damn eye movement), etc… I was very surprised to find that a number of people I knew had gone through this, including a few for which it is a recurring issue (which is really scary considering how debilitated I was…I could not imagine having this consistently). Many of the pieces fit with that vertigo diagnosis, so at the recommendation of some close friends, I did all sorts of funny exercises to try to reset the stones in my ear, hoping that it would make it go away. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for me, and only made me want to throw up again.
The next day I went to the doctor and she pretty much confirmed that diagnosis that it was something like vertigo, though postulated that it was probably caused by an inner ear infection which caused a pressure buildup which ruptured those fluid sacs. She gave me an anti-nausea medicine (a God send), some gel drops to relieve my eyelids which were pretty much raw at this point (a HUGE God send) and a round of antibiotics (which knocked things down, but didn’t totally resolve it). It took about a week until I was able to function normally again (read, drive, etc…), missing quite a few days of work while Maria chauffeured me around (which might sound nice, but I hate to be dependent like that).
Fast forward 3 months and I am mostly back to normal (though still not sure that I have totally kicked that inner ear infection since there is some residual imbalance and I still suck down some pretty nasty looking phlegm throughout the day). We ended up having a great Thanksgiving, a good hunting trip (though came up without any meat in the freezer :-P, but 4 days in the woods is never bad), a successful work trip, and a really nice Christmas holiday. Things have stabilized mostly with the new job, and we are getting close to hitting stride in our family routines again. The whole experience reminded me how fragile our delicately balanced life is, where the imbalance of only a few micro-liters of liquid in my ears could completely change our world. I am thankful for my wife, family, and friends who so quickly rallied to help me out when I was down. I am proud that we had positioned ourselves for resilience to absorb (for a short time anyway) the disruption that this caused in our lives. While we are passionate about natural treatments and remedies, I can’t deny that I was really happy that a few select pharmaceuticals were available to resolve an acute condition like this. I am eternally grateful that my condition mostly resolved itself (be it by pharmaceutical or divine intervention), and my heart goes out to those that deal with this condition on a routine basis.
Looking back, all of the things that were stressing me out were meaningless in comparison to being able to just lead a happy, healthy life with people that I love. It is a perspective that I already find it difficult to maintain on a daily basis…I will just need to set a reminder to come back and read this post every once in a while to remember how crappy it was to be debilitated, and how lucky I am to have my health, my wife, my kids, my family, and my friends!