Saturday, February 3, 2024


In my As If For the First Time series I pick some common observation or activity—one so ubiquitous as to easily escape one’s full appreciation—and describe it as if I’d never seen or done it before.
                                               ~          ~     •     ~    

I toddled before my first birthday, and I’ve been on my feet ever since. Never doubting my ability to stand up, put one foot in front of the other and walk across the room.

Until late last summer.

That morning—it was September 13—I’d gotten up as usual, brushed my teeth, done my stretches. I’d just opened the refrigerator door to grab the orange juice when I felt a twinge of wooziness. Odd, I thought, as possible causes sifted through my mind.

Stroke? Heart attack? Brain tumor? Before entertaining any of these awful prospects, I decided just to sit down, relax and see if the dizziness might pass. But ten minutes later, as the dog barked to go outside, I just knew I wouldn’t be able to stand up. I tried, and I was right.

Quite the saga unfolded from there. Staggering to the door, vomiting, an ambulance ride, and an eye-opening night in the ER where they did every imaginable image and test to rule out the obvious culprits. Thank God, about 24 hours after whatever it was stole my balance, I was finally able to walk out of there.

The diagnosis after all that: dehydration. Ha! I knew that wasn’t the case. (Ever since having passed a couple of kidney stones years ago I’ve been quite conscientious about my water intake.) So if that wasn’t it, what was it, this mysterious, vertigo-like case of the swirlies? I just hoped and prayed it would be a one-and-done.

Then, just over three months later, while I was visiting my daughter and her family in Maine for Christmas, it happened again. Roughly the same time of day, same circumstances, same debilitation. Only this time, realizing that all the most dire causes had been ruled out, I worried less.

Sure enough, twenty-four hours later it was gone. But not without leaving me mystified again and feeling more vulnerable than ever.

           As far as walking, you might as well
           be aboard a tiny boat on rough seas.


While researching my new disorder, I’ve been reminded of the fascinating workings of the human body’s balance center, the inner ear. Among its components are thousands of little calcium carbonate crystals that sit on a gelatinous bed inlaid with tiny vertical hairs.

Normally, the crystals' condition and position signal to the brain where your body is in space. And they coordinate with your muscles to keep you…well…vertical.

But if those little crystals get jostled and some get tipped into the semicircular canals, that can be a problem. The errant crystals are supposed to dissolve, but certain positions can hinder that process, and then all bets are off. As far as walking, you might as well be trying to stand in a tiny boat on rough seas.

If it is vertigo there’s a remedy. The Epley Maneuver—a series of specific head and torso movements—can help satisfy the inner ear that you’re not really aboard a storm-tossed dinghy. I tried it three or four times without success.

This is one of those junctures in my life where I wish I could talk to my dad. He was a good-natured stickler for good posture. He’d see my brother or me slouched over our oatmeal and, without saying a word, demonstrate what sitting up straight looks like. Robot-like, he’d lift a spoonful straight up to the level of his face and then execute the precise 90-degree turn into his mouth.

Dad must have been taught the same thing growing up, that posture’s not just good for one’s spine, but is also an expression of one’s character. He walked steadily—and even played cartless golf—until just a couple of weeks before his death at age 91. No one would have been more profoundly bothered by the inability to stand.

Maybe that’s why this vertigo thing has hit me so hard. I’d like to ask my dad if he ever had an episode of this vertigo-like disorder. And if so, how he felt and what he might have learned about it.

From here on out, I guess all I can do is keep exploring possible causes…and hope it doesn’t happen again. I’ve made an appointment at the National Center For Dizziness and Balance, located here in Minneapolis, so maybe I can get some answers about causes, prevention and, I hope, a remedy.

And I’ll never again take simply standing for granted.


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