Vertigo.

I pressed my back against the chair, feeling the thin tissue paper covering crinkle as I shifted my weight. A wave of nausea washed over me. I quickly leaned forward. Nope, too far. The room spun. I carefully, slowly reclined, trying to find what felt like center. I was perched on the edge of my seat when the doctor came in. He had kind eyes, a nice smile. “We’re going to take your vitals again,” he said. “Your heart rate was too high.”

“I’m just nervous,” I told him. “I don’t really like doctors. No offense.”

I found a spot on the floor to focus on and concentrated on my breathing. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. He told me to relax my arm as he prepared to take my blood pressure. I did as I was told. I felt the band tightening, felt my heart throbbing in my bicep. Inhale, exhale.

“Well, that’s much better.” He seemed pleased. “You were right; must have just been nerves.” That’s funny, I thought. I don’t feel more relaxed.

We did a neurological test. Normal. He looked inside my ears. Normal. There was nothing out of the ordinary, no obvious cause of dizziness. “Vertigo usually goes away on its own,” he said. “But if you’re not better in a week, you may need to see a specialist.”

He gave me some exercises to help restore my equilibrium. “At first, they might make you even more dizzy,” he admitted. “But they really do seem to help.” I signed a release form, paid my hundred and twenty-five dollars and just like that, I was on my way home.

The dizziness began the week before, after what I had hoped was the last New York snow storm of early spring. At first, I ignored it, partly because – for the first time in many years – I was without health insurance. I tried to hold on to my California plan, figuring I’d move back there eventually (one of many examples of how I’d kept one foot out the door since my arrival in New York), but I could no longer prove residency and my coverage was canceled. That left the New York insurance market, a confusing maze of companies I didn’t know and policies I didn’t understand. I had begun the application process but hit a wall when it came to choosing a plan.

The day before my trip to urgent care, I spent the afternoon in rehearsal for an evening of original monologues at the historic Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. I’d written one of the monologues and was directing seven others, which meant a long day of working with actors in the fifteenth-floor conference room of a building in midtown Manhattan. The rehearsals were a welcome distraction, but more than once I’d felt the room spin and wondered if I was going to faint. By the end of the day, health insurance or no, I knew I had to see a doctor.

And he was right. Ultimately the vertigo did get better on its own. I still get a little dizzy now and then, but the difference is striking. I’m no longer afraid I’ll fall in the shower, or have to grip the edge of the sink to remain upright when I’m washing dishes, or feel the room spin when I’m lying down.

I don’t think I was ever in actual medical jeopardy, but my recovery does feel as though I’ve been given a second chance. The truth is, I feel as though I’ve been given many second chances, and too many times, I’ve taken those chances for granted. I want to believe I’m brave and adventurous, that I’ve learned my lesson about how short and precious life is, but I still make far too many choices out of fear.

This is week four of my ten-week memoir class. When I started it, I was full of resistance. I didn’t feel ready to write a book. I still don’t feel ready. But in just a few short weeks, I’ve awoken memories that won’t go back to where they came from. And the more I write, the more I remember. At this point, it feels too late to do anything but keep going.

I’m scared, just like I was at that doctor’s visit. My memories are painful and not easy to relive. The recurring dreams about my mother are not easy, either. But as fearful as I am about diving further into the past, I’m even more fearful of running out of time. That’s the gift my vertigo gave me: a reminder the future isn’t guaranteed.

After last week’s class – a class where I talked through the subject matter of my yet-to-be-written book and landed on a theme – a fellow student pulled me aside. A lovely woman, a mother and a grandmother, somewhere between two and three decades older than me, she smiled and said, “You know something? You’re lucky. Most people don’t arrive at that level of self-awareness until they’re much older. To have such insight about your life when you still have so much of it left to live, that’s a real gift.”

She’s right. It is a gift. One I’m grateful for. One I have to remind myself every day not to take for granted.

Until next time, friends.

22 thoughts on “Vertigo.

  1. You’re lucky but more so brave of heart. Your creativeness is far beyond what you see with reflective pools of your youth and of your past vertigo is merely ringlet ripples. Life is not a numbers game. Life is a breath, and a million more breathes, life is the morning kiss of the sun upon your cheek. Life the breeze of which moves a million cattail down and dandelion shuttles across the glade, the breeze that pushes your little boat’s Parasol. See James C. Christensen “My Most loved of his art’ “Two Angels Discussing Botticelli” and my second most loved ‘of an Elf Girl in boat with an owl and flying fish. A little glass of red wine upon top of bow, and a steam – punk in renaissance parasol’ as sail.

    As for facing seas’ fierce winds, life’s sudden challenges and vertigo ‘See ‘the Story of ‘Mary Patten’, aged 19 and Pregnant, she takes Command of a Clipper Ship The ‘Neptune’s Car in 1856.

    And you may know your own true strength and inner courage Sarah.

  2. I am so sorry you had to go through that, and so happy you are on the mend It is funny how even a quick bout of illness can shift our perspective. Life is a gift, a very fleeting one, and yet sometimes it is hard to remember that. Sometimes we do get stuck in the ruts (or New York City potholes?) and forget that we need to live each day fully. But then sometimes living each day fully, also means taking time to be reflective and find that intuitiveness. Thanks so much for sharing this! ❤

  3. You are once again inspiring me to write Sarah.

    And Robert upon TMJ, Gruelingly painful, my wife suffers TMJ, among other things. I have lived daily in physical pain sense an industrial ascendant back in July of 1991, so I do sympathize. As with pain, depression is a live changer. But inspiration among friends is a tropical island within torrent raging seas. Thank you for sharing Sarah. And now I understand your plight with Bridges.

  4. I’m week two with Vertigo and it is very unpleasant – doesn’t help that I’m 4 weeks post-op from major surgery. I feel your pain and love your writing.

  5. The one thing that peaks my vertigo and it use to be getting needles in my arms for IV’s is not the needles but the Nurse that digs with the needle in arm, blows the vein, blows out the vein and goes for the other arm blowing that vein out then going for top of finger at upper knuckle. Then she huffs off and goes and gets another nurse. I had laser surgery a couple summers ago to get Kidney stones blasted to oblivion (And yes it was as bad as it sound). After three nurses and one other after that I swear was the Janitor tore me up and we all had heated words and fingers, it was time to wheel me in for the surgery and they get me in and OR tech says what in hell have done to this man? To his assistant and then he says: “Ok just jab his foot”… Next thing I know another come up behind me and says now just breathe normal and I am trying to tell them I can’t and then I am out, and then two nurses are shaking me calling my name telling instructions in the recovery room. I told my wife next time they are going to tap and line the day before surgery buy someone that’s very capable of getting it done, because I am not going through that hell again. That’s my big Vertigo / Panic moment.

  6. Vertigo isn’t fun to have. I’ve had it. In fact, I woke up with it one morning and didn’t know it. All I knew I was having double vision, went to work, kept getting worse as the day went on. I didn’t find out what it was until I got into the ER. I was really sick . I was hurling too. Glad you recovered.

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