Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Pins and Needles

Or rather, just on needles, acupuncture needles to be exact. I proctored for the equivalent of the acupuncture bar exam yesterday, 12 hours long. The test isn't that long, but the day is long for the proctors. This was my first time with this group, and there were some amazing differences.

There were three groups of people taking it, in English, Chinese and Korean. I was in the English group. My first reaction: Healthy looking people! We get used to seeing so many very unhealthy people now in any large group, it was amazing to see hundreds of mostly thin and fit bodies. The vast majority were normal or slightly underweight. It is sad that something like that stands out as odd these days.

Second observation: They were so mellow. Usually applicants for an important test come in very stressed and nervous, lots of hair twisting, pencil chewing and audible sighs. This group was relaxed. Before the test began, there were folks in the back doing Tai Chi or Yoga, I can't tell the difference There was one man laying on the ground, back on the floor, legs and feet propped up on the wall. I guess he was getting blood to his head. Another guy was tapping the top of his head, I assumed hitting pressure points for clearer thinking?

Third observation: They were very organic looking. Lots of yoga pants, flouncy skirts, many long and whispy scarves, comfy and quiet shoes and some dread locks. But I saw just one tattoo and very few piercings. Hmm, these people hope to make a career poking people with needles, and they have opted not to let others poke them with ink filled needles or cover their ears and lips with little metal poles. Maybe they are on to something? It was really refreshing to see young people not covered with body art.

I have only been to an acupuncturist for one condition, my Meniere's Disease. My mom paid for it at first, and then we did. He is a Japanese man very close to our house, and he specializes in the ear. I would leave there with little mini band aids behind my ears with poky pins and would wear them for a few days. When I would fly, I would see him before the flight and get the band aids. During the descent I would jam the poky pins into my skin, willing them to help with the pain. I don't really know if it ever helped, it was so hard to tell.

I got Meniere's Disease when I was 25, which is very young to get it. It came and went for years, seeming to have no pattern. When I first got it, it started with ringing and hearing loss and then a year later the vertigo started.

There are many misconceptions about vertigo, most people think it means fear of heights, from the Alfred Hitchock film by that name. It is not fear of heights; I love heights! But you know that weird feeling you get when you stand up too fast or you turn your head really fast, like you are super dizzy? OK, that is not vertigo either. If you ever talk to someone with vertigo, please don't say, Oh yeah, I get that when I stand up too fast. That would be like me telling a woman who has given birth that I know what it feels like because I have had bad cramps.

Vertigo is when your eyes, feet, head, balance and seemingly every cell in your body is sending your brain different signals. You don't know where the ground is, things are spinning, your eyes are darting uncontrollably, you fall, you vomit, you stagger and you think if this doesn't end I don't think I can live. It really is that bad. You can have a mild one, and that can be where you just have to turn your head really slowly and you can actually walk with some help, but when it is bad, it is like aliens have invaded.

People are wonderful, they really are and I have been helped by friends and strangers alike out of some really bad situations. But here are some things that a person with vertigo doesn't want to hear:

Do you need some water? Uh, no, I really just need a new inner ear.
You must be tired. So how come I get them out of a sound sleep and the bed feels like it is falling into a black hole?
You must be stressed. I am stressed because I am on the ground, but I don't think stress got me here.
Have you seen a doctor? Yes, many, many doctors.

For years, my vertigo consisted of, Oh man, I am having one, get me home, get me on the couch or somewhere flat before this hits. I could throw up violently, sometimes for hours, but I did have warning and could somewhat prepare. It would hit really bad for several months, and then go away for a few months, sometime a year or two. It was a puzzling case for my doctors.

Then five years ago we were on an extended vacation in Europe, and I was so sick with it. One whole day of our trip I spent on the couch of our friend's place, unable to even get to the bathroom without help. Then I got my first "Super Vertigo", while driving on the autobahn in Poland. WOW, scary, I screamed, the world flipped sideways and forward at the same time, Ernst grabbed the wheel and we made it to the side of the road. Needless to say, I didn't drive for a while after that. I got used to asking for rides, taking the bus and relying on people, which is really hard for me. That period was what my ENT called Menieres Burn Out, I called it the Death Throes. It went away with a bang, but it went away!  I am fortunately free of vertigo for a long time now, I can't remember exactly but I am sure it is well over a year.

Now that it is over, I look back and think how did I get through it? I would say I HATE this, why me?? and then a day or even a few hours later I would feel fine, be laughing with friends and having a great time. I tried to not let it define me, but really the worst part was the not knowing, not being able to plan around it. Here are some of the biggies I remember.

We were out walking the dog with the neighbor boy, Ernst and Kodie were ahead of us. Out of the blue, no warning, I was on the street, I fell flat out down to the right, I always fell to the right. The boy was really scared, he didn't know what happened and he called to Ernst, She is Down, She is Down. It sounded like I was a race horse with a broken leg, She is Down, we need to shoot her. Neighbors came running out, offering me water and asking if I have been to the doctor.

Once in Davis it happened and Alan D. had to drive me home and walk me in to the couch. I must have looked drunk to the neighbors. After he left, I knew I was going to barf, so I grabbed the closest thing, a Yankee candle and started crawling to the bathroom, throwing up in the Yankee candle the whole way. Vertigo can cause intense vomiting, lasting for hours and it is like the brain rather than the stomach is nauseated. When Ernst came home, I had made it to bed, and I said, There is a candle holder in the bathroom that needs to be tossed. To this day I cannot stand candles in glass jars.

I was at work once, using the handicapped stall, just sitting there like a girl does. All of a sudden as if I was hit by a hurricane, I was literally thrown off the seat, to the right, with a force that was scary strong. So there I was on the not very clean tile floor, on my hands and knees, which were stinging along with my pride, brought low by the force of my own inner ear. What did I say? It was one of the lowest points of my life, but one of the highest because even after that, the thing I yelled out was CRAP! Nothing worse, and for that I am very proud.

On that trip to Europe, we were at an International Convention in Germany. I was very down because my health was impacting the trip so much. On the stage in the English section, they interviewed a missionary from Africa. He had the same problem. He was saying how he was misdiagnosed, they thought he had brain cancer and the treatment almost killed him. I of course was crying, here I came all the way to Germany, and on the stage is someone who knows how I feel. I left a note for him in the contribution box, I always hope he somehow got it. I was really glad I went, even though I felt like staying home that day, and was regretting the idea of going to Europe for 6 weeks in the middle of feeling so ill. We ended up having a terrific time.

I have had them while driving a group of Chinese people to a talk in the Bay Area, an hour before having the CO for lunch (still did it, which was nuts, but when it's over it's over and the table was set and the food ready to go) getting ready for the convention in SF (always use the plastic bag to line your hotel ice bucket, that is all I will say about that) at work, at meetings, at Trader Joe's, during sleep, on someone's doorstep (can I get you some water?) and too many other places and times to remember. I never got one during a talk, or on the stage at the CA. or in the shower. Now that would have been bad.

My problem is in the snail-like part
What have I learned?
People are wonderful, they love to offer water, but hey, they must feel more helpless than I do.

There is no way in the world that the inner ear could have evolved. It is crazy complicated and it all has to work or it doesn't work at all. It is necessary for hearing, balance, and any kind of life or reproduction (sorry honey, not tonight, I don't know which way the ground is and I can't stop heaving). We have the inner ear because we came that way, and there is no scientist that can convince me otherwise.

Hearing is a precious thing, it needs to be protected like a fragile vase. Please don't blast your music and please wear ear protection. You don't want to lose one bit of your hearing.

I have a great family, husband and very loving friends who have helped me through a difficult illness, Thanks for the rides, the cards, the phone calls and the understanding. I am no longer a Dizzy Brunette! We should celebrate by going on a merry-go-round!