Saturday, May 23, 2015

Now what can you do for my aura?

So, last Thursday night I stumbled out of bed in the middle of the night to service a biological imperative,* as is the habit of men my age. My next recollection is of struggling up from the bathroom floor, with Biscuit standing next to me asking what happened.

I had sipped one or three beers and mostly skipped dinner the previous evening, but I really didn't have that much, officer, I swear. With no other explanation forthcoming at 3:00 am, I put it down to low blood sugar and fading stamina, made sure there were no bones sticking out, and went back to bed.**

The next morning I sat up, put my feet on the floor, and immediately fell backwards across the bed. I have experienced bed spins before, but never when it was light outside. I took another run at it, albeit more carefully, and found that once I got upright, things were more or less normal after a minute or so. Any significant change in the orientation of my head, however, sent the room spinning and started the process over.

A quick consult with Google pointed to some combination of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and possibly a brain tumor. Or inner ear problems, which (spoiler alert!) turn out to be much more common, but don't get as much internet traction. Of course I only ever take ill on Friday. I determined to wait out the weekend, assuming I would either be dead or getting better by Monday. It turns out there was a third option, and I spent the weekend like a drunken sailor in a hurricane, stumbling from one handhold to the next.

I don't have a regular cardiologist or neurologist, as they are expensive and frightening. I do have an ear, nose, and throat doctor, and she has never used the word "catheter" in my presence that I recall, so I went to see her. I think everyone in the office knew what was wrong about five seconds after I walked in, but they are nothing if not thorough, so I got a blood pressure check, another stroke test, a few hearing and ear tests, and a good listen through a stethoscope. Apparently they also have the Google. Right before leaving the room, the nurse said, "She will be in shortly. She's going to align your crystals!"

My view of the world for much of the last week.

After eliminating the scary possibilities, the doctor tested me for what she already knew was wrong with me, which is something called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. Unlike ED or RLS, positional vertigo is not something made up by drug companies, but a real thing that happens to a lot of people. Apparently, tiny rocks (the crystals) in the inner ear wander into a neighborhood where they are not welcome, and the social tension causes a miniature riot when you move your head.

She put me in Bugs Bunny's barber chair, raised me to a height guaranteed to break something if I fell off, and had me lie back and turn my head to the side. If she said "cough" I was out of there, dizzy or not. Instead, she held up a finger for me to stare at, and when I turned to the left and one finger suddenly became three, she said, "There it goes!" with a look like an arsonist at a bonfire.

The treatment turns out to be something called the Epley maneuver. While this sounds like a British military technique that probably involves a bayonet, it's just more lying down, turning the head, sitting up, and getting dizzy. It doesn't fix the problem exactly, but relocates the tiny crystals to somewhere less annoying in the ear until they resorb. Also, I learned a new word. Re-sorb.

I'm pretty much back to normal now, with occasional bouts of walking like a mildly drunken landlubber in normal circumstances when I forget and do something stupid like lie down and then stand up. I haven't tried driving yet. Maybe today. What could possibly go wrong?

* I'm pretty sure this is why they are called the "wee hours."

** Biscuit made me smile and blink, and whatever else you are supposed to do to check for stroke before she would let me go back to sleep. Apparently I passed, or she just got tired.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Simple happiness

Final exams were last week, and a few days ago I was contemplating a post to bookend the back to school diatribe I wrote nine months ago. It would have detailed the fundamental and visible ways that the end of the academic year differs from its start. The mood on a rapidly emptying campus is a mix of elation and indifference born of exhaustion. There are no novices on campus now, no wasted steps, and virtually no one is in a hurry. Traffic is practically bearable. Summer's oppressive heat has been replaced with Spring breezes.

This is where it all went wrong. By the next day, when I got serious about writing, it was 89 degrees and humid. The magical state of inspiration was shattered. My disillusionment was beyond what the change in weather alone would dictate. I groused like my grumpiest Facebook friend.

I think this is one reason that grownups can't often achieve the same unabashed happiness that kids get out of five minutes on the merry-go-round.* Adults have complicated lives, with too many degrees of freedom in their bliss equations. Kids don't worry about tomorrow, or regret the road not taken. They are zen, unstable and uncaring. The rest of us bind our happiness to innumerable threads of achievement, entangled and often pulling against each other. Food, shelter, career success, happy and well adjusted children, regard of our peers, romantic bliss, must all coexist before we allow ourselves untainted joy. We must scale to the top of Maslow's pyramid to be unburdened, while an 8 year old is good with a hot dog and 15 minutes in the pool.

The playground may be rubber, but at least none of these kids are texting.
Image from here

I am not sure how much of this behavior is learned, and how much is a natural consequence of the way we are wired. There is a lot of gray matter surrounding the happy place in our brain. I'm sure it's there for some reason. And there is definitely a hormonal component. Self doubt and regret seem to come with puberty.

The good news is that I think the capacity for simple pleasure returns with age. Ask an eighty year old what makes them happy, and they are likely to say a good bowel movement, or a day in the garden. Our family gatherings used to devolve into stress-filled group therapy sessions. These days my family laughs through most of our time together.  I have watched my mother's happiness threshold for holidays like Mothers Day moderate from -- unachievable, really -- to lunch  and a call from her kids.

So it seems there is hope for us all, even my grumpy Facebook friend. Have a simply happy Mother's Day, everyone.

* I realize merry-go-rounds are much too dangerous for today's children. Do iPad games and Disney shows produce the same giggling elation? A question for another day -- and someone with kids -- I suppose.