Friday, November 04, 2005

Labyrinths within the realm of lost sleep

It's late and I am unable to sleep. Whatever moon might have risen tonight has by now run through autumn gutters slick with rain and disappeared down into any number of grated leaf-clogged drains. This small town does not hold the rain well. It is like some forgotten silent film star whose grainworn face is laden with overworked makeup, smeared with a sallow blush it never had to begin with, and locked away in some heavy-curtained room filled with the storied memorabilia of an arrested era.

I can think of a thousand other places I would rather be losing sleep in. Luzern, Paris, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Salzburg, Geneva, Nyon, Gruyères, Valais, Pau, Papeete, Southern California. But I am here, in Northern Oregon, in one warm room that I heat by electric radiation while the rest of the house follows the cold rinse moon into the river and is lost. I cannot sleep so I began to think about something that happened to me exactly one week ago today.

I had been writing and working on some photographic images at my computer when I stood up to retrieve a page from my printer. Just before I rocked myself up and out of my leather office chair, I experienced a microsecond or two of a strange sensation that seem to amplify as I reached the top of my stance. Everything suddenly went sideways. I immediately thought I had simply stood up too quickly, which can often result in a temporary spatial displacement of orientation. Sometimes I've seen a buzzy cloud of little black gnats swim and swarm in a kind of circular light around my head when this happens, but they didn't come. Then I began to realize this was becoming a real doozy. I sat on the bed to wait it out until it passed. It didn't.

With my hand stretched out to my side to prop myself up, the room began accelerating to the left much like a skipping record jerking back to its start point to race left again before resuming again. I thought I might pass out and so prepared myself as best I could mentally while physically lowering myself closer toward a horizontal position on my bed for that rapidly approaching eventuality. It did not come. The room accelerated further.

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Now a kind of muted panic began to set in as I mouthed to myself, What is going on? My mind thought stroke, it thought heart attack, it thought delirium and blood sugar, it thought diabetes and brain tumor and inner ear and equilibrium and imbalance and vestibular canals and endolymph, and all manner of terms I had studied earlier this year during my brief career in hearing healthcare. The panic shifted into second gear and strained to keep up with the careening room as it sped faster and faster. I made it to my feet.

I had one clear thought during this mad disorientation: to get to the phone in the living room. So I bent my knees and reached my left hand out for the polished black wire interconnected cubes that bridge a pair of shiny black two-drawer file cabinets and span along one wall, terminating at the edge of the closed door. I store clothes, CD's, and other items in these open deco cubes and tentatively braced myself against them hoping not to fall as I clumsily opened the door nearly stumbling headlong into the hallway before catching myself on the far wall.

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I turned into the mostly empty living room in which someone had placed me square in the middle of a merry-go-round turning right at the gathering speed of light while everything became a smear of motion streaking left. I could see the wireless phone and snatched it out of its cradle as I went hurtling by. I went down to the floor and crawled as best I could towards some large blue overstuffed pillows that as yet have no couch to be placed upon. I fell over from my knees onto my side and realized immediately that I had made a colossal error in orbital room trajectory and did not want to make that mistake again. I reoriented myself into a leaning sit position and looked down at the phone.

Quantum mechanics and prime integers collided in a cartoon of digitized theorems all playing out on the keypad rendering numbers obsolete. I wanted to let someone know something was happening to me. I pressed the pattern that rings Celestina, a wonderful friend who lives across town and can be counted on to be on the phone right when I might need her most. Busy. I laughed. The room was going full tilt now and I remember thinking: What if this never stops? What if I have to live with this for the rest of my natural life and the small town doctors can only shake their collectively small heads and shrug their small churchly shoulders and say: Well, how 'bout that?

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I tried calling again. Busy. Alien abduction, that's what it is. I hit the side of my head to try and jar it into stopping but it did nothing. Busy again. Now I resolved to concentrate on just dialing the number pattern and putting everything else out of my focus. For small micromoments I would look at the handset and the motion would stop, then ramp back into JATO mode leaving contrails on the walls. Busy again. I closed my eyes and immediately felt a wavesine of nausea. Not going to do that again unless I lose consciousness. I dialed again and again busy. I fully expected to read Surrender Dorothy in wisps across the ceiling at any moment when the turbulent spinning at last decayed, slowed, and mercifully stopped.

My eyes were wide as a soft terror could make them. I reached for my head and found my hair, my face, my neck were all wet as if I had survived a cloudburst in the middle of my living room. I slowly stood up and made my way to the bathroom, ran some cold water, splashed my face and dried off. I looked at myself in the mirror. I was pale and ashen. My stomach teetered on a vertiginous aerial cable that swayed side to side as if stretched across a great canyon in the wind. I stood by the toilet expecting gravity and expulsia to have their way. They fist fought for some rebellious moments, signed treaties, unified, and called a truce. I was spared the final indignation and headed for my bedroom to lie down and take stock of my parts. I was drained.

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The whole chapter lasted five minutes, as best as I can figure. Five minutes solid is interminable when you're on a ride you want to get off of. I would be fragile and tentative for several days afterwards, being at the mercy of having the sensation that it was coming on again. It's unnerving and wholly alien. This had never before happened to me. The loss of control is the most unsettling aspect of the whole thing. It felt as if I were losing my mind. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true / I'm half crazy over the likes of you . . . as Hal slurringly sang it for us so long ago as his memory was being removed.

Since the Afternoon of the Stuttering Windmills I have determined, given the best description of my symptoms and as best I can in the spirit of self-diagnosis, that what I experienced was an episode of labyrinthitis. Vertigo. One source reads: Anyone with the symptom of vertigo should be seen immediately by a doctor in order to determine the cause. It goes on to add that one should not operate heavy machinery or light ships through uncharted living room sectors unless cleared to do so by a physician.

This same source goes on to say: Vertigo can also result from other vestibular (balance center) disorders. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is thought to be caused by tiny loose particles floating freely in the fluid (endolymph) of the vestibular system. Sometimes vertigo may be a symptom of a more serious underlying illness such as a stroke or tumor.


Another source offered this about labyrinthitis, a term I prefer because it puts me in mind of Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentinean writer and poet whom I once had the honor of meeting in person, and makes it more exotic and esoterically filled with magical realism: People sometimes refer to labyrinthitis as an inner ear infection, but it usually isn't due to an actual ear infection. In the most general terms it's a condition which causes irritation of tiny structures such as microscopic hair cells which project into fluid-filled canals (labyrinths) within the vestibular system located deep in the inner ear. Normal balance is, to a degree, controlled by movement of fluid and particles in the labyrinths, in response to changes of body position. This causes the hair cells to send electrical impulses to the brain helping to define the body's orientation. In labyrinthitis, the hair cells and other structures in the labyrinths have become irritated or inflamed. They discharge randomly, sending chaotic messages to the brain, tricking the brain into thinking you or your surroundings are moving or spinning.

Now I certainly wouldn't want randomly sent chaotic messages Med-Exxed to my brain in addition to, or superseding, the ones I already receive on a somewhat regular basis. I gave up my silver shoe and Scotty dog in that game of Neuropoly long ago. I'd just as soon whistle past the windmills and saunter merrily by the sidewinders. Normal balance in my life is scary enough.

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When I finally talked with Celestina the next day, she reminded me that she had danced the same labyrinthine La Bamba three times in the past five years, once for nearly three hours. Five minutes was plenty long enough so I shudder to think of three hours or a day or weeks with this debilitating condition. She had been prescribed Dramamine by one of our small town docs and it subsequently staved off the symptoms she experienced. She gave me a couple of tablets from her personal supply to keep on hand in case some Hitchcockian imp decides to start pushing the damn thing around again.

It is nearly 5am now and I should attempt some antidisomnambulism in the supine position. Before I sign off, I am reminded of something else that once happened to me in the theme of sleep disorders back in 1977, or so. It was my only hyperconscious experience of what the Japanese call kaneshibari: bound by metal. It is a terrifying recollection, one I have thought of from time to time over the years.

But that is a story best told another time.


Blogger Marit Cooper parried...

I used to experience bouts of "blindness" when I was younger. It would start as dots of light dancing infront of my eyes until it filled my entire field of vision and effectively rendered me blind. The doctors claimed it was some kind of migraine, but it was never investigated properly. Once it happened while I was at the bank waiting in a queue. By the time I got to the window I couldn't see to sign my name, the girl behind the counter probably thought I was on drugs or something. It hasn't happened for a few years now (knock on wood!)I sympathise completely with your worry that it will return. Such experiences are truly frightning.

November 09, 2005 5:11 AM  
Anonymous anica parried...

I just wanted to wish you the best birthday.

Your birthday cake would be devils food cake because it is rich and dark with lots of depth and flavour. with minimal dark chocolate icing. No decorations needed because your inner beauty shines.

Happy 53rd Birthday, my friend and KEEP SMILING!!! :HUG: :)

November 11, 2005 9:53 AM  
Blogger e flat maj parried...

Belated HBD dear amigo, and may that terrible whirling episode never return!

November 22, 2005 3:12 PM  
Blogger Lexie parried...

I suffer from vertigo every once in awhile. I have a few tablets of meclazine on hand for such occasions. Very scary indeed!

November 30, 2005 12:38 AM  
Anonymous OTD parried...

Joe, get your blood pressure checked - both arms. If there is a difference (30 points is considered medically significant) your problem may not be in your ear, but in your left subclavian artery. There is a long and boring explanation about how this can cause vertigo, just Google "Subclavian Steal Syndrome."

I had similar bouts of vertigo starting about 9 years ago. It took 6 months to define the problem as an occluded artery and remedy it surgically. I've had no vertigo since then.

December 01, 2005 4:51 PM  

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