Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The balance game

I fall. Not often, but sometimes and I nearly always walk like I’m under the influence. I have Meniere’s disease and only one functioning balance nerve (and sometimes it forgets to function, too). I had a couple of bouts of severe vertigo in August 2000 and woke up a week later deaf in my right ear and the right side of my face numb. This followed a very recent (within 30 days prior) of being diagnosed with diabetes. The first doctor who examined me (in the ER) said I had a blocked eustacean tube, prescribed nasal spray and sent me on my way. The second doctor heard that I’d been diagnosed with diabetes and immediately told me I was deaf and to just get used to it (honestly, those are almost his exact words and his physical exam stopped right then). Then he wanted me to schedule a follow-up visit with him in six months. I told the receptionist that I wouldn’t be making a return visit as I was sure I’d be “used” to being deaf by then and if he couldn’t help me now, what could he possibly do in six months for me.

The third doctor I saw (after reading and researching sudden-onset deafness on the Web) was distressed that I’d not seen him immediately as he had a treatment that sometimes restored the hearing but it had to be started within 24-48 hours of the onset (and now I was about two weeks into deafness). I told him that my family doctor had tried to get me in there but his receptionist said he was booked up solid. He was visibly angry and said that he had blocks of time reserved for emergency patients and I was clearly one. So, although he couldn’t do the full course of treatment, he put me on steroids for 10 days which restored a bit of sound in my ear but no real hearing.

I was told the best option for doing away with the recurring vertigo was to have the right balance nerve surgically removed. I’d recently seen the effects of “surgical removal” of a balance nerve when my youngest sister had an acoustic neuroma removed. It wasn’t pretty and I knew I didn’t want that. The other option was non-surgical destruction of the nerve with gentamycin injections. The injections would kill the nerve, allowing my left balance nerve to take over for my whole body. It would, however, destroy any remaining hearing I had in my right ear. It wasn’t much but granted it was a little bit.

I opted for the injections and they were very painful. The good news is that I have very few vertigo episodes. The bad news is that my left ear never fully took over for the right ear (even after balance therapy) so now I have a physical limitation. I never know when I’m going to fall. I’ve broken a finger, tore my left rotator cuff, sprained my left ankle, twisted my left knee, and hurt my left hip. Those are the big injuries. I don’t even count the bruises and bumps I have all the time – most of which I don’t know for sure how I got.

I also tend to talk a bit loud on the phone, especially a cell phone. I try to use a headset and make a conscious effort to talk quieter but there are times when it just doesn’t happen that way. I’ve had rude comments, rude stares, and probably a lot of things I missed. Oh well… You do what you’ve got to do.

So, if you happen to see me on the street and I’m running into things – I’m not drunk or under the influence of anything. It’s just me in all my coordinated glory!

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