I thought it was a stroke. Hell, even the ER doc thought it might be a stroke, thus checking me into progressive care overnight. I was the youngest person on the floor other than the nurses and doctors–I was definitely the youngest patient. With my eyes unable to fix on anything for more than a split second, I was left staring at a blank wall trying to focus on something…anything.
It certainly wasn’t what I had planned for the weekend. I had taken Gretel out for a rare and special night out at the Kennedy Center. My pal, Kirk Fox, was on a mini tour with Kevin Nealon and arranged for tickets and backstage passes for me and my lovely Gretel. She’d never been on a backstage list before and had never hung with celebrities, so thanks to Kirk, I was able to give her something she’d never had before.
It was a fantastic show and if any of you have ever seen Kevin or Kirk perform, you know they are hilarious. After the show we went back stage, chatted, and Gretel even got to speak with Kevin in German (I didn’t know this but he had spent some of his childhood in Germany and speaks German fluently.)
Kirk and I reaffirmed our desire to work on a project together and after snapping a few photos with the stars, we left for our hour long drive back home in the country, both of us feeling excited and pleased with the night’s excitement.
Around 3 o’clock, I awoke to an ear ache and the room spinning. I chalked it up to the late night and excitement, drank some water, took an aspirin and went back to bed. When I next woke at 8 o’clock, I discovered I couldn’t stand. It was as if a hundred pound weight had attached itself the the right side of my head during the night, pulling me sideways, and my eyes refused to fix on anything. Imagine the worst drunken bender you’ve ever been on and having to put your foot on the floor after lying down in bed to stop the spinning, except the spinning wouldn’t stop and you weren’t drunk.
Gretel was obviously concerned and suggested I go to the Urgent Care center in Reston.
“Pish…I’m just dehydrated,” I said. “I’ll have coffee and drink some water. I’ll be fine.”
Deep down I knew it was more than that. Deep down I could feel something was really wrong. But it wasn’t until I missed a step and sat hard on the bottom stair that I reluctantly agreed–it was time to go see a doctor.
So, Saturday morning after a great Friday night of Kevin Nealon and Kirk Fox standup, I was on my way to Reston with a bucket between my legs. Each turn and brake left me feeling nauseous and ready to hurl.
Blood work was the first order of business. And while waiting to have my arm stuck, I felt the weight come back. It pulled me to the side while I sat in the swiveling chair and if not for a lucky grab for the hand rail on the side of the phlebotomist’s cubicle, I would have landed on the floor. My head slumped to my shoulder and my body tried in vain to right myself. In fact, my muscles couldn’t decide which way to push, uncertain which way was up. This appeared to be a seizure to the sweet, though thirsty vampire waiting to take my blood. She called a code to the lab.
Well, that’s when all hell broke loose. Medical personnel take codes very seriously. I was swarmed with nurses, nurse techs and other folks in scrubs and white coats. Meanwhile, I was just trying to figure out which way was up, making it very difficult to speak (my brain was focused on finding the mythical “up” and any attempt to open my mouth was followed by the strong impulse to blow chunks).
Then someone said, “I see drooping on his face.”
Time to call the rescue squad. After a short trip to the hospital from urgent care, and a host of tests, (CT Scan, X Ray, EKG, full Blood Work up, and eventually an MRI—which by the way I was surprised I could still have with the various scraps of metal embedded my body), they established that it had not been a stroke. Persistent Vertigo with no specific associated trauma is not considered life threatening, so after a night on IV fluids and observation, (heart monitor, and regular visits from nurse tech, etc) they sent me home still just as dizzy as I was when I had arrived.
So it’s Wednesday now. Dramamine during the day and Valium at night to keep the worst of the symptoms at bay, has only succeeded in making me feel sewed into a soggy sleeping bag. My eyes refuse to focus, I’m still unsteady on my feet, and rising, sitting or leaning at faster than an hour-hand’s pace sets the world a’spinnin’ once more.
Carefully, ever so gently, I walked to the back terrace and sat on the steps in front of the fish pond to smoke. The sun beat down on top of my head but the air was cool, so the contrast was welcome. I lit my cigarette with my trusty Zippo and inhaled deeply. Dizziness returned.
“Whoa,” I heard. From which direction I couldn’t tell, but I assumed it was my neighbor spying on me through the fence.
“I’ll be okay,” I said. “Just a little vertigo.”
I looked toward the fence and had to brace myself as the tipping sensation returned. Unable to steady my eyes on anything, I leaned back on my elbows. It took several seconds for things to stop spinning but once they did I saw no one at the fence. Hmm…must have gone inside.
“Breathe,” the voice said.
I looked around slowly, and in the haze of dizziness, I thought I saw the large sitting stone move next to the pond. That’s not supposed to happen, I thought.
“Feel any better?”
I looked around once more, breathing into the spinning fog. “A little. Where are you?”
“Here.” The stone moved again.
What the actual fuck?! Oh shit…now I’m hallucinating.
A head slowly emerged from the front of the white stone and it crawled toward me. I was too light headed to panic, but it occurred to me that under normal circumstances panic might be the prudent response. He grunted as he lumbered toward me, as if old bones and muscles weren’t accustomed to movement. Of course, a stone shouldn’t be accustomed to movement and I tried to think back at how long it had sat there by the pond without revealing itself as a sentient creature. I chuckled, thinking about the time years ago when I had placed it there with the bucket of my tractor. If I were a living stone, I’d have made some protest at that time—I was none to gentle setting it in place.
“What’s funny?” it asked as it crawled over to me and stopped only feet away.
“Nothing,” I replied, suddenly worried I’d insult it by revealing my thought.
His neck stretched out further and he looked around slowly, pivoting his head first to the right, pausing, then swinging it slowly again to the left. As if he were a dog, he shook his back side to side, but with such lethargic motion he dislodged nothing. “Grass is tall,” he said, looking over the fresh spring tips then nibbling at a few.
I leaned forward and let the spinning subside before responding. “I can’t really cut the grass right now.”
“Dizzy are we?”
“I don’t know if you are, but I am.”
He chuckled. “That’s what I meant.”
“Hallucinating now too.”
He tipped his head to the side like a dog does when hearing an unfamiliar noise. “How do you mean?”
I just smiled.
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah. That.”
I noticed movement on his great domed back and realized I was looking at a rather large turtle. The moss on his forelegs seemed to move before he did and I suddenly found myself wondering how long a turtle had to sit motionless to grow moss.
“Ages,” he said as if reading my mind.
“Comfy over there?” I asked.
He looked backward over his white dome, slowly, then back to me. “It’s a good spot. Though you don’t sit out there as often as you used to.”
“You don’t mind when we sit on your back?”
He grinned. “Human asses are warm…feels good.”
“Ah. Sorry. Life hasn’t left much time to sit by the pond these days.”
His head bobbed up and down sluggishly then pivoted his neck around toward the pond again. “No waterfall this year?”
I tried to sit up more fully, but failed to complete the task, instead falling back on my elbows again. “I need to restack the stones in the upper pool. Water spills over the sides.”
He nodded again, thoughtfully. “I like the sound.”
He smiled a silly, half stoned grin. “You should do it then. Life’s too short not to indulge in simple pleasures.”
That thought made me sad, piercing the immediacy of my new dizzy world and plunging me into the worry of things to come.
He seemed to notice the shift in my mood then dropped his head low. “I’m sorry. I know better than that.”
He smiled weakly.
I changed the subject, letting my vertigo drunken brain re-envelope my mood. “I didn’t know you could talk.”
His grin broadened. “I’d guess you didn’t know I was a turtle either, judging my the way you put me in place.” He turned sideways two steps and showed me the rub of bright orange paint from the bucket of my Kubota tractor.
I suddenly felt bad for being so rough with him those many years ago when I placed him by the pond. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
He shrugged–or at least I think it was a shrug. His shoulders flexed in and the front of his dome rose minutely. “Didn’t hurt. Just made me a bit dizzy.”
“I can sympathize,” I muttered.
He chuckled again. It was a deep, throaty chuckle, almost like a big cat purring.
“I’ll try to get the waterfall going again as soon as the farm sells and my head is back to normal.”
“No rush,” he said, turning slowly back to his barren spot of ground. “I’m not going anywhere.”
I nodded, setting off another wave of vertigo.
He stopped abruptly and looked over his shoulder at me. “But I don’t think you and I are the only ones who like the waterfall when it runs.”
I knew he was right. My Gretel had actually built the waterfall with her own hands, stacking each stone with slow, thoughtful purpose after we had hand dug the pond. She is a talented stone mason. “As soon as I can stand without tipping over,” I replied.
“You should try all fours…it’s a shorter trip to the ground if you tip over.”
I stared at him for a beat before realizing he was teasing me. As soon as realization brought a smile to my face, he laughed, his eyes closed and a hearty roll of amusement rumbled from deep within his shell.
It took several moments for him to return to his place and settle back to the ground. Once back in his earthy nook, he wiggled once to fully seat himself before his head disappeared completely inside his white shell again. I stood shakily, balancing myself against the patio table then after a pause to catch my spinning head, I returned inside.
“Are you okay?” Gretel asked as I came back in, steadying myself against the wall as I moved. “You were out there a long time.”
“Yeah. I’m good. Just thinking about working on the waterfall after my head clears up.”
She smiled brightly. “That would be nice. I miss the sound of falling water.”
“You going back up?” she asked as I inched my way through the house.
“Yep. I want to look at the symptoms list for BPPV again….I think I might have missed one.”
She tipped her head sideways, a confused expression on her face. “Something new?”
“Maybe.” I looked out the window toward the pond and the white sitting-stone perched at the edge. “Maybe not.”
As I walked upstairs feeling as if I’d smoked the Frankenstein weed from the movie Grandma’s Boy (another movie with a great Kevin Nealon performance), I hoped I wouldn’t remain vertigo drunk for much longer—it was growing intensely suffocating. But I hoped I’d get a chance to have another chat with the turtle. He seemed like a nice guy.