“I have to lie down right now,” I tell my daughter-in-law Liz as I stretch out on the floor near the wood stove.
Who is this woman who has to lie down in the middle of making dinner? Do I know her? She can’t be me.
Liz takes over in the kitchen. She’s seen this before.
“Are you OK, Mom?” my son David asks.
“I’ll be OK. I’ll take Valium. It’s in my purse.” Valium? Did I say Valium? Who is this woman who sometimes needs Valium to keep herself upright? She can’t be me.
David hands me my purse. I rummage in a pre-meltdown stupor. I have Meniere’s Disease. There, I said it. I hate admitting it, even to myself. Meniere’s is a mysterious inner ear pressure imbalance causing vertigo, deafness, tinnitus, nystagmus (unfocused eyes shifting from side to side), and nausea. Hearing loss seems permanent. Other symptoms come and go.
I slip half a 5 mg tablet under my tongue. I dislike this mind-dulling medicine, but it stops vertigo.
“I’m sorry, Liz,” I call toward the kitchen.
“It’s OK. Not much left to do,” she yells so I can hear her.
We spent a beautiful afternoon at Taughannock Falls State Park, walked on the shores of Cayuga Lake, played with stones, and listened to ice crack. I was happy, if a little blurry.
“Give me half an hour,” I tell Liz and David. Why didn’t I take the medicine earlier?
My other son Anthony and our family friend Steve join us. I haven’t seen Steve for months, and here I am immobilized. He’s seen me like this once before. My daily anti-vertigo medicines usually work, but not always.
“Are you dizzy, Mom?” Anthony asks.
“Yeah. Not too bad. Caught it just in time with Valium so I won’t crash completely.”
“Stress,” Anthony mutters.
“Maybe. Sometimes it feels random.”
“Mom, if you don’t think driving to Massachusetts last weekend to visit your sick brother wasn’t stressful, you’re kidding yourself. And it was Dad’s birthday. Then three days later we show up with our noise and chaos.”
“I love having you visit.”
“That’s not the point.”
Last weekend on what would have been Vic’s 74th birthday, I drove eight hours to be with my sick brother and his family. I want to support him more than anything and I will, but it’s hard watching another man I love suffer.
Closer to home and still living in her own apartment with the help of health aids and me, my 99-year-old mother-in-law slowly faded into another world, losing herself and her body. I’m the one who will stand by her to the end.
“What about me?” a little voice inside cries. I know that voice well. She insists I pay attention to caregiver’s exhaustion and my own health.
“How are you?” Steve asks sitting on the floor and reaching out to hold my hand. They surround me. David, Liz, Anthony, Steve, LilBit, and Willow. We wait a few more minutes.
“I’m fine.” I say, and I am even though I wasn’t a few minutes ago. Valium works.
“You’ll be OK, Mom. It’s a hard time,” Anthony says as he rubs my shoulders. I offer a silent prayer of thanks and help set the table.
I’ve seen conventional doctors, alternative doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, homeopathists, medical intuitives, and every sort of audiologist and otolaryngologist. Meniere’s is hard to treat. Hearing aids help with the deafness, but not the rest.
Just as with other losses I’ve experienced, I know the best things to do. Stay calm, keep close to the earth, ask for divine and human help, and find balance. Most important, look for love and lean into it.
For earlier posts about my ongoing dance with hearing loss, see I Want to Understand You and Hearing with Heart: Grieving for Lost Sound. For more information about Meniere’s Disease, follow this link.