A viral vertigo struck me this week.
I’ve never had such an inner ear infection. I woke up early Thursday morning with the strangest sensation. The whole room was spinning violently. I had been deep asleep.
The first thing I noticed was that I was awake and possessed an odd feeling of nausea. As I came more to consciousness, I realized that my whole world was swimming. It was like I had been pitched into a violent sea, and I was being pummeled by the waves.
If I turned my head left, the world would spin unmercifully. If I turned my head to the right, it was the same. Only if I keep my head level and straight would the violent churning stop. By 7:00AM, I knew I couldn’t go to work. Just trying to get out of bed was an exercise in futility. I could not stand, only fall to one side or the other when I rose up out of bed.
Not going to work is unusual for me. As a cardiologist, I haven’t missed more than a few day of work in 20 years. Laying in bed watching my life spin was a frightening experience. I knew too much. I had fears of a stroke. I checked my arms and legs for weakness, and found none. I examined my vision. It was fine. After 6 hours, I was fairly certain it was a viral illness- an inner ear infection. Most of my terror of being permanently disabled dimmed.
Luckily, my wife went to the pharmacy and obtained some Antivert (R), a medicine for controlling inner ear vertigo. The medicine helped some, making me more confident in my diagnosis of an inner ear infection.
Day #2 was much the same. I awoke and found I could not stand up. Once again, I had to call in sick at work. By mid afternoon, I began having a strange sensation. I discovered that not only was my head spinning, but sometimes it felt like my body, particularly my heart was also spinning.
It was a weird sensation, to feel your heart rotating, undulating and not be able to do much about it. The best way I can describe this unusual experience was like my heart was drifiting on the sea of life. I began to wonder why this was happening to me. As someone who follows a path of Mystical Sufism, I have the belief that nothing is random. Everything emanates from the hand of the divine. So why was I ill?
I am sure that every patient who has ever been stricken with a incapacitating illness has asked the same question.
The immediate answer that came to me as I thought about it was: “I need to rest.” As someone who pushes himself rest isn’t always number one on my “to do” list. I am not someone who usually drifts. I am always headed somewhere.
Now I had no choice. My head was spinning. My heart was rolling. And the vertigo, like a giant sea, would catapult me on unexpected waves of nausea and disorientation. I was forced to drift, to let go, and submit to a force greater than myself.
We in the Western world often have trouble with this concept- the idea of surrendering, submitting to something outside ourselves is sometimes difficult to grasp. But we are not God. We are human. Illness is a powerful re-aligner of priorities. The Sufi’s say that illness is really a form of deep cleansing of the soul. It is a wiping away of mistakes. It is not something bad, but a blessing.
Sunday, I spent an hour doing remembrance, a form of deep prayer that is a powerful healer of the heart. In the midst of the remembrance my heart stopped its rolling. Love seemed to come into calm the waves.
Ah, if we could only embrace illness, look past the strange sensations to find the blessing that lies deep within the churning waters.
My vertigo isn’t gone. I still cannot look down and turn my head without falling.
Yet, I am not concerned. I know that this illness is a teaching for me.
My heart has been drifting on the sea of life. Yet, it isn’t random. No the hand of some benevolent force has been guiding me.
-Connect more deeply with the heart.
This is what I have found after a few days of travel on the sea of life.