In 2009, out of nowhere, I had an attack of unrelenting vertigo. It began on the morning of March 27, 2009, and ended 138 days later on the evening of August 12, 2009, as suddenly as it had begun.
There was no explanation. Or rather, there were several explanations, none of which turned out to be correct. I was first diagnosed with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), small deposits of calcium carbonate in the inner ear. It’s the most common cause of vertigo. But I didn’t have BPPV and ten weeks later I was diagnosed with endolymphatic hydrops, a fluid imbalance in the inner ear, which I also didn’t have. After the vertigo vanished, my neurologist retroactively diagnosed me with intracranial hypertension, a buildup of pressure inside the skull. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have that either.
Eight months post-vertigo I began to think I was going to be all right. I was walking fine. No cane anymore, no stumbling or grabbing onto stationary objects for balance, no neck-and-shoulder-locked gait. Very little swooning. Swooning only occurred when–as happens to many people–I did something like look up at the clouds while walking. Yes, I was back to almost normal. Except there were maybe a few oddities, such as getting dizzy when I merely thought about riding on Portland’s aerial tram, swaying as it rises five hundred feet during its three-minute trip from the south waterfront up to Oregon Health and Science University’s main campus. Or when I saw a still photograph of lions veering in pursuit of a zebra. Or that one time when a light bulb flickered. Odd, okay, but truly I was back in balance. Recovered. No longer vertiginous.
So it never crossed my mind to worry about going to look at riverfront condo units that were set for auction in early April. Beverly and I had decided to sell our home, abandon stairs and roof maintenance and yard work and tree trimming, all the things I’d be unable to do again if vertigo recurred. Simplify, keep level.
The first building we were looking at was a thirty-one story, elliptical-shaped glass tower looming 325 feet above the Willamette River. This was going to be great. And it was, as we got off the elevator on the twenty-seventh floor and entered the unit being used as a temporary auction office. Then I encountered the view and began reeling, trying to brace myself against a desk, a kitchen island, an interior wall. I seemed more like a lush than a prospective buyer.
It took us a subsequent month to determine that I was all right, was comfortable and stable, only up to the sixth floor of a condo. Provided I didn’t go outside on the balcony. As long as I held on to something when I stood against the interior glass walls and looked down. So now we live on the sixth floor of a twenty-one story building at the river’s edge, and I can sit by the window and watch boats, even speedboats, race by. I’m post-vertigo, except when I’m not, for three years, six months, and twenty-three days.
Floyd Skloot is the recipient of many awards, including three Pushcart Prizes and the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction. He is the author of Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir, and will be speaking at Barnes & Noble West (7433 Mineral Point Rd, Madison, WI) on Thursday, May 8th at 7:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public; hope to see you there!