I watched Vertigo on a Saturday evening, and awoke on Sunday unnerved, nauseous. I tried to snap out of it, feeling the shakes, wobbly – taking a shower, trying to read and put my head at ease somehow. It was not to be. I went back to bed and the world swirled, pillow falling against my visage. A bout of vertigo no less, and the penny had, convolutedly, dropped: I was dizzy.
It is hard not to read deeper meaning into sudden ailments, bodily reactions to some external force. I had been reading Hanif Kureishi's blog posts relaying his experience of paralysis in an Italian hospital, and it was hard not to feel some resonant semblance. A break from the usual and, lurking in the subconscious, meaning wants to be made.
I tried to settle down, presuming it to be an ear infection, performing various remedies: tea tree steam bath, nasal wash, anti-histamines, ibuprofen, olive oil and tea tree in the ear cavity, apple cider vinegar-soaked paper, and a chopped onion wrapped in a cloth held near the ear. I felt soothed, fresher, easier with myself, but still the dizziness had hardly abated.
So we went to the ear doctor, an experience I knew should be treated novelly, at least first. Of course the place was reminiscent of the bustle of the dental practice I worked at in Brixton for some three years – a ragtag array of moving parts, sharp staff, forms and pragmatic working practices. Paid about £20. They fiddled in my ears a bit: no ear infection, so we were sent off to the audiologist about ten minutes by cab. After walking through the ends of the market we make it to the clinic – 6th floor. We see the audiologist who speaks of how brilliant Indian medical students at the local universities are and how I must be a genius too. Another staff member remarks we have too many spices but the audiologist shoots back that it is the same in Georgia. I hear this cacophonous melee while my ear is tested with various whirrs and whizzes. Nothing conclusive comes of it. We are too late for the neurologist, who may be able to crack the case. So we must come again the next morning.
The last time I was shepherded around Tbilisi in a state of dazed fatalism was when I had meningitis eight years ago. Something like death felt nearby, and through the various illnesses that have been a consequences of that immune-sapping calamity, including a couple bouts of Covid, I often get to feel this familiar looseness which somehow punctuates my usual everyday, even under the duress of unpleasant afflictions; a familiarity which feels both undecidable and anticipatory. An opening.
The queue for the neurologist would be confusing at the best of times, let alone when one is very disoriented experiencing bouts of vertigo, all the while heightening the sense of foreignness. We pull a number for Room 11 and wait outside – in a corridor next to the other queues for adjacent doors. There is no appointment system. Finally my number comes up. After explaining symptoms and history the doctor takes me to the bed and starts moving me around, testing what sets off my attacks.
She sits me up at one point and pulls my head back beneath the bed, towards the left, while I wear eye-goggles that blur out the outside. Lights shining into my eyes. The manoeuvre throws me into a strong episode of vertigo and I can't help but close my eyes. The doctor, in her rudimentary English, commands: ‘Look into my eyes! Keep your eyes open!’ I feel part of some exorcism while the world spins wondering about life-decisions and comfort zones. This happens a few times before sending me away. I will come back on Monday for video-imaging and possible realignment (this sounds interesting). The assistants comment on my long eyelashes that are interfering with their observations – in envy and awe I would suggest.
I go back on Monday to the same chaos, doors being opening, people complaining about their numbers, people skipping ahead and so forth. I try not to concern myself, by now cocooned in my own self-pitying world of disorientation, hopeful for some resolution. I am tested with the video imaging equipment, then called in for diagnosis. I have primary Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) of the left posterior semicircular canal, idiopathic. Maybe nerve-related, it is hard to say. She proceeds to do a manoeuvre which will ‘realign my crystals’. I take it with hidden incredulity, thinking perhaps the translation is wrong, wondering what sort of pseudo-science I am involved in here. (It turns out later we do have calcium crystals in our ears that help us balance.) She does the realignment a couple times; I feel light-headed but better somehow. I will come back in three days. This is dragging out but hope is on the horizon.
The next few days pass ok and I am given the all clear, some meds for a month and to take it easy for a while as my brain readjusts. Over the next couple weeks I can feel a rebuilding taking shape as my dexterity and confidence palpably grows. It is weird, like a fast maturation after a compressed period of adolescent angst. Crisis over, a couple sci-fi series knocked off the list, back to usual winter drag I guess…