Saturday 19 January 2019

Bairbre Power: No symptoms, no warning, just kapow and I keeled over. I was nauseous, dizzy and I was scared

Bairbre Power writes about how a case of vertigo left her confined to bed

Bairbre Power Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

I knew it. I just bloomin' knew it as I tapped out the line in my column last week about being healthy, apart from a gammy knee. By the time those words were inked and you read it in these pages last Thursday, I was lying on the flat of my back.

It had come over me like a wave the previous day, just as I was preparing to 'nest' for the impending snowmageddon with my favourite comfort food and book.

It's one of the guilty pleasures of midlife that you have time to indulge yourself and box off an entire afternoon for reading - an unthinkable luxury during those years spent doing the school run and busy with after-school activities.

But my plans were about to go horribly off course. I keeled over. No symptoms, no warning, just kapow and I wasn't standing upright anymore. I felt nauseous and dizzy and horrified at the thought of spending snowmageddon on a hospital trolley waiting to find out what was happening to this body of mine.

I'm an independent person who likes doing everything for herself so this sense of vulnerability and not having control was new to me. I did not like it one little bit. I couldn't stand up without getting dizzy and falling back down. I wanted to get sick and my worst fear was that I was having a bleed on the brain as happened to my mum.

Vulnerability is daunting and after three hours, I couldn't bear the sensation that the world around me was moving so I pushed aside my fears and walking side-to-side like a drunk, I managed to slip slide my way down to the doctor's surgery in the village. I quickened my step where I could, acutely aware that if I didn't get seen that day, I would be in trouble.

Thankfully, the doctor was able to arrest my concerns. I was suffering from vertigo and so began five days in bed where basically I lay quietly in one position because turning my head only sent the room swimming in front of my eyes and triggered another wave of nausea.

I didn't suffer nausea during my two pregnancies and I didn't welcome it now in midlife. I lifted Tom Hanks' excellent book Uncommon Type above my head and tried to read but my arms got tired. God, I felt old.

When I couldn't find anything new on my podcast app, I pressed the default button and started watching The Crown again on Netflix. It cheered me up a little - I'd be watching it all over again with a new eye. It's like the comforting qualities of a mammy dinner with the delicious gravy and old school dessert that only she can make. It's like picking up your favourite book again and dipping in to savour the writing because first time around, you were racing through it for plot development and not relishing all the finer details.

I switched things up and in between episodes Googled natural remedies for vertigo. Apparently cider vinegar can be good but I kept taking my prescribed tablets, which finally cured me, but it did take a while.

Days stretched into night and back into day and while I was delirious with boredom just like the rest of the country suffering cabin fever, I was stuck in bed.

I flicked through Instagram and Twitter and texted pals who were stuck abroad and commiserated with their misfortune as they battled with airlines who wouldn't answer emails or phone calls.

After watching The Crown, Princess Margaret got under my skin and I began dreaming about baths of all things, and like a sulking child, I was angry because I couldn't have one. It was all I wanted but I couldn't indulge in case I got dizzy and couldn't clamour out. Mine was a 'showers only' world.

The bath mania happened when I came across a wonderful photograph from 1962 taken by her husband, photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, with Margaret wearing her Poltimorre tiara in the bath. That's the thing about being online when you are bored and incapacitated - you go down the most ridiculous rabbit holes and discover all sorts of trivia you really don't need in your life.

In Vogue, I found an excerpt from Ma'am Darling by Craig Brown which outlined Princess Margaret's luxurious self indulgent morning routine when she was single in the mid 1950s. From 9am, the Queen's sister liked to spend two hours reading newspapers while listening to radio and chain smoking, and at 11am, she took an hour-long bath before lunch, which was a four-course affair with her mother.

While the rest of the country were trying heroically to get to work or go tobogganing on granny's tin trays, building snowmen and being good citizens by shovelling snow off the pathways outside, I was trapped in a thoroughly selfish existence and dreaming about the bubbles, the candles, the lot.

"Why not watch some Hitchcock?" a friend suggested. But I was too delirious to pick up on the film noir black humour and the joke passed straight over my head, which was fixed in a permanent horizontal position.

Mind you, there were some things that cheered me up, like the enterprising Storm Emma tweet from Amy Huberman when, in response to the white-sliced-pan mania sweeping the country, she enquired: "Can someone please start making 'Irish Born and Bread' shirts for Paddy's Day?"

The next time I looked at my phone, she had pulled it off and announced that Hairy Baby Tees would have the T-shirts ready for Paddy's Day with all proceeds going to the homeless and Focus Ireland. Bravo Amy, you certainly used your downtime wisely and that 'voice twins' video she shot of hubbie Brian O'Driscoll lip-syncing Leo Varadkar, who sounds ridiculously like him, was hilarious. It was good to hear myself laugh after days under the duvet.

If there was one good thing about my vertigo incarceration, it's that I didn't graze the fridge endlessly simply because I couldn't get there.

I've no snow pics to share and I missed out on my granddaughter building her first snowman but thankfully I'm back standing upright and loving life.

And I realised something vital - independence is the greatest gift of all. Savour it.

Irish Independent

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