Vertigo: Unhappy Birthday To Me


So this week was my birthday and birthdays have always been a big deal in my family: cake, cards, singing and presents were staples of my childhood and I’ve carried this tradition through to adult life. This year, as my birthday fell on a Saturday I decided to go dancing to celebrate along with a posh dinner the night before. Sadly none of it happened though as I was struck down with a case of vertigo which is far less fun than U2 would have you believe…

It started the day before my birthday when I opened my eyes and the room was spinning like I was on a waltzer – and I never liked waltzers even when I was 14. I clung on to the bed in panic, my heart thumping like a kick drum in my chest. When I realised I was lying flat and not about to fall, I swung myself upright and waited for the spinning to stop. It took over a minute.

Also just like being on a waltzer, I felt sick: just-eaten-a-bag-of-candyfloss-and-been-spun-round-by-a-spotty-adolescent-sick. So this was new. I pushed myself to my feet, fell into the wardrobe, clung to the wall, frowned. My world was suddenly shaped like I was in a Justin Timberlake video.

My partner rolled over in bed and asked if I was OK. “The room’s spinning,” I replied. I staggered downstairs, made some tea, ate some Shreddies. My plans to finish painting, do the washing, change the bed, write a blog all out the window. Instead, I sat on the sofa and watched Homes Under The Hammer, inching my head this way and then that, nausea nudging me in the ribs.

After two hours I decided to carry on with life so climbed a ladder to finish the last bit of painting the hallway. At the top, I swayed, my balance off, my paint pot hitting the wall with a thud. I climbed down, told my partner she’d have to finish the hallway and went to bed. But as soon as I laid down I was back on the waltzer, hands gripping the headboard, stomach churning. This wasn’t right.

My nurse sister called 15 minutes later with freakish timing, informing me it was some form of vertigo, all part of the ageing process. Happy birthday to me. But by 4pm I still couldn’t walk without crashing into things so we cancelled dinner.

The next morning I opened my eyes and I was back at the fair – hold tight. “Happy birthday,” my partner told me. In response, I pinballed to the loo, nausea gripping me. I called the doctor but a robotic voice informed me they only open Mon-Fri, 8am-6pm. Don’t get sick on a weekend. I eventually got through to a disinterested on-call GP who patted my head down the phone and prescribed me some pills. “You should see a difference in 2-3 days,” he yawned.

It’s now Sunday and the waltzer’s still churning, nausea still a close friend. My world is currently a mass of obstacles and sharp edges, imbalanced and wonky. I just spoke to my other sister who suffers too – it’s a family affair apparently. She informs me that it’ll take around a week before I feel normal again.

I’m already taking small steps back to normality though – this morning for instance, for the first time in 48 hours I managed to sit down properly on the loo and not miss the seat completely. When you can’t make a cup of tea without feeling like you’re going to collapse or vomit, you have to celebrate the small wins.