I’m On A Boat

On my fourth day on antibiotics for my fourth urinary tract infection of the year, the world started to move even when I was standing still.

I’ve dealt with height vertigo for as long as I can remember. Growing up, even just being too close to the railing on the second floor of the local mall was too much. Once, on a theater trip to Toronto, I froze in the exit to the open air observation deck of the CN Tower; my father had to forcibly drag me out because I was blocking other people.

I’ve sporadically conquered it. Once on a camping trip when I’d no choice but to cross a swaying wooden footbridge, and once when I made myself ride Portland’s aerial tram just to get a photograph from above. I’ve failed more often; even before I moved to the St. Johns neighborhood, I’d unsuccessfully tried to walk up even a portion of its bridge.

There’s always an obvious trigger. This was new. Scooting my chair forward at Sunday brunch, I felt motion even after my body had come to a full stop, like I suddenly was on some miserable, inescapable ferry ride.

This vertigo persisted for the next three days. When I emailed a doctor to ask if I could be developing a sensitivity to the antibiotics that I’d now had four seven-to-ten day courses of in just five months, I was told it was unlikely to be unrelated—despite dizziness literally being listed as one potential side effect.

(There’s also, weirdly, the possibility of what some people call gastric vertigo—when one’s reflux is so bad that some of it reaches the eustachian tubes and interferes with one’s vestibular sense. In fact, my reflux had been especially acute, as it often is when I’m on antibiotics that are interfering with my microbiome.)

Being dismissed out of hand by a doctor (one who apparently didn’t even bother to look up the side effects of the antibiotic I was on) is an unpleasant experience, and doesn’t do much good for my now-frequent sense that the world is trying to expel me.

The vertigo ended the day after finishing up this latest course of antibiotics. There’s a followup message from my doctor (or, to be fair, from whomever is covering for my doctor, who’s been out for weeks now) responding to what I admit was something of a pissy, passive-aggressive reply; I haven’t yet found the psychological stomach to read it.

I don’t think I actually noticed just how beaten down the vertigo and its dismissal made me feel until this morning, when I’d discovered that for the second week in a row, the recycling hadn’t been picked up—which meant there’s still nowhere for my accumulating recycling to go, because it already was full last week.

Really, I don’t think I was fully aware of how beaten down I’d felt until I went to the grocery store to find that the deli was closed, which meant no access to my brand of deli meat, and that they were out of my brand of toilet paper, too.

I managed “only” to proclaim aloud, “I hate this fucking grocery store.” It was better than screaming at the top of my lungs, which was my first, only-barely-avoidable urge. The walk home was a desultory stupor.

Here’s the thing I struggle to get people to understand—what will be an epic struggle to get the people who will determine my eligibility for disability to understand: I can only manage my day-to-day foundation. I can generally take care of myself, and my home. I can live independently, and do my chores, and buy my groceries. But if you add, say, the fourth urinary tract infection of the year and the mysterious onset of vertigo, it doesn’t take much for me to break.

How can anyone expect me also to be able to work even a part-time job, even if it’s somewhere with reasonable disability accommodation? My foundation can only barely handle the weight of a pressing, intermittent medical problem.

Add just a few common annoyances, and I don’t just feel like I’m on a boat. I feel like I’m completely lost at sea.