I woke up this morning to a spinning room and the urge to be sick. I could not make out the time on the radio alarm as it was veering in and out of peripheral vision like a drunk driver. Closing my eyes was worse. This has nothing to do with over-indulging last night but who is going to believe me? It is the third successive morning I have woken up with what the French call 'vertiges'. I am not sure what this is in English but I am going to have to find out. If I were to guess I would say it was vertigo but I always thought that was an uncontrollable urge to throw oneself off tall buildings. Perhaps I should stay away from parapets.
Whatever it is called, it is very unpleasant. It is early morning and I am behaving like someone who is falling down drunk; staggering around, clutching the furniture and ricocheting off the walls. I seem to have mislaid a dimension. I am not slurring my words because I am too busy trying to stay upright and not throw up to talk. I am definitely not in a fit state to chew gum.
The first time I had one of these attacks was in the summer when we were holidaying in Provence and I had the sensation that I was falling off the beach towel and nose-diving into the sand. At the time the towel was on the sand. I stood up and immediately did a nose-dive. There was only one local doctor so the Frenchman accompanied me to his surgery. He - the doctor not the Frenchman - seemed to know everyone else in the waiting room and shook their hands. When it was my turn he was gruff. He asked a few questions, checked my heart rate, shone a light into my eyes and gave his diagnosis in the curt way French doctors do. He said: "You have crystals in your ear. You'll have to see an ear, nose and throat specialist." "What now?" I wailed figuring a town that had only one doctor was unlikely to have an ENT expert installed in the visitors' centre. He said: "When you get back to Paris." I thought: "Maybe he doesn't like Parisians." This is quite common in the French countryside. Then I thought: "How am I going to get to Paris hundreds of miles from here when I can't even negotiate the distance between the beach and the towel on it?" He gave me a prescription on which there were two things clearly written. I knew he did not like me. It is almost unheard of for anyone to leave a doctor's surgery without a totally illegible prescription (requiring a call from the chemist) and at least three drugs. Some patients complain when not given enough medication; one of the reasons the French health services is ruinously in the red. Before I left, clutching my mean prescription, I asked him: "How could you tell it was my ears by looking in my eyes?". He waved an index finger. "When I did this, there was a flicker," he said. I was glad I had asked. I picked up my two lots of pills at the pharmacy in the town and headed to the nearest café with the Frenchman and La Fille. I hate taking any medicine but I hated feeling the world going pear-shaped around me more, so I took a pill from each box, as prescribed, and waited to feel better. Instead I felt suddenly much, much worse rushing from the table to nose-dive into the facilities. When I returned I tried to focus long enough on the pill boxes to find out exactly what I had taken. The first seemed fine; something for 'les vertiges'; but the second seemed to cover a curious range of conditions including chest pains and tinnitus. I phoned my English GP in Paris. I said: "What has this man given me?" She looked up the drugs on her computer and was also confused about the second lot of pills. "It seems they open up the blood vessels," she told me. "I think they gave you a sudden rush of blood to the head." She added: "If it's vertigo you may find alcohol makes it worse." I thanked her and threw the pills in the bin.
That was several months ago and of course I should have seen an ENT person in Paris. Although the crystals cannot be removed, they can be relocated to a less troublesome corner of the inner ear with some neck-twisting physiotherapy. But the problem seemed to have gone away and I did not bother. Now I am suffering the return of the crystals and have spent much of the first day of a new year lying in a darkened room that, even though I cannot see it, is still spinning. I realise a lot of people are doing the same thing, but at least a hair of the dog will make them feel better.