I sat in the backyard terrace oblivious to all cares of this world, amid good company and laughter when suddenly I felt a lurch in my stomach followed by a piercing sound and the most uncomfortable, fullness sensation in my ears. The nausea wave followed suit and in seconds my celebratory meal and drinks were inevitably expelled in a projectile vomiting episode. The deja-vu feeling was overwhelming. My relatives and friends' faces danced in a sort of a burlesque fashion around me. I was spinning violently yet my body rested motionless in my chair.
The terrace did not stop gyrating and neither did the faces who danced in an uncontrollable kaleidoscope fashion. As I lay powerless and terrified I realized that I was Back in the Swirl... of Meniere!
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Back In The Swirl
Coping With Meniere's Vertigo, Migraines, Chronic Depression and Baffled Doctors
By MERCEDES KIM-CABRERA
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Mercedes Kim-Cabrera
All rights reserved.
Alina tucked at my lab coat and nudged me gently towards the hall. I quickly took it off, washed my hands thoroughly and reached for my wallet which I stored in an old metal desk drawer. Sue and Kathy joined us. Amid laughter and a lively, quick chat we headed to the nearest elevator.
By the time we arrived at the hospital cafeteria's entrance, I felt a sudden wave of heat burning my face. I left out a quiet sigh as I tried to grab the door. Everything became blurred in front of me; I closed my eyes, lost control and fell down to the floor.
My unconsciousness lasted only for two or three minutes. I was rushed to the nearby examining room to be checked out by my co-workers. Kathy took my vital signs and with great relief announced that everything was normal. I stayed in the room for a few more minutes, got up and announced that I was ready to have lunch. My face was still very red but other than that I felt perfectly fine. We all ordered our meals and in half an hour we were back in our laboratory, the Tissue Typing lab, located on the eighth floor of the University of Miami (UM) Medical School in Miami, Florida.
The Tissue Typing laboratory is an invaluable part of any hospital Transplant Department. In fact, it is the place where the fate of a transplant is actually decided. It is right in that laboratory where the magic match between a donated organ and a much needed organ recipient is consciously ascertained before a second chance at life is finally granted. To be medically precise, the Tissue Typing lab blood conducts tests to measure substances on the surface of body cells called antigens. These antigens determine whether donor tissues or organs are compatible to be transplanted into another person. They are unique for each person, sort of a "fingerprint." Measuring these antigens before a transplant is performed helps to ensure as close a match as possible between donor and recipient to avoid a rejection of the transplanted organ or tissue in the future.
It was 1986. I was about to start my last semester at the University of Miami. One more course was all I needed for graduation. In anticipation of completing bachelor's degree credit requirements, I had sought employment as a part-time worker in one of the fields of my studies at UM Medical School. The Tissue Typing lab position was a great opportunity to advance in my knowledge of Immunology. My first foray into the world of job searching had guided me to the Transplant Department. I was thrilled about my new job.
The month of August is the hottest month of the year in Miami. Temperatures might reach a high of 960 F. Humidity makes it feel even hotter, a truly scorching heat. People try to stay indoors as much as possible to avoid profuse sweating, stickiness and dehydration. I passed out in the middle of August. Logically, I attributed it to the summer heat, the stress of a new job, a recently failed romantic relationship (actually, it was a broken engagement) and finally a possible transitional allergy to any of the chemicals and radioactive materials I used at work everyday. What else could have been wrong with a 24-year-old woman?
Soon I put the transient episode behind me and I immersed myself in my interesting work. I forgot all about my mysterious, totally unexpected fall. A week passed by and I felt fine, but on the eighth day after my sudden fall, I became ill again. This time I did not lose consciousness. Instead, I was not spared from experiencing all the rage of my new spell. It seemed like the whole world collapsed in a minute. I felt a surge of heat running up my face again. I lost my balance. My living room started to spin violently around me. The lamp hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room began a mysterious dance; I tried to focus on it. I counted one, two, three? How many lamps were there? I lost count. The lamps were emerging one after the other just to disappear in a vertiginous non-ending circle. Stumbling upon the walls, I made it to my room. I collapsed on my bed. A wave of coldness swept my whole body. My mother reached out for a thick blanket and covered me with it. I vomited for several hours in a row. Exhausted, the vertigo and vomiting eventually subsided. The macabre swirl was finally over.
By the next morning, I started fearing the worst. The new crisis had been too horrible to be ignored. Afraid that a very serious condition such as a brain tumor could be the culprit for my recent symptoms, I decided right then that if another attack would overcome me I would seek professional help.
August came to an end and I enrolled in my last semester at UM. I was looking forward to graduation with great excitement. I only needed three more credits to meet the required courses for my degree. For my last course before graduation I had to present a research paper on Cyclosporine-A, an immunosuppressant drug used to abort a possible transplanted organ rejection. My mentor, Dr. Laphalle Font, was one of my new superiors also. I was being trained at working both research and clinical procedures at the same time. Weekdays I worked under the direction of Dr. Font in his research lab, situated in the medical building third floor. On weekends, I worked on the eight floor doing clinical laboratory procedures for transplant recipients.
At that time, Dr. Font was pursuing the discovery of a new type of immunosuppressant drugs, called monoclonal antibodies. He taught me the process of isolating the antibodies from other chemical compounds to be tested in transplanted patients. On weekends I continued my training in the Tissue Typing laboratory performing clinical tests under Dr. Violet Aschkinks' supervision.
In late August, I re-united with my boyfriend, Jordi after a long break-up. I also had become a full-time employee at the Transplant Department during the fall semester. Being a UM full-time worker offered me the possibility to enter into Graduate School with full-tuition coverage by my employer. I wanted to pursue a PhD. in Microbiology and Immunology. The future looked brighter than ever to me and then, all of the sudden, clouds overshadowed it again.
By mid-September, the strange crises increased in frequency and duration. I decided not to wait any longer. I visited a family doctor at a Hispanic clinic, very popular in Miami in 1986. Nowadays, that clinic is no longer in business. A general checkup and basic comprehensive blood tests did not raise a red flag. All my results were perfectly normal. The doctor dismissed me without major concern. It was a "transitory thing," he assured me.
The following week my brother had to carry me down the stairs of my building and rushed me to the nearest Emergency Room. I was given two shots, one for the nausea and another one for the vertigo. As soon as I stopped vomiting, I was sent back home.
Two days later I paid another visit to the clinic. This time, after reviewing all my blood tests and my vital signs, a different general practitioner pronounced the following words,
"Headaches and dizziness are the two most common symptoms in medicine".
And with that sentence, to my astonishment, he waved me away at the door. That was the end of my second medical consultation.
Dispirited, I came back a third time to the clinic. This time, I saw a very old and gentle, wise internist who assured me that my symptoms were caused either by a neurological or an inner ear condition. He referred me to the appropriate specialists and wished me good luck. The neurologist who examined me was an old, very well-mannered doctor as well. He gave me a thorough neurological checkup in his office and finally delivered his professional opinion.
"I am convinced your symptoms are not of a neurological etiology (origin). For your peace of mind I will order a CAT-scan of your head, but I assure you there is nothing wrong with your head. You need to see an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist)."
As predicted, the head scan was normal. I had a brief moment of relief and then with horror I realized I was very ill but no doctor could provide me with a diagnosis. My illness was a mystery. I was so confused and sick that I did not know how to proceed from there on. In an era where computers where not an integral part of daily life as today; I could only turn to the traditional method of searching for an answer. I needed to direct my steps to the public library to research the mystery that had assailed me. I could not do that. I was too sick to drive anywhere. I depended on taxi cabs services to transport me to doctor's appointments. My health was worsening by the day. I resigned myself to endure the brunt of the vertigo attacks. I also made the first mistake I will later come to regret in the course of my illness; I discarded the ENT referral. How on earth could my ears provoke such horrible symptoms? That was inconceivable to me! Good Lord, how ignorant I was at that time. I paid a heavy price for my false assumption.
With an extraordinary effort on my part I finished my research paper on Cyclosporine A. I received an A on it. And that was all the excitement I was entitled to at that time. Due to my severe vertigo and vomiting, I could not attend my graduation ceremony at the University of Miami. No cap and gown for me. No graduation ring. No pictures to remember the much awaited occasion. I was deprived of hearing my name called along with my peers to be greeted by Dr. Edward T. Foote II, the interim UM president at that time. It was December 1986. I received my diploma by mail and that was that. How many more special events would I miss out in my life? Very soon, I would find the answer.
__ Mercy, what's wrong dear? Dr. Font asked me in a worried tone.
__Oh, I don't feel well. I have this horrible pressure in my ears. I can't lift my head up to tend to the column (a chromatography column I used to separate the monoclonal antibodies from the rest of the sample serum). I am losing my balance! __ I exclaimed in a soft whisper.
__ I am very sorry Dr. Font, I am sick AGAIN! Please I need help to lie down ... quickly!
__Don't worry Mercy. I'll call Norma upstairs to help you to the staff's lounge. I'll be right back. He said.
Norma was a new-part-time employee at the Tissue Typing lab. She was from El Salvador and had just migrated to America to escape an assassination threat promised on by certain leftist factions in her native country. I had never met her before but when she came down to the third floor to assist me; I met a wonderful, young lady who was very compassionate and understanding.
Norma wrapped her arm around my waist and very slowly we started out of the lab towards the lounge. I could not look up or down, right or left. My eyes were fixed in a semi-closed gaze to escape the much dreaded onset of vertigo and vomiting. Since I had no balance, I leaned my body against Norma's as she gently guided me out of the room.
The University Medical Building was divided into two sections. The right side of the building was the new addition to it. It was built with plenty of windows that allowed the Miami sun rays to be reflected along the new, polished, granite floors. The left side of the building was the original one. It was a dark, poorly illuminated section. For the most part, it enclosed small windowless rooms. Sometimes, the labs had small windows that face other drab buildings; a gloomy view unless you had valid reasons in your heart to fill it with joy.
All edifices together constituted the Jackson-Hospital / University of Miami conglomerate. Dr. Font's lab was located in the old building section. In fact, most of the Medical School's Microbiology/Immunology professors had their small offices and research labs located on that floor.
As I stumbled out of my lab, beads of sweat covering my face; I sensed more than seeing the presence of sympathetic teachers, researchers and their lab assistants assembled along the dark corridors. Soft, compassionate words were uttered as Norma, literally, dragged myself along the hall. Then, I heard it. As dizzy as I was, the words reached my ears very clearly,
__What's wrong with her? I heard a female voice in the distance.
__She is suffering from a Petit Mal seizure! That's what's wrong with her!
Oh no, dear God! I pleaded myself after I heard the term. Petit mal! No, please, no epilepsy for me!
Petit Mal seizure is just one variation of several types of epilepsy. It has been substituted by the modern term of absence seizure. As opposed to Grand Mal epilepsy or seizures, where the patient falls down to the floor on uncontrollable convulsions, the patient afflicted by Petit Mal might appear to be staring into space with or without jerking or twitching movements of the eye muscles. Normally, Petit Mal patients do not show any emotional expressions during these attacks. These periods usually last for seconds.
-Just because I have to stare into a fixed spot in front of me with a vacant look on my face when I am seized by these attacks does not mean I suffer from Petit Mal, right?,
I reassured myself—
A few days later, Jordi's dad, a pediatrician who had graduated from University of Havana, suggested the same diagnosis. I still refuted the possibility of a neurological problem. Time will showed me that I was correct in my assumptions then.
___ "I want us to go to a special place this weekend, baby," Jordi whispered sweetly in my ears while he gently caressed my face. I want you to relax and forget about these awful past weeks. I want us to have some fun again. I am taking you to The Forge tomorrow. We'll have a nice dinner, we'll dance and we'll toast to your recovery and we'll forget all about your dizziness, you'll see."____
I simply nodded in agreement with delight.
As I came out of my shower wrapped in my pastel peach bathrobe, I took a glance at my outfit for the night. My black, satin blouse and evening trousers lay on top of my bed besides my golden belt, earrings and sandals. The same golden toned clutch complemented both my ensemble and my shoulder-length-honey-blonde hair. I looked at myself in my bedroom's oval mirror as I started to apply some foundation to my face.
I sighed with relief. A sense of confidence swept me all over. I will put this nightmare behind me. Yes, I will....
The trendy, high-end, haute cuisine Hollywood—1930's era restaurant lifted up my spirits that night. The place was amazing. I was delighted from the moment we stepped in. Jordi was in the mood to treat us to a feast that particular night. He wanted me to feel like a fairy-tale princess entranced by an unforgettable night. And he succeeded. He ordered us a bottle of Chianti 1960 Riserva to accompany his Tuscany Sirloin Steak and my Oak Grilled Filet Mignon. The famous, New York-style-dry-aged steaks were as delectable as expected. In fact, they were superb.
The Forge, located in the heart of Miami Beach was perfectly suited for its Latin up-beat music evening show. Hansen and Raul, a very popular Cuban-duo in the 80's, were the attraction of the night. After savoring our delicious Belgian Chocolate Soufflé, we stepped up to the dance floor. We swirled happily along with other young couples; dancing to the tune of both rhythmic Latin salsa and ageless, slow, romantic ballads.
I hadn't felt so well in so long. I felt normal again, almost. We went back to our secluded seats. We indulged in sweet talking and dreamy plans for our future together. A few moments later, I slid to the back of the restaurant to visit the ladies room. I re-applied my glossy lipstick carefully and went back to my seat. Upon my return, beside my glass, I found a beautiful white orchid, delicately wrapped in a transparent box. My favorite flower of all.
A note engraved in golden letters read I Love You. I felt exhilarated. Swept with love, I looked at Jordi's large, hazel-nut eyes framed by his dark hair. Sus ojos color de menta.
His beautiful light green eyes were the color of a genuine green-mint Cuban candy, framed by his dark beard and thick, dark eyebrows. He was the most handsome guy I had ever been with! I leaned toward him and very gently, I kissed him on his lips. The Maitre-D walked by, he smiled at us and discreetly guided his steps to the other corner of the room.
Excerpted from Back In The Swirl by MERCEDES KIM-CABRERA. Copyright © 2013 Mercedes Kim-Cabrera. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Unexpected Fall.................... 1
Chapter 2: Faulty Carrousel.................... 5
Chapter 3: Clueless Physicians, Clever Veterinarian.................... 13
Chapter 4: Sorry, No Vip Suite Available For You.................... 18
Chapter 5: Unavoidable Decision.................... 26
Chapter 6: The Missing Clue.................... 34
Chapter 7: The Genius Doctor, Vicious Migraines, Low Blood Sugar and
Meniere Correlation.................... 40
Chapter 8: The Unthinkable.................... 48
Chapter 9: Meeting a Saint.................... 55
Chapter 10: Fasting Marathon.................... 72
Chapter 11: Amazing Recovery.................... 80
Chapter 12: One Hundred and Eighty Degrees.................... 85
Chapter 13: Wish Granted Once, Twice, Three Times Over.................... 90
Chapter 14: "Long Live Remission".................... 100
Chapter 15: Color My World Blue, So I Can Chase Away "The Blues"........... 106
Chapter 16: More Useful Advice.................... 115
Chapter 17: A Summary Of Depression Boosters.................... 123
Chapter 18: General Facts About Depression.................... 133
Chapter 19: Depression Myths.................... 138
Chapter 20: Baker Act, A Horrific True Story.................... 144
Chapter 21: The Transition To The Most Dreaded "Bilateral" Status.......... 155
Chapter 22: Back In The Swirl.................... 162
Chapter 23: Surprise, Surprise.................... 167
Chapter 24: Year 2008.................... 171
Chapter 25: Year 2008, Stepping Up The Game.................... 176
Chapter 26: Year 2009, Sarasota and the Silverstein Institute.............. 182
Chapter 27: Year 2010 Up To Present.................... 188