My blog posts are always geared towards adding value to my readers however the following is a little unique given the topic.
In early November of 2017 I felt like my right ear was stopped up. It was a combination similar to what you experience from flying or from having water in your ear from swimming. With a history as a swimmer and given that I fly several times a year, these symptoms were not unusual. However they are typically very short-term and so after several days of them not subsiding, I decided it was time to see my doctor.
On November 10, 2017 I went to my family practice doctor and actually ended up seeing his PA. She is great and has helped me numerous times in the past with other issues and so I felt just as comfortable talking with her as I would with my doctor. After describing my symptoms, and a brief examination on her part, she said you have an ear infection.
As a former competitive swimmer, I used to get ear infections all the time and they were always very painful. She said this was a different kind of infection in a different part of the ear that didn’t really cause pain. She said the solution was simple and prescribed ear drops that I would take for the next ten days. This she said would knock out the infection and I should be good to go.
For my part the whole experience was pretty nonchalant. The PA never mentioned any potential danger or risk from the infection and shame on me for not asking. After completing the drops the symptoms had decreased but had not completely gone away. In my mind the improvement meant I was healing and I didn’t think much more about it.
For Thanksgiving, I traveled to East Texas to my hometown of Nacogdoches to be with family. It was at my Mom’s home on Thanksgiving night where I had my first attack of Vertigo. I had gotten up around midnight to use the bathroom which is only about twenty feet from the guest bedroom. From the moment I got out of the bed and then as I walked the short distance to the bathroom, I felt like everything around me was spinning.
My Mom has a night-light in the bathroom that was zigzagging back and forth along with the rest of the room which was going in circles. I fault an instant rush of nausea and started breaking out in a cold sweat. Once I was back in bed, my mind was racing as to what was going on. With the overhead fan on full blast, I pushed away the bedspread and used only the sheet for cover due to the bizarre way that I felt.
After what seemed like forever, I dozed back off and woke up the next morning with no lingering effects. How strange! At first I thought it might have been a dream, but no, I was clear that it did happen. I just didn’t know why and made no connection to my ear at that point.
After the first couple of weeks in December, the feeling of my ear being stopped up started to slowly return. Then on December 28, 2017 I had my second attack of Vertigo in the early morning right after getting home from the gym. I had already showered and dressed and was just firing up my computer in my home office when the nausea and dizziness hit me out of no where.
It was so bad that after picking at my breakfast, I went back to sleep in my lounge chair for most of the morning. When I woke up around lunch time, the symptoms had subsided enough to be able to eat. I then decided it would be best to go see my doctor. For the negative, my doctor’s office is about 12 miles away with most of that being on the North Dallas tollway. A flare up of the Vertigo while driving 70+ mph could have been interesting.
Ultimately the drive down was okay until about the time I hit their parking lot. Then out of the blue, the Vertigo came back. It was a cold day and I was wearing my overcoat and yet I had the AC on full tilt because of the nausea and cold sweats. Walking in from the parking lot was a challenge as I was definitely impaired. Anyone watching would have thought I was intoxicated because I was walking as if under the influence.
Normally there is very little wait, however that afternoon the waiting room was full of flu patients and the wait was two hours. As bad as I felt, there’s no way I was going to wait that long and further expose myself to catching the flu. I made an appointment for the next day at 4PM and then carefully made my way back home where I slept for most of the rest of the day.
My doctor was able to see me right away the next afternoon and quickly diagnosed that my ear infection had not gone away. He gave me a steroid shot and prescribed a three-day run of antibiotics to treat the infection. He also prescribed motion sickness meds to deal with the Vertigo. The new treatment plan left me feeling hopeful as I headed to Costco to pick up my new drugs. For what it’s worth, my doctor’s attitude was no different from that of the PA’s in that he didn’t mention any particular danger I was in due to the lingering infection.
The new meds did help and the motion sickness and the blocked feeling in my ear largely subsided…in the short run. But, by mid-January the symptoms started coming back and so I called to make another appointment. They were still slammed with flu cases and the earliest opening was on January 23, 2018. Oddly enough, the night before my appointment, I had the next attack of Vertigo.
I had just showered and was about to cook dinner. It was so bad that I literally had to force myself to cook and then only ate about half because of the extreme nausea. Shortly after I went to bed hoping the sleep would help.
The next day my doctor prescribed one more shot and a double dose of antibiotics along with an additional prescription of Prednisone. We agreed that if the new treatment didn’t help, I would need to see a specialist. After the previous experience with the same meds, I was not feeling overly confident. Further, I was not excited about taking Prednisone as it can have some nasty side effects.
Oddly enough, I felt fine the rest of the week until Saturday night, January 27, 2018. At midnight I woke up with a another attack of Vertigo. It was the worst by far and the feeling of nausea and the room spinning was almost more than I could stand. Normally I charge my phone at my desk in my office right around the corner from my bedroom. With my apartment spinning at full torque, I made my way to my desk to get my phone and then back to my bed using the walls and what ever else to keep my balance.
The Vertigo was so bad that I considered calling 911. I’ve had knee and shoulder surgery and this was way worse than any pain I had dealt with before. My mind raced with the ramifications of calling 911 at midnight and the potential ambulance ride to the emergency room. Fortunately I chickened out and finally went back to sleep. The next morning I felt better however pretty exhausted after the previous night.
Normally I work as a “sub” at my church during the Offertory as needed which is typically most of the time. Even though I am only a sub, I still take the role seriously never mind the fact that I hate missing church to begin with. Since I did feel better and my church is only a few minutes from my home, I decided to go. I was needed and made it through the offering okay however I had my doubts considering the possibility of another attack of Vertigo.
The next morning, on January 29, 2018, I was at my doctor’s office early to get a referral to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Fortunately they had an opening that same day right after lunch. After sharing my story, the doctor did a hearing test. The results showed that I had experienced roughly a 2/3’s loss of hearing in my right ear. He said if I would have come to see him in the first few weeks after the symptoms started, he could have prevented the damage that had been done…which is largely irreversible.
Further, he said there were two potential causes for my condition. He said either a viral infection had attacked the nerve in my ear or I could potentially have a brain tumor. The only way to rule out the tumor was to have an MRI…the sooner the better. Mentally absorbing the combination of the hearing loss and the possibility of having a brain tumor was quite a bit to take all in the span of about 30 minutes.
Why didn’t my family practice doctor not send me to a specialist sooner? I choose to take responsibility for everything in my life and yet the carefree attitude of the PA and doctor gave me no reason to be alarmed. Shame on me for not asking more questions about the potential risk. Unfortunately, none of that matters now.
The imaging center is located in the same building at Medical City Dallas as the specialist and they had an opening within 20 minutes of me walking in the door. It was a double MRI because the second scan involved a contrasting dye which meant…oh joy…another shot. Normal shots, I can handle. IV’s and the like where the needle is left in your hand or arm SUCK!
One hour later, I was done and on my way home. The MRI tech said the results would be sent to my doctor that same day and that I should hear from them soon. It was a surreal drive home talking to my Dad. I was disappointed with my hearing but pretty much in a state of shock about the potential for a brain tumor. Brain surgery is not something on my “bucket list”.
The next morning the nurse called me from the specialist’s office and said right away “Great news! You don’t have a brain tumor.” Talk about a weight taken off my shoulders. She did say the doctor wanted to see me in a month for a follow-up but otherwise, I was out of danger. I asked about the Vertigo and she said the meds prescribed by my family practice doctor were the best under the circumstances. At that point, with the previous Saturday night being only a few days past, I had my doubts with this plan however I agreed.
Since nothing had changed in my body from my perspective, I figured it was only a matter of time. Fortunately, the Vertigo never came back. To date, even as I write this post, there have been no further attacks. When I did go see the specialist for the follow-up visit, he did a whole new round of hearing tests. Surprisingly, my right ear had marginally improved from the previous tests. The doctor attributed this and the lack of Vertigo to the viral infection finally running its course.
The downside is that I still have about a 50% loss of hearing in my right ear that will never come back. Further, I have a constant ringing (tinnitus) which according to my doctor will also never go away.
Closing thoughts for my readers:
So now I am left with a permanent loss of hearing and a constant ringing in my ear. If I would have known the potential risk of the original ear infection, I would have opted for the specialist from the very beginning. I had no idea because the doctor and his PA treated my condition so casually.
While you obviously can’t control everything that happens to you in life, you always have a choice in how you respond to the positive and the negative. I choose to accept responsibility for everything that happens to me for better or worse. As soon as you blame outside forces for your circumstances, you give up your right to make change.
There is always silver lining in every adversity if you’re willing to look. As a Christian, one of my life verses is 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4…
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
For me, if the only silver lining in one of life’s trials is that I can learn a lesson to better help someone else in the future going through a similar struggle, then for me, it’s enough. At least this gives me something positive to focus on rather than simply dwelling on the overall negativity of a situation.
So in the spirit of the verse above, my silver lining given the journey with my ear is to encourage you to take care of yourself. Take care of your health proactively and then be extra vigilant when an issue comes up. Ask your doctor lots of questions. Do your homework. Get a second or even third opinion. With the power of Mother Google available to most everyone, there’s no reason to not be educated to some degree on your illness and the track record of the physician you’re seeking help from.
Ultimately you have a huge amount of control over the state of your health. Please don’t take this for granted. It is truly a gift that can be taken away without notice.
Best of luck in your journey…