It was a glorious, sunny afternoon, and I had walked to the library to look for something to read while I was on medical leave. I just had surgery, and I was feeling great, but I
still had a few weeks off work. I was ready to enjoy my time off by catching up on some reading.
I loved the library, a quaint old building in a picturesque town square, and I spent a couple of hours looking at books and selecting some I thought would be interesting. By the time I had picked out my books and checked out, the sun had gone down, and the library was closing.
I stepped out of the library door, looked down at the steps and suddenly, I was hallucinating! I felt dizzy, and the steps appeared to be extending outward in an impossible way. I was terrified to put my foot down on the next step and I felt like I was floating in some strange space. I was paralyzed!! I could not take a step down and I was terrified!!
This was in the days before cell phones, and the librarian had already driven away. I finally had to sit down on the steps and I crawled down to the sidewalk. When I reached the sidewalk, I was able to stand up and walk, but as soon as I got outside of the scope of the streetlight, I fell down. I could not stand up and walk in the dark, but I didn’t know that at the time. In tears and in terror, I inched the five blocks to my house, walking wherever I could see, and crawling where the streetlights didn’t shine. I crawled up the front steps to my house and collapsed on the front porch, sobbing and thanking God for getting me home.
Strangely, when I was home, everything was ok. I could stand up and walk with no problems, except I seemed a little wobbly. I wondered if I had been poisoned somehow, or if someone had put some kind of drug on the binding of a book. The next day I went to my doctor, who tested my balance by having me close my eyes and stand still. I could not!! He pushed me gently and I almost fell over. This was scary! He said it must have been an ear infection, and he prescribed antibiotics. As days went by, instead of getting better, the symptoms became worse. I had no sense of balance, and the doctors couldn’t figure out why. For more than a year I was tested for everything it could be. I had CT Scans and MRIs, and they checked for Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and brain tumors. Finally, in despair, I made an appointment with the Neurology department at the Cleveland Clinic. Five minutes into that appointment, I had the answer.
We had recently moved from Colorado to Conneaut, Ohio, a picturesque little town on the shore of Lake Erie. I was running from a tragedy that I couldn’t face.
My sister Gayle committed suicide on my fortieth birthday. She was the only person I thought I could depend on forever, but I was wrong. I thought I knew her, but I was wrong.
The guilt I felt for not seeing her suffering was overwhelming to me. I adored my sister Gayle and I admired her for so many things. Now she was dead and I didn’t know why. I was so haunted by her death that I moved my family far away from the dysfunctional family of my birth. I hoped to avoid further calamity. Now, just when I thought I had escaped, something mysterious and terrifying was happening to me
For many years, I had been having a lot of “female” problems, and like thousands of women, I had a routine hysterectomy. All went well with the surgery, but post-surgery complications almost killed me and left me permanently disabled.
The surgery caused a blood clot that went into my lung, I developed pleurisy, a very painful condition in which the lining of the lung becomes filled with fluid. As the fluid builds up, it causes the lung to collapse and breathing becomes increasingly painful. They had to drain the fluid and they gave me an intravenous antibiotics to kill the infection. That antibiotic was ototoxic – poison to the ears. This resulted in complete, irreversible, and permanent destruction of my vestibular system. This destruction came on gradually, because the poison got into the labyrinth of the ear and remained there, destroying every single nerve that could signal to my brain where my body is in space.
The Neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic asked me one question. Had I been given intravenous antibiotics? Then he asked me to walk up and down the hallway. He could tell right away that I was damaged, and he ordered tests to assess the damage. The tests were interesting and disappointing. I had no reaction to any of their tests. The diagnosis was devastating, 100% destruction of a vital system that gives us a sense of balance. The vestibular nerves in both ears were destroyed. The symptoms included bouncing and blurring vision, (oscillopsia) which was worse with type of head movement. Obviously, I have difficulty walking in the dark, I cannot walk down stairs without a railing, I can’t ride a bicycle, or use a shovel to dig a hole. I almost drowned in Lake Erie because I didn’t realize I had no way of knowing up from down. I discovered that I can’t stand on one leg, and I had to learn to stand with my feet wider apart to give me a more balanced stance. I developed a wide-based gait when I walked, but any time I leaned over or became off balance in any way, I fell. I fell again and again. The doctor prescribed a three-wheeled walker and I was given a lifetime handicap prognosis.
I never got the walker. I was too proud, and I couldn’t admit that something about me was broken. I had already been broken to a point I didn’t believe I could be fixed. I thought I had escaped my bad luck and my feeling of being an outsider when we moved to Ohio. But I was mistaken. I was trying to upgrade my social status; to feel like I could somehow fit in with normal people, to be respected and treated as an equal. I hated myself though, and I couldn’t respect anyone who treated me with respect.
In the aftermath of Gayle’s death I learned a devastating family secret that sent my mind reeling – I became completely unbalanced – and it took a long time for me to get things straight again.
Because, as I child, I was a “latchkey kid” with little or no adult supervision, I was pretty disgusting. I was extremely nearsighted and I wore thick glasses which were always dirty, my teeth were rotten, I always had a runny nose, and I often went unbathed for weeks. One day in school my nose dripped on my arm, and when I wiped it off I could see pink skin under the grey dirt. I licked my finger and I wrote my name on my arm. It seemed like nobody cared about me. Except for my sister Gayle. Whenever we visited her she took care of me. I remember her bathing me and scrubbing my scalp until it burned. She made me feel like a normal human and I adored her.
After my stepfather died, we moved to Greeley, where Gayle lived with her firefighter husband, and their three kids. I admired they way she did everything. She was an excellent seamstress, and she made beautiful things with beads. She decorated Christmas stockings for all of us, with beaded snowmen, candy canes, snowflakes and such. Her whole life was about making beautiful things and taking care of her family. I knew she had been married when she was only 14 years old, two years before I was born, and that she struggled with depression, but not much else about her life. She was pregnant with her oldest son at the same time my mother was pregnant with me, and she treated me like she treated her own children. She was a good mother.
The day before my fortieth birthday my mom and I talked with Gayle on the phone. It was not an eventful conversation, we talked about kids and family and she wished me a happy birthday. The next day she got up and cleaned her house, packed boxes of keepsakes for my sisters, and then she asphyxiated herself in her garage.
“Time really, then, goes backward to an instant so ancient that it is beyond all memory and past even the possibility of remembering. Yet because it is an instant that is relived again and again and still again, it seems to be now.” – ACIM Manual for Teachers
Look for Part Two next week – please feel free to subscribe and you will get future posts in your email.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book God is Free – Everything I know so far…