Sharon Randall: A bout with vertigo is dizzying reminder of interdependence

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hen your world spins out of control, what exactly do you do? Me? I usually just try to hold on tight and wait and pray for it to stop.

There are gifts that come with waiting and praying. I’ve seen plenty. So have you.

But if you’ve lived as long as I have, you probably know that holding on is a waste of time. It’s letting go, not clinging, that brings order to chaos, finds hope in despair and calms any storm.

Still, there are times when it seems the best you can do is sink your claws in like a cat about to get flea dipped.

This was one of those times.

I often fly for work or to visit family. Usually, it doesn’t bother me, but once in a while, flying makes me feel as if my head is stuck in the pressure cooker that my mother would use to turn green beans into gray mush.

Flying is not the problem. It’s the going up and coming down, the change in altitude and cabin pressure that treats eardrums like the balloons that get blown up and twisted into wiener dogs.

It’s especially hard on babies’ ears. That’s why you often hear them crying on flights, along with, well, people like me. I didn’t quite cry this time, but I nearly did.

It’s a quick flight, about an hour from Las Vegas, where I live, to Monterey, Calif., where I planned to spend a week visiting my children and grandchildren.

I did fine on takeoff but ran into trouble when we started the descent. My ears began to pop, as they often do on flights, only the popping kept getting worse. Pretty soon, it felt as if my head was under water. By the time we landed, I could barely hear.

Luckily, the feeling finally subsided, and I had no problem hearing little people call me “Nana.”

Imagine my surprise the next morning when I rolled out of bed to start “nana duty” and found I couldn’t stand up.

Well, I did manage to stand for a bit until the room began to reel like the boat in “The Perfect Storm” and flung me back down on the bed. I lay still as a corpse, clutching a pillow, waiting for the world to right itself and make the reeling stop, but the tiniest movement of my head sent it reeling again.

The good news, at least, was I knew what was wrong. The bad news was it wasn’t good.

Vertigo is a loss of balance that an inner ear infection often causes, or you get it from having your eardrums twisted like balloons into wiener dogs. It spins your world like a merry-go-round free falling through space. It can also make you throw up, but thankfully, I was spared that.

The worst of it is the sense of helplessness. Some of us — and we know who we are — would sooner go to prison and spend the rest of our lives in an orange jumpsuit than have to ask, God forbid, for a little help.

This is true not just in vertigo but at any point when balance is lost and life spins out of control.

Lying on my daughter’s guest bed, praying for the spinning to stop, I recalled other times in my life when I had felt much the same: as a child worrying about my mother, as a mother worrying about my child, as a wife afraid of losing my husband, as a widow afraid of moving on with my life.

In each of those instances and in countless others, I learned, time and again, a little secret: Balance and control are optical — or auditory or emotional or intellectual — illusions. None of us stands for long on our own.

Sooner or later, we all need a little help. We just have to ask.

So I asked, and my daughter, bless her, took me to a clinic for medicine to make me feel better. My husband offered to drive 1,000 miles to bring me home, so I wouldn’t need to fly until my ears were better. Even my grandbabes gave me a break so I could lie on the sofa watching them run in circles like curly-headed penguins on speed.

Life is funny, isn’t it? Some days you start out feeling helpless and end up feeling loved.

Sharon Randall is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service (

Sharon Randall is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service (

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