CherriBut not forgotten.

by Cherri Ellis


It was a weekday morning and I was buzzing around doing what females do when they climb out of the shower and realize how late it is. I flipped myself upside down, twisted my wet hair into a towel, and whipped myself upright. The very next second I found myself face down on the tile, completely weightless. My hands were splayed out and it looked like I was trying to press on the ground to get up. In reality, I was trying to cling to the tile because the room was spinning so hard I felt like I was going to literally fly off of it. When it slowed to the point that I could breathe, I became violently ill. For a minute, I was grateful that I had the cool porcelain of the toilet to cling to until the world stopped its gut-wrenching, lopsided circles.  

The Universe spoke.

“Cherri, I would like for you to meet Vertigo. Effectively immediately, she will be handling your schedule. Your Outlook calendar has been cleared, along with your ability to stand upright and your desire to try. Whatever self-important whirlwind of activity you had planned for your day has now been supplanted with the focused, singular effort of not vomiting. Good luck.”

I could not freaking believe it. I was scheduled to be on the news that morning, explaining to local viewers the difference in HD and standard definition television. I had assiduously memorized facts about aspect ratio and pixel count and resolution. My carefully chosen outfit was pressed. My roots were done. I was all teed up to apply the right shade of red lipstick and head out into the world to sound smart and articulate or, as I like to say, smarticulate. I could not have been more wrong.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo is what happens when tiny crystals in your inner ear shift and cause your brain to receive false signals with regard to balance. It happens to 2.4 percent of people at some point in their lifetimes. While it is not life-threatening, it happens for no apparent reason, and it is an instant “Game Over” till the little Otoconia float back home. (Frankly, the fact that this can happen at all proves that the inner ear is not God’s best work. Nobody hits it out of the ballpark every time.)

Seeking help from a kindly ear, nose, and throat doctor, I was put through some exercises designed to reposition my inner right ear parts. He sat me on a table and did the Epsley maneuver, which involves lying flat quickly and snapping your head to one side while focusing on a fixed point. It made my eyes rapidly move back and forth like something out of a sci-fi flick, but it did the trick. Gravity was back. I was told to sleep in a cervical collar in an upright position and under no circumstances roll to my offending right side. It was even suggested that I clip pillows to the right side of my pajamas so that it was impossible to accidentally roll that direction in my sleep. I was sent home with a written copy of the instructions, complete with diagrams.

My mistake was letting my team at work see that piece of paper.

I have never seen a stronger team-building exercise than what my bout with vertigo became. The day I returned I had to interview a client on camera, and when I stood up too quickly, I stumbled sideways like Otis the drunk on Mayberry RFD. I caught myself in a few steps, but the camera had been on. Back in the office, I heard laughter coming from an edit suite. There was my creative services team, crowded around a monitor, running and rewinding the clip of me stumbling. They could not get enough of it. Did you know that there is a candy bar named Vertigo? I do, because I found one taped on my door. One editor kept trying to drop things near me to see if I would bend over to pick it up and stumble again. A few days later, I was working at my desk when the phone rang. A producer said a crew had some questions about a shoot and they needed to talk to me right that red-hot second. They came through the door and started telling some rambling story, and I kept typing my email till they got to the part that merited my full attention. When I looked up, there were three of them standing there, and they all had clamped various pillows on themselves from their ankles to their shoulders. One of them had managed to use the seat cushions from the sofa in the lobby. Suffice it to say that I lost it.

A bout with Vertigo is the ultimate example of life being what happens while you make plans. Every now and again, it is good to be bitch-slapped down to the planet. It reminds you that control is an illusion. It teaches you to be grateful for the little things, like the ability to turn your head. It reminds you how people have the power to make a bad memory into one of your favorites. It reminds you to always remember that, for all of your strutting self-importance, you never really get the final say.

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