Staggering and Wobbling with Dignity and Grace. Or Not.

So I stagger and wobble and run into door jambs.

The door jamb part really isn’t in the same category as the other two, because staggering and wobbling are relatively new, but I’ve been door-challenged all my life.

Public Domain

Once when I was eight, visiting my Aunt Laura and Uncle Joe, the phone rang and I was the only one in the house. I ran from the kitchen and across the dining room, headed for the far end of the hallway, where the phone resided. When I got to the door from the dining room to the hall, I caught the sleeve of my sleeveless blouse–I trust you understand that–on the strike plate. I backed off and started over and caught my blouse on the strike plate–same blouse, same strike plate. I backed off and started over and got hung up a third time. On my fourth effort, I gave up on running and walked. That worked.

I’ve never repeated the strike plate episode, but I frequently collide with door jambs–usually when leaving the boss’ office–and I clip the corners of tables. I’m told the root cause lies in my corpus callosum and to just keep on colliding. It’s somehow worse when the boss is an attorney. I’ve learned to live with it.

But staggering and wobbling haven’t been going on all that long. I don’t have vertigo; I just get off balance. I know why I don’t get around as easily as I should–unsteadiness occurs when I don’t eat enough and when I don’t get enough sleep. Insufficient exercise is a contributing factor. I haven’t gotten much exercise for the past three-point-five years. There are both good reasons and excellent excuses for that.

Things are looking up. Last month I bought a Fitbit, which counts my steps and does various other helpful things. I’ve been using it, walking with purpose. I participated in two virtual hikes around Yosemite–Vernal Falls (15,000 steps) and Valley Loop (35,800 steps)–and now I’m hiking the Pohono Trail (62,500 steps). Twice I’ve been awarded stars for doing over 5,000 steps in one day. Today I began four miles of switchbacks that, instructions say, should save my knees and give me the opportunity to look back on what I’ve passed. If they think I’m going to look down from a switchback, they can just think again.

Well, anyway, when the oncologist heard my sad story, he said, Would you like a referral to physical therapy for balance? David said, Yes. From his answer, and the speed with which he gave it, I infer that he’s getting tired of my leaning on him just in case.

So I’m now in physical therapy for balance. In my personal lexicon, physical therapy means young, skinny people telling me to do things I don’t want to do. My spirit wars against it. I’ve discovered–all right, I already knew–I cannot walk a white line while sober. I cannot stand on one leg without tipping over. I can stand on a little square of foam rubber with my eyes closed for a minute without reeling, mostly. I can do more than I can’t do. That’s promising.


Cochlea and vestibular system, by Nevit Dilmen, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Via Wikipedia

Nevertheless, the therapist arranged a hearing test. I said, Oh no, I hear just fine, but I knew the left ear is better than the right. After the first test, the audiologist arranged for two more tests to find out if there’s anything vestibular going on that might affect my balance. They will check me for nystagmus. They might be able to help me.

Oh, joy. They will find something vestibular and then help me with more physical therapy. I will never get out of that place.

But despite all my moaning about PT, I accepted the prospect of hearing and vestibular problems with dignity and grace.

Then, two days ago, while waiting for the veterinarian to call William to the examination room, I picked up a magazine and it fell open to an article about Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome, “a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance.”

“Most dogs present with the sudden onset of loss of balance, disorientation, head tilt, and irregular jerking eye movements called ‘nystagmus’. Many dogs will become reluctant to stand or walk. Most dogs will lean or fall in the direction of their head tilt.”

They also stagger and wobble.

The good news is that most dogs recover.

And they do it without physical therapy.

Since I read that, I’m doing without dignity and grace.