A Metromix Moment

The dizzy spells came every month after that. They always lasted for 30 minutes to the second, it was weird. The blend of vertigo and pressure felt more significant than anything I’d experienced, and I couldn’t shake the notion that it meant something profound. 

I didn’t tell anyone about them. Not my parents. Not Dr. Sullivan. Not anyone. Over the last several months, my faith in neurologists had waned. As the daughter of a physician, the breakdown in trust felt like a betrayal.

As it was, I’d left my Chicago neurologist in December, after she dismissed the negative thoughts. Her rigid approach to medicine wasn’t a good fit, and it was time to move on. 

“Not possible,” she had said. Not possible for an epilepsy drug to cause negative impulses. And yet they persisted five months later. Granted, I had referred to it as “depression” instead of suicidal ideation. Didn’t want to alarm her or anything (for my sake, you know, not hers). Nonetheless, It marked the first time a doctor had invalidated my experience so overtly, and it deflated me. Not in the way you lose whole days on the couch; just in a way that makes you feel let down.

I wish she had kept an open mind is all. Dad, like his father before him, always did. It drove his brilliance as much as his compassion. But I was starting to see that not all doctors were like Dad. It was a painful realization to come to. And one that, in the spring of 2004, I was only beginning to understand.

I’d been going to neurologists — the best neurologists — since the age of 2. But I wasn’t about to confide in one now. Not even Dr. Sullivan, whom Dad had hand-picked shortly before my 18th birthday. It seemed unfathomable, a fall from grace. Clearly my physiology was changing. I was too. 

If I mentioned the spells to Dr. Sullivan, he’d up my dose faster than I could pour a glass of water. I was hardly convinced that was the best course of action. I would wait. If they were still happening in October, I’d contact him. If I shared my suspicions with him now, he wouldn’t believe me. He was a by-the-book kind of guy. I was pretty sure there wasn’t a chapter on this.

That day at the lakefront, I knew. This was going to be my battle alone. It had to be. I needed space to figure it out, and that meant no interference. The bouts felt deeply personal in a way that other episodes had not. They made me feel part of a transformation. This was leading somewhere. Somewhere destined, it felt like. I wanted to find out.

The dizzy spell in April seemed like an isolated occurrence. I thought about it from time to time, but it was nowhere near my mind when the second one came a month later. 

At 11:30 a.m. the kids at Francis Parker came out for recess. The private K-12 school was directly across the street, and by now I could tell time to the sound of kids’ chatter. This late in the spring, Parker’s playing fields grew a lush emerald green. I wondered how much fertilizer they used. Beyond the playing fields, the jungle gym towered above the playground, and I caught the silhouettes of two boys playing tag in its shadow.

Beams of sunlight streamed through the windows, catching my eyes with a streak of gold. A lofty breeze carried the scent of lilacs up from Webster Avenue, and I thought of Mom. In the Lalemant days, lilacs were her favorite. I could picture the little Belleek vase she used to put them in. “Can you smell ’em?” she’d always ask, and we’d say yes.

Writing Metromix listings that morning, I’d started one about Mayfest, the German-themed festival that kicks off summer. There would be brats and beers and Maypole dancing, and I smiled at the use of alliteration there. One month earlier, I’d been promoted from doing updates to writing original posts. I took it as a vote of confidence. The other freelancers wrote columns in RedEye, the Trib’s alternative daily. I hoped to have a column of my own.

A wailing siren blasted down Clark Street; in an instant, dizziness buried me. I felt my stomach sink, a single palm upon my forehead (as if that could stop the reeling). A heavy tingling sensation spread through my extremities like a worker pouring cement. I hoped to God this wouldn’t last long.

The red sofa bed, a soft-cushioned find from IKEA, already was extended from last night’s sleep. I climbed in, wondering how I’d manage 30 minutes of this and a lunch break in the same day. 

Lying on my side made the spinning worse, so I lay on my back and remembered to keep my eyes open. Tom Waits’ song “Hold On” popped into my head, and I focused on the only thing I could control—breathing. With every inhalation, I caught the scent of lilacs and let their aroma calm me. All the while, I tried to figure what the dizziness meant. It seemed representative.

More than 20 minutes into it — with my nose fully fragrant and recess over — it hit me.