Thursday, 21 January 2010


It is around about midnight and my wife has already retired for the night.  I check that all the doors and windows are secure and I look in on the children.  They are all  sleeping. peacefully.  I've had a good but busy day so I'm tired. Happy tired.  Lowering myself into my nice, soft, warm bed is a wonderful feeling. I turn off the bedside lamp and close my eyes.  Mmmm.  It's so peaceful; my wife's rhythmic breathing is the only sound.

Uh?  What's going on?

The whole world has started to spin and lurch. I open my eyes.  The ceiling is rocking and turning.  It's like being on a roller coaster, but it's out of control.  I start to feel nauseous.  Very nauseous.  I can't stay in the bed.  I get up and discover that I can't stand!  I stagger out of the bedroom and down the stairs, holding on to the handrail for dear life.  The exertion makes me pant.  I soon discover that sitting is no better than lying, which is no better than trying to stand (except that I don't fall anywhere).

I am scared.

My heart is beating at a seriously high rate.  It seems intent in exiting its chest cavity.  I know that something serious is wrong.  Is this the end?  Am I dying?

What should I do?  I know - ring the emergency department.  Should I ask for an ambulance?  No, perhaps this feeling will go away and then I'll look stupid.  Best to speak to a doctor.  Where's the phone book?  Here it is.  Will I pass out before I get through on the phone?  No, they're answering now.

"Can I speak to a doctor please, I feel really unwell."

I have to answer a few questions first.  Please hurry up - I'm getting worse.  Ah, the doctor's speaking to me now.  I tell him what has happened and how I feel now.  I try to be calm and not exaggerate how I feel, but I think that there is a palpable desperation in my voice and my breathing is erratic.

"I'm not sure what's wrong," says the doctor, but you're obviously not fit enough to get here under your own steam.  I'm sending out an ambulance right away.  It'll be with you in a couple of minutes."

I shout up the stairs to wake up my wife.  She hears and runs down the stairs, anxious and worried.  She insists that she will accompany me to the hospital.  What about the children?  They can't stay here on their own.  Ok, she'll get the lady next door to look after them.  Off she goes to disturb our next door neighbour's sleep.  She's back in less than a minute; babysitting has been taken care of.  Where's that bloody ambulance?  Here in a couple of minutes?  It seems like a couple of hours.  Will it get here before I die?

I notice a blue flashing light.  It must be the ambulance.  There's a knock at the door and my wife is already there, letting the paramedics in.  She's dressed - when did she do that?  The paramedics insist that I lie on a stretcher and they carry me out to the ambulance.  We're off and one of the paramedics is checking my vital signs.  He smiles at me."

You're not in any obvious danger." he says, "but we'll have to have your properly checked out."

I feel relieved.  Then I begin to feel better.  The spinning diminishes and stops.  My heart rate reduces and my breathing regularises.  I start to feel like a fake.  I shouldn't be lying down, I think, but I don't get up.   We arrive at the hospital my dizzy feeling is returning, along with all the other problems.  The paramedics are rushing me into the hospital, rushing me through the emergency department and they are lifting me onto a bed in a  private ward.  I am apprehensive.  What will they find?  A doctor enters the ward, greets me and begins his examination.

An hour has passed and I am back in the private ward.  I have been wheeled around various departments inside the hospital, had many tests carried out on me including an ECG.  The dizzy feeling has been coming and going, but hasn't been as intense as it was when I was at home.  I'm not dizzy at all now, but I'm worried about the ECG results.  I was dizzy at that time and my heart was pounding.  Here's the doctor.  He perches on the edge of the bed."

Good news", he says.  "There's nothing seriously wrong with you."

"Nothing wrong?" I ask, incredulously.  "What about my dizziness and nausea and heart palpitations and everything?"

"I didn't say there's nothing wrong with you," he replies.  "Just nothing seriously wrong with you.  All your symptoms point to an inner ear infection.  That's what is causing your dizziness and the dizziness is causing you to feel nauseous."

"But what about my heart?  It's never raced like that before?  And my breathing...?"

"That was just you having a panic attack," he tells me.  "Not unusual in the circumstances.  I'm going to put you on antibiotics for 5 days, and that should clear it all up."  He explains to me how an inner ear infection can occur and how it causes dizziness.  The doctor leaves and I am free to go home.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'll never forget that panic attack.  It happened in 1988 and it was the first.  I've had a few more since then, during brief flirtations with health anxiety.  Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant, but I'm glad that I have experienced them.  They have helped me to empathise with panic/anxiety disorder sufferers.  Including, of course, my dear wife.


Sarah♥ said...

I have labyrinthitis which effects the inner ear, balance, dizziness, sickness - all that good stuff. It's nasty and can strike at any time...rolling over in bed caused my last episode...couldn't move for hours, too scared to.

Not many people with partners can fully understand how flipping awful panic attacks are, but Marie is very lucky that YOU do know just how they feel.


Nikki said...

I agree with Sarah, she is lucky :) I think you both make a very good couple, I dont know many people who are as blessed with someone who is as understanding as you (with the exception of my fella and Sarahs new one, that is!)


♥ Kathy said...

My worst panic attacks happen when I'm driving which is why I don't drive anymore. They really do feel like you're dying.

Nechtan said...

Hi Robert,

I always wondered why you are so understanding- now I know. A partner can be as enthusiastic to help as they want and read as much as they can to be informative but I personally feel you cannot fully understand unless you've experienced it firsthand. Your first episode is briliantly written and I am sure all will relate to it.

I've been plagued with inner ear infections for the last decade so can relate to the dizziness. It seems any bug you pick up goes straight for the ear. I think after reading your post the wisest thing you did was seeking help straight away. For me that is food for thought.

All the best


emma said...

so robert, you know how awful it feels. imagine your everyday life being like that, im sure you have thought of this before, maybe thats why you come across as compassionate. im sure your wife thinks that too.

its horrible stuff isnt it? i was nine when i panicked for the first time.

rosiero said...

I have "only" had one panic attack in my life and it was not pleasant. Yu must have felt terrible, but it explains how you can be so understanding about Marie's condition.Thank goodness you were able to get a quick diagnosis of your condition.

Robert said...

Sarah - I know a couple of people who lost their balance after a stroke. We all agree that it is very unpleasant, so having this problem regularly (with labyrinthitis) must be a real burden. After reading about it in Wikipedia, I was surprised to read "Chronic anxiety is a common side effect of labyrinthitis....". Have you considered this as a possible cause of your anxiety issues?

Nikki - Thanks for the compliment. It's true that unless you experience a panic attack, you've no idea how intense and frightening it is.

Kathy - I wonder why that is. Do you know why?

Nechtan - You wrote "...the wisest thing you did was seeking help straight away..." - this was just a natural response to my situation. There was no point waking my wife - I knew she couldn't help. Whom else could I turn to for help?? What would you have done?

emma - I can imagine my everyday life being like that. That's why I never put anyone down for using avoidance tecniques.

rosiero - "Only" one panic attack is more than enough! I had a few more subsequently, but none for about the past 16 or 17 years. When I relate my experience, I finish by telling my listener(s) (those who are still awake lol) how lucky I am that I knew the cause of my panic attack because I was able to resolve the problem. (I just forgot to include it in my post.) By comparison, Marie doesn't know what caused her first or subsequent panic attacks and is unable deal with the root cause.

Kirsty815 said...

WOW Robert I was absolutely terrified for you reading this! Glad to know it happened such a long time ago and that it wasn't anything serious, but scary non the less.

Jewish Treatment said...

LORD says: you help your fellow men, in return i will help you....

Rate My Sausage said...

Bloomin' heck! You had me worried there!

Nechtan said...

Hi Robert,

What would I have done? Given the time again I'd have done things very differently and done the same of you. But stupidly I didn't and when I had these panic attacks I just rode them out in silence. Personally I think long term misdiagnosis is the difference between someone who had a problem with panic attacks and that change into a disorder. I know in my case at least that had I known I was having panic attacks when they first started I very much doubt it would have developed into a disorder. I'm glad you got yourself checked out right away.

All the best


Robert said...

Kirsty - I'm glad it wasn't anything serious too!

JT - I can't see the relevance of your comment...

RMS - I see you have a new blog, Simon. Interesting!

Nechtan - I hope that you misdiagnoses are a thing of the past!

Eddie 2-Sox said...

Guilty as charged! Hope you don't mind?

Do you have any "proper" butchers near you that need investigation?

Robert said...

E2-S/RMS - I don't mind at all! Actually, we do have a "proper" butchers in this area. They are one of the few family butchers in England with their own abbatoir. And they use locally produced ingredients. Interesting, yes? They have their own web-site and sell online. You can find the sausage page here:-

If you have any difficulties, you can email me.