Vienna Waits for you...
I began 2019 feeling great. I was an airline pilot, and I was in the process of landing my dream job. I was happily married to my wife Aubree, and I was the proud father of an awesome three-year-old daughter. Life seemed like it couldn’t be better…though I will be the first to admit, when everything is going according to your plans, it’s extremely easy to take all the positives for granted. Little did I know that I was about to face the toughest journey of my life.
I woke up on June 1st, 2019, and once again felt completely normal. My family and I were headed to St. Louis to attend a Cardinal’s Baseball game. On the way to the game, I began to feel nauseous. As someone who very rarely felt ill, I knew something was wrong. I left the game early, went home, and spent the next few days recovering from an extreme flu-like illness. Over the next few days, I seemed to recover from the mystery illness, but I began to develop sensations that I had never experienced before. I developed extreme neck pain/tightness, and I had the feeling that my head was entirely too heavy for my neck to support. This was a very uncomfortable feeling, and I would find myself literally holding my head up to try to alleviate the heaviness. I also developed hand tremors and sharp pain behind my eyes.
I reached out to my PCP for answers to these new developments and was shocked when he wasn’t able to provide answers. This was the first time that I began to worry about what was happening, as I had no clue how to move forward. To help alleviate my fears, this doctor ordered many tests and neck x-rays, but these did not help provide answers. He referred me to a neurologist, and I was very confident that he would know exactly what was wrong with me. After more testing including blood work, a brain MRI, and a spinal tap, I was soon faced with the reality that the reasons for my issues were still unknown. In fact, after these tests, I began to feel as if the Doctors I had been seeing were beginning to question the validity of my claims. While they never came out and said this…When doctors tell you they have no idea why you are feeling the way that you do, it leaves you in a very low and helpless place. I was truly entering the lowest point in my life.
I desperately searched the internet for answers. I read medical journals, and forums trying to find anything that could explain what I was experiencing. To make matters worse, my head heaviness that I had previously been experiencing was beginning to fade, and it was being replaced by a constant dizziness that was very difficult to explain. The best explanation that I could give, is that I felt as if I was drunk. I could still manage to get through life, but I literally felt as if I consumed a 6 pack of beer every moment of that life. Needless to say, given that my profession was flying as an airline pilot, I had to face the reality that my carrier was coming to an abrupt end, and that was such a hard pill to swallow.
In my search for answers, I tried treatment for Lyme disease, thyroid issues, and tried every diet adjustment possible. I took 8 months of strong antibiotics, which provided no relief…and I eventually felt as if I was out of options. I spent every waking minute thinking about my dizziness, and the impact it was having on my life. At my lowest low, I was forced to face the reality…I either had to live with these sensations, feeling drunk the rest of my life…or end my life and end the pain. As an extremely optimistic and happy person, it is so hard to look back and see just how depressed these health issues made me. I know that without the motivation and love from my family, I would not be here today.
In a final attempt for answers, I reached out to the Mayo clinic. I knew of their amazing reputation and knew that there was a chance that they could help me. I had applied for an appointment a year earlier, but that request was denied. My persistence paid off, and I was eventually awarded an appointment in February 2021. This was such a nerve-wracking time because I felt as if this was my last chance to get answers. I knew that if they couldn’t help me, I wasn’t going to take that news easily.
My experience at the Mayo Clinic was nothing short of amazing. The compassion and time that the Doctors invest in your case is truly impressive. For the first time in this journey, I felt as if I wasn’t crazy, and that they were not going to be satisfied until they had answers. After five days of testing and numerous follow-ups, I was officially diagnosed with Persistent Postural-Perceptual Dizziness, and Vestibular Migraines. I was prescribed SNRI medication as well as Vestibular Rehab exercises, and they have been truly life changing. It has been a very slow recovery, but I must say that every day I wake up with the hope that today will be better than yesterday, and I am truly grateful for all the good moments that I have. I have now been on this treatment plan for a little over a year, and while I still have occasional symptoms, they are very tolerable compared to what I had once experienced. While I have not yet been cleared to return to the skies, I live each day grateful for this second chance at life. They always say that your life can change in an instant, and until you experience it, you just don’t understand that reality.