Nicole McBurnett

No person left behind!

Age: 45

Diagnosis: Ménière’s Disease

When I returned from deployment I was told I will never be the same person as when I left and that I needed to learn to accept the new me. I was able to accept the new me by speaking with other Veterans that too had combat experience. I see having a Vestibular Disorder like a combat deployment (it changes you as an individual) and you need to find a way to function and move forward as the new changed you. “In order for us to learn to cope and accept our Vestibular Disorder(s) we need each other!”

After many attempts to aleive my symptoms of my bilateral Meniere’s Disease the Military sent my medical records to the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB). Which currently has now sent forward to the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), which will determine my “fitness for duty” or lack thereof. My doctor’s note stated, “Nicole has an intractable chronic and recurrent vertigo with bilateral aural symptoms, consistent with chronic Meniere’s Disease. This is chronic in nature, and there is no cure for this disease, as such Nicole is to be excused from all physical activity and physical labor”. Now that is a definite show stopper being in the Military.

I have been active Military for a little over 20 years and was not planning on retiring any time soon. I listened and did everything the doctor recommended to do to hang on to my Military career. However, after many attempts it was evident that there was nothing else other than removing my nerve or inner ear. Once the Military read my diagnosis and prognosis it was over. All I could think of was, what now?

I can’t put a finger on when exactly I had my first symptoms of Meniere’s Disease. However, I can give you a little background of what I have gathered over the last couple years. I received my first hearing aid from the Military while deployed in Kosovo for my left ear in 2005 for mild sensorial hearing loss and by 2011 I started wearing hearing aids in both ears.

In 2007 I started having fluctuating hearing in my left ear and thought it was a bad hearing aid especially since I replaced the batteries several times. It was also in 2007 I had my fist severe vertigo attack while I was deployed in Iraq. I had no idea what was going on or why, but ended up being put on bed rest for three days with medication. It was then I also started getting ringing in my ear (tinnitus) so I decided not to wear my hearing aid for the rest of the deployment. Once I returned stateside I had my hearing aid looked at and then started wearing again. I had vertigo here and there but nothing like the attack I had in 2007.

In 2011 I started wearing a hearing aid in my right ear and began experiencing a little dizziness every now and again. However, this time was a different kind of dizzy. Sometimes I felt like if I stood up too fast I got dizzy. Then I was thinking it maybe was from having low blood pressure. Since the dizzy spells were not frequent yet I just sloughedit off like nothing. Everyone experiences that from time to time right? I continued to see my regular audiologist for my hearing aids and told her from time to time that I had this weird dizziness and ringing in my ears (tinnitus) but nothing serious. At that point it was just annotated in my medical records.

Fast forward to 2014, BAM! Dizzy, dizzy, dizzy! I had severe tinnitus (mostly in my left ear) plus it felt like I was in the mountains (pressure in the ear like I needed to clear it). I could not understand what was going on with me. I had a severe vertigo attack while in the hospital that lasted a day and a half. The week after that I spoke with my audiologist she put me through a bunch of tests thinking it might be Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BBPV). I started getting more vertigo sensations (once a week to every other week). She then recommended that I see the ENT where the ENT conducted more tests and stated that I might have the early onset of Meniere’s. I was then told to start a new diet of low or no sodium/salts and also placed on diuretics for four months. Later I was taken off the diuretics and put on steroids for two-three months, none of which helped. It was after another year and seeing another ENT I was diagnosed with having left sided Meniere’s disease. That ENT suggested I possibly have a tube put in my ear to obtain a minuet device. However, since he was unable to perform that surgery he referred me out to a civilian ENT. I still was in denial that I had Meniere’s Disease and kept wanting it to just be something simple to get fixed and continue my career.

The beginning of 2016, my balance had got worse and I was having dizzy spells almost every day and severe vertigo attacks with sickness almost three times a week. My new ENT (civilian doctor) diagnosed me with left sided Meniere’s disease and recommended surgery as I still had a decent amount of hearing in my left ear. In the middle of 2016 I had had an Endolymphatic Sac surgery, also known as a Sac Decompression surgery. After surgery it got worse before it got better. The worse is I believe my balance got a little more lost in the mix. The better was I was only having dizzy spells three times a week versus every day, so that was a plus for me. However, the downside to that surgery I believe is that my hearing in my left ear was also affected. By the end of 2016 I started feeling the same sensation in my right ear as I did with my left… It was then that I could tell which side was acting up and my vertigo and dizzy spells were almost every day again. I was missing more work and started worrying about my career with the Military.

The beginning of 2017 I had another surgery to place a tube in my left ear (Myringotomy) to see if that would help, which it did not. By the middle of 2017 my ENT stated there is nothing else he could do unless I wanted to have injections into my ear to kill the nerve, or have my inner ear removed. It was at that time I knew my military career was over. I was no longer deployable, unstable and have a hard time just trying to exercise due to my dizzy spells and being off balance. However, just because I am no longer able to be in the Military, which does not mean that I can’t still be of service.
I found VeDA in 2016 and after a little research I quickly became a member. VeDA has assisted me in my search for possible coping mechanisms. I started reading the stories, articles, and newsletter that VeDA has on their site and found that they also had Online Support Groups (OSG). I found this quiet helpful being newly diagnosed and being lost. I then felt like it was perfect to hear others talk about things they have tried, or measures they have used to cope on those bad days.

My family and friends have been very supportive and have also tried to read up on new found items to try. My current workplace has been very accommodating of my needs to have shorter days or telecommute at times.

When I returned from deployment I was told I will never be the same person as when I left. I would be a changed individual. I was able to learn how to cope and get through that period of time learning the new me by speaking with other Veterans. It was the support of Veterans groups that helped me along the way. I see having a Vestibular Disorder like a deployment (it changes you as an individual) and you need to find a way to function and move forward as the new changed you. By talking with others that suffer from a Vestibular disorder as well, will help you learn how to cope and accept the new you.

Because of this wonderful OSG I feel like I can be of assistance to others now and want to give back by volunteering to be another facilitator for VeDA. “No person left behind!”