Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on April 06, 2018 Published on April 06, 2018

Some weeks ago, I wake up to find I have vertigo. I know what it is because it’s happened once before, maybe 15 years ago. I never forgot the sensation because it was so terrible: like being on a merry-go-round except that there’s no merry-go-round. The whole world swings crazily, the ground flies up towards your face, you want to throw up and there’s a sound like a banshee wailing. Except it’s not a banshee but the sound of your own voice, crying out in panic.

I go to my chest doctor in Defence Colony, because I trust him and also because I have no idea what kind of doctor to go to for vertigo. “You should get an MRI,” he tells me, “or at the very least a carotid angiogram.” To test for blood flow in the arteries going to the brain. But I’ve explained that I’m leaving for the US in two days. I’ve not begun to pack. I’ve not finished the drawings for my next book. I have dozens of things to do before I can leave. So I cannot get the tests done. My doctor is both understanding and very practical. He prescribes a pill for the nausea, assures me that it’s a very common complaint and shows me how to minimise the effects by turning on my side and moving slowly while getting in and out of bed.

Back at home, Bins is totally unsympathetic. “Either you should cancel your flight and do the tests,” he says. “Or you should stop complaining and just go with the flow. After all, it’s probably a little bit like being high, but without the drugs.” I am too distracted by the mountain of things that remain to be done to be annoyed by this “advice”. I take my pills, meet the most urgent deadlines and board the first of two flights, one to Frankfurt and the next to Boston. However, there are blizzards in the US and Europe. I spend two nights in Frankfurt airport and arrive in Elsewhere three days later than expected.

Through all the excitement, the vertigo is a constant companion. It’s like a tiny mechanism sitting inside my head, just waiting to pounce whenever I tilt my head up or lean over to pick something off the floor. Most of the time it’s very mild. But every once in a while, if I’m not careful to move slowly and thoughtfully, a flick of my head can send the entire world careening in the opposite direction.

It’s a very odd sensation. Part of the reason it’s so unpleasant is that it completely destroys the illusion of stability. The ground seems to slide away beneath one’s feet even as the brain insists that all’s well. It’s like experiencing a very private, personal earthquake. “Try to relax,” says Bins, when we talk on Skype, “Try to enjoy it.” I tell him he’s not helping. “I know,” he says, grinning. “Nothing can help! So you might as well lie back and enjoy it!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on April 06, 2018
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