Right now I'm wearing a cervical neck collar while sitting on my patio in Florida.
Specifically, I'm in our "lanai" which is an outdoor patio enclosed by a floor-to-ceiling mesh screen, presumably to keep out mosquitos and other Floridians.
The word lanai is not a word I planned on learning, nor do I ever want to sit in one again, and yet I will most likely be here every day, for the next three months as I wait to see if a doctor I've found here in Southwest Florida can fix a balance issue I've been dealing with for four years.
Although while wearing the collar, I am unable to turn my neck to the right, if I rotate my entire body all at once, I can stare at a lake. Actually, it’s not a lake — it’s more like a manmade pond, with a fountain coming out of the center. The pond is surrounded by four beige homes, identical to the one I have rented. Homes which all possess mesh cages/lanais. Because the pond is manmade, I assume it would be fishless, yet every day I see a man who thinks otherwise. He is in his 50s, heavyset, always wears a ribbed black tank top and devotes 1-2 hours per day to the fishing cause. I’m not sure that he lives here, and though to date, I haven’t seen him catch anything, there is nothing more deceptively powerful than hope. That being said, if I am wrong and there are fish in this pond, they would have had to have been placed there, which means that long ago, someone did so and perhaps said:
“Fish, I am placing you in this pond in Bonita Springs, Florida. Your circumstance will never change, and it is within this pond that you will all one day die.”
Some days, perpetually stuck in this lanai with a neck disorder, I realize that the fish and I may have similar fates.
I am not depressed and I am not alone. My beige home has two bedrooms and every ten days a different friend of mine rotates in, as a live-in-nurse of sorts. I am fortunate to have such friends, but sometimes I believe that our roles are reversed. Like yesterday when my friend Michael, who gets easily distracted, was on a work call. Though I was making a sandwich as quietly as I could, my presence became too much for him, and he demanded that I go back outside to my lanai.
"Lanai," he said, in a tone that sounded like ‘crate’.
And so I went.
In addition to Michael there is also Hank, who lives next door and is not my friend. Hank is between 60-100 years old. The other day, Michael and I initiated a conversation with Hank. I have never learned so much about so little.
"There are a lot of people in this community who aren't from here," Hank began. "Barbara and I are from Indiana. Driving out here takes a while. Maybe 5 days for us. We usually make a few stops on our drive. Last time we stopped in Atlanta, which was on the way, so that was nice. I think on the way back we’ll stop in Atlanta again. We'll be leaving sometime maybe in the next couple of weeks. I'm not sure what we'll do in Atlanta this time. Well, that is, if we go. Barbara and I have to still talk about it "
It went on like that for a few minutes. How I wished to be back in my crate.
The treatment I’m here for is to resolve a vestibular issue with a nerve that runs through my neck to my left ear. If I turn and look to the right, the doctor said it pinches something which causes me to become dizzy.
"If you have something interesting to see, make sure that it's on your left,” he said. “Like, let's say you’re at the beach. If you walk on the beach you'll want the beach to be on your left. That way you're only turning your head to the left."
"Okay," I said.
"Also, when talking to people," he said, as he stepped from the right side of the room, so that he could be on my left. "See, now this is better because I'm on your left," he paused. "So for example—"
"I get it," I said.
While wearing my collar I can walk around the neighborhood. During walks, I’ve seen other residents, all similar to Hank, with as much interesting dialogue to offer the world as any non-playable-character can. Except for the pastel shirted woman, who I believe to be a speed walker. Michael and I walked by her yesterday and upon seeing me, Pastel straightened her neck, slowed her pace and locked her arms by her side, like a tin man, mocking me.
"Slow and steady," she said, before returning back to her normal brisk speed. Because she could, and because she wanted me to watch.
The reason I had to come all the way to Bonita Springs, Florida from Los Angeles is because most doctors I meet with about my neck + ear problem say that it's outside of their scope and they're not sure what to do.
"Well, Alex. I've seen a few of these cases, but there's not much research on it,” said one Ear Nose and Throat doctor in West Hollywood. “I hope you figure it out. If you do, you'll be a very rich man," he said.
I hope I do too.
I found the doctor here on YouTube, after striking out with twenty-six physicians on the west coast, including eastern medicine practitioners with ideas on my stagnant chi and an ayahuasca shaman with opinions on my shallow breath. Over these few dizzy years I’ve come to learn that alternative medicine seekers, like myself, are not anti-vaxxing western medicine deniers, but rather, are individuals for whom the typical healthcare system has failed — people searching for ways to return to the lives they had before their ailments set in, clinging to whatever secondary options they can find as morsels of hope, fearful that if they stop searching for an answer to their misery, that all they’ll be left with is a shitty quality of life and a complacency that we often rename acceptance.
That's what happened to me at least. From specialists at hospitals, to researchers at academic institutions. Reddit dizziness forums to PubMed articles. And finally a set of YouTube videos to a phone call with a knowledgeable intake nurse who sold me on this strange doctor who knows his Lefts. Sure, he has his MD, which I guess means something, but his practice is far from endorsed by the medical community. I like him anyway. He convinces me to have hope. And though he makes me wear this cervical neck collar, he also lets me go to the gym.
"You can go," he said. "But no neck stuff."
"Can I run?"
"No. You can walk. Carefully."
"No. Yoga uses your neck."
"Then why did you say I could go to the gym? What can I do there?"
"I mean you can go. You just can't do much. Maybe look at the hot women. They'll feel bad for you. It’s a conversation starter."
"I'm gay," I said.
"Definitely go then. Gay guys love the gym.”
I don't like having this health problem or what my father calls, my "hoike", the yiddish word for ailment/disability, though its direct translation is hunchback. To fix my hoike, Dr. Left is going to attempt to correct the curve in my spine that he believes is causing my balance issues. He’ll do so by having me see his very attractive, but very religious, in-house chiropractor, Jack. Jack has given me neck weights. Every day I am supposed to wear the neck weights while doing specific exercises which will pull my chest backward, reshaping the curve of my spine to relax tension on the vestibular nerve.
“It feels like I can’t breathe,” I said.
“Well that’s not good. It shouldn’t be choking you. Move the neck strap down so it’s not around your Adam's apple,” the religious chiropractor said.
“No. Leave it,” I pushed his hand away. “I like it.”
Yesterday I brought my neck weights to the gym. I would normally do my exercises at home, but Michael was using his laptop in our kitchen and he said that my exercises “pull him out of flow”. The exercises that I must do consist of me flexing my abs and glutes simultaneously, for a period of five minutes, five times a day, while the neck straps collapse my throat. The combination of these three activities causes me to grunt while blood rushes to my head. I look and sound like someone attempting to pass too large a kidney stone or child. While I was mid-rep, a model-looking woman with perky tits, a tiny waist and a tight butt dropped to a squatting position. We made eye contact in the mirror, and she was so pretty that I felt guilty for having her look at me. With my face deep-purple from my neck weights and breath contractions, I attempted to smile at her while I grunted from the contraction I was working on. Her face filled with disgust and concern. She gathered her things and left.
Once a week, after the hot chiropractor adjusts me, Dr. Left scans my neck to make sure the curve is beginning to move in the more correct direction. If the curve is curving well, I take off my shirt, and Left injects the joints around my spine with a chemical that produces inflammation. After, he places my neck back in the collar, the goal being that the neck ligaments strengthen in the collared position.
“Is this going to hurt a lot?,” I asked the nurse during my first visit.
“No. It’s just like getting a shot,” said the nurse.
I looked at the tray where they kept the syringes for the day. There were ten syringes.
“A lot of people getting injections today, I see.” I said.
“Well. It’s eight to ten injections per joint, on each side, so for you, you’ll need around 60.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I guess it’s like getting 60 shots.”
She radio’d the doctor to tell him that my onboarding process was complete and that I was ready for him.
Sometimes my friends who are visiting come with me to the doctor’s appointments. Last week I brought my friend Jaclyn. She’s nice but forgetful. Like the other day when I came home from doing my exercises at the gym and she was napping upstairs. In the kitchen, I saw that the stove had been left on high.
“I just forgot,” she said.
And that’s how I’ll die. Jaclyn is a good friend though. She has a boyfriend who she left in New York to spend time with me for an entire month. She also left her license in New York. So I’ve been driving us around. I’m a good driver, but as I’ve been warned, I shouldn’t look left. When I asked her to check my blind spot she says,
“I really don’t like having to turn while you’re driving. It makes me carsick.”
I am still thankful for her. And for Michael. To be with me while I try to get better. To get my balance back. Though I don’t feel better yet, the doctor says that one day I will.
“You just have to keep correcting the curve in your spine,” he says.
“Is there anything else I can do to help speed this all up?” I ask him.
“Be more optimistic,” he says.
“I’m serious,” he says. “It’s important to have faith that you’ll get better.”
Maybe he’s right. Perhaps my closed mindedness and lack of faith is what brought me here in the first place. My ignored stagnant chi and shallow breath. Because every day while the man in the tank top stands to my right, believing he will catch something, I sit in this lanai, typing words on a page, fixating on whether or not I will be stuck in Florida forever — a fish, trapped in a pond.
My next piece will be about doing Ayahuasca.
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