Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a Muslim prayer service. I had never visited a mosque before, and I was excited to not only tour the building but also be a guest at the Friday afternoon service called Jumu’ah. During the service we sat in chairs in a balcony so we could observe.

During each of their five daily prayers, Muslims follow a sequence of movements leading to prostratration, where the forehead, hands, knees, and toes are the only body parts touching the ground. I immediately noticed that this could be difficult for a person with a vestibular disorder, even thought there are pauses between the positions “to let the bones settle.” The woman guiding our group tour explained that if Muslims are physically unable to move through the prayer, they can pray by sitting in a chair and approximating the movements. The prayers can even be done lying down by crooking and straightening one’s finger to represent the usual body movements. I appreciated that the prayers of Muslims with permanent or temporary physical disabilities are considered just as holy as those of their brothers and sisters who move through the complete prostration.

Two of us from the tour group stayed with our guide and attended the Asr prayer. We knelt on the floor waiting for the call to prayer. Our guide said I could either sit and observe or join in the prostration if I wished. I knew I shouldn’t put my forehead to the floor several times in a row, so I said I would just sit and stand with the group. I forgot about the move where everyone bends at the waist, though. I felt very odd standing with everyone bent, so I bent over, too. I didn’t think this would be problematic since I bend to tie my shoes in the morning and also sometimes in exercise classes.

Yet, last night, I felt very strong vertigo in bed as I rolled over in my sleep. This was not the mild stuff I usually get upon lying down. It was true, strong, centrifugal vertigo — the likes of which I hadn’t experienced for months. I was scared to get up. I hoped I was dreaming.

But when I got up, I didn’t feel too bad. I shaved my legs with my shoulder braced against the shower wall, but I couldn’t tell if I really needed to do that or if I was just frightened and uncertain. As the morning went on, I could tell there was truly something going on. Maybe I didn’t get out of bed with spinning vertigo and puke (which seemed like a distinct possibility when I first woke!), but I tilted and fell leftward when putting on my socks, pants, and shoes. That’s not normal for me. I tilted left a few more times during the rest of the day as well.

I went ahead and went rock climbing in the gym as planned. I didn’t get any sudden swoops on the wall, which is what usually happens if I climb with vertigo, but I came down from one climb feeling distinctly nauseous. It happened a few more times but more subtly. I wouldn’t feel nauseous exactly, yet my mood would be subdued and down. Then after my head had been still for several minutes I would suddenly perk up and be my usual cheerful self. In the past I’ve felt “off” like this for days, and it begins to feel normal after a while. It’s only when it goes away completely that I can really perceive how poorly I felt.

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