To vertigo and back


Jane Fishman

July 23, 2017



“Props,” said the young pharmacist on DeRenne Avenue who couldn’t have been older than 12 as she started to wrap up the cuff, the monitor, the squeeze ball after she gave me my blood pressure numbers.

She didn’t look concerned so I had to ask, “Props. Is that a good thing?”

“It’s good,” she said. “You know, like short for respect, proper respect. Your numbers look good.” And then she was back at her post behind the counter.

“But wait. Do you think we should take it again?” I asked. “Just to be sure.”

“Nope,” she said with certainly, with pride. “I don’t let anyone else use this equipment. It’s mine. It’s accurate.”

Well, OK then, Ms. Pharmacist-at-your-local corner drugstore. Props. And thanks for being there when I needed you. I’m serious.  Much easier than going to the emergency room.

Time for a Dilly Bar.

But what about the dizziness? Do I get props for that? She didn’t know but she was quite certain I wasn’t going to have a stroke right then and there, that I would live to see another day, to pull another weed, to read another chapter in Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel.” Which was good. The book is a tome. Which meant I could ignore the dizziness for yet another day. Which is how I like to treat anomalies. Ignore them and they will go away. I know about dizziness – like when you are foolish enough to go on a roller coaster. Which I no longer do. I know about dizziness from walking up and down a train car, too. Which I do with care (if not grace), bouncing from one seat to another to another, like that pinball game where the moving thingey pings off cushion after cushion, for which you get points. Props.

But this lightheadedness was different. This was a little scarier. It happened a little more often, especially when it involved getting up from bed in the middle of the night or in the morning, from a chair in the afternoon, or from a yoga mat after downward dog. The room, previously still and very much anchored, was spinning. The ceiling too. Round and round she goes. There was no roller-coaster to blame it on this time, no train either. That’s when I hustled to the drug store for the blood pressure check. That’s when I went to see the doctor. He didn’t seem worried. “This happens in old people,” he said. “Older,” I corrected him. “Older,” he said, to placate me, to appease me.” Then he had a diagnosis: “BPV, benign positional vertigo. I’m probably 95 percent certain.”

I liked the word “benign.” I loved the word “benign.” I asked him to repeat it. Then I asked him to write it down. He placated me. Again. It’s when stuff gets stuck in your middle ear, he said, although I’m sure he didn’t use the word stuff or stuck. When doctors mumble that language, it’s so hard to follow. This vertigo thing starts when free-floating pieces of calcium lodge in a little ear canal and start to interfere with your balance, he said.  Kind of like free- floating anxiety, I thought. He sent me to get a test to confirm his theory, then to see a physical therapist. Oh, and to use hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide? I said. That’s so retro. I liked that.

The test that hooked me up to the computer and measured my eye movement took 10 minutes. I looked at a red dot on the wall and turned my head one way, then the other, faster and faster. What’s this for, I asked the technician. To see if you’re dizzy, she said. I already know I’m dizzy, I answered.

Next step. The physical therapist. You lie down, turn your head quickly one way, then the other. Something like that. It’s called the epley maneuver. I was following directions, not memorizing the movements. The therapist looked deeply into my eyes and told me to repeat the maneuver. Bingo. No dizziness. You’re cured, he said in so many words. I liked those words too. Come back if it happens again. Again, so retro. They just had to jiggle the calcium pieces.

Still on the medical-appointment treadmill, I was sent to see someone else to get the results from the test. That’s when I learned about otoliths. Sounds very Russian, I said to the doctor. Very timely, wouldn’t you say? Oligarch, KGB, USSR.  No comment. Your otoliths have fallen out of alignment, he announced. Otoliths are calcium particles, kind of like little beads that balance on your finger. When they fall out of position you lose your balance. Wikipedia says counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths is a common technique for estimating the age of fish. What? First, a Russian conspiracy. Then a fish story. There’s a reason I’m not a medical person.

If it happens again I should lie down, assume a fetal position and thrust my head rapidly in the other direction. The doctor in a purple shirt plopped down on the examining table and demonstrated. Then he got up, made some notes and said, “It’s been a pleasure.”

I returned the compliment. “Props.” By then he was out the room and on to the next patient.













Destination cooking class in Savannah

Savannah Morning News

July 16, 2017

Let’s face it. During a visit to Savannah there are only so many hours and/or days you can spend inside museums, on the beach, at a fancy restaurant. There are only so many times you can take a ghost tour, a walking tour, a tour of historic homes. There are only so many visits you can make to the Juliette Gordon Low Childhood home, the childhood home of Flannery O’Connor, Bonaventure Cemetery. You can say the same thing after multiple trips to Charleston, Barcelona or Rome.

After that you’re looking for something new, something different and in the summer preferably something indoors.

Enter cooking classes. Enter Chef Darin Schnert and his business, KitchenTable Hands-On cooking classes. When he started his “leisure cooking” business two years ago, he was looking for a more direct way to connect with foodies or wannabe foodies or people wanting to learn how to be a foodie or at the very least how to be comfortable in their own kitchen. He’d cooked professionally for years in some pretty fancy and high-end kitchens (the latest being The Mansion on Forsyth Park). He stood at the top of his professional game. But manning your station in the kitchen or sitting down at the end of the night with your to-do and to-order lists can be kind of lonely. You don’t really connect with your customers (except when they complain: too cold! Too spicy! Where’s the promised avocado?). You aren’t really learning anything new. Your “aha” moments around food are few.

Schnert wanted a change. And whether he knew it or not, destination cooking classes – or cooking vacations – were becoming an industry. He was on the cutting edge. People go to Italy to see the Roman ruins, yes, but now they go to take cooking classes, regional cooking class. What could be a better combination? Especially for people who are afraid of cooking.  Huh? But what’s to be afraid of?

I asked Darin.

“You’d be surprised,” he said. “They’re afraid it won’t turn out, that they’ll be embarrassed, that they’ll have wasted all they bought. They think cooking will take forever. It’s so odd. People say, ‘I’m not a good baker’ when they haven’t even tried. It’s only a waste if you don’t learn from it.”

Thus the sign quoting Julia Child. It hangs in the spacious teaching kitchen with three ovens, a long counter and three 19-foot long tables for after-cooking eating. The quote reads, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you have to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

How very Julia Child.

How very Darin Schnert to include “kitchen table” in his “school” and copious retail shopping area (one of the last if not the last independent place in Savannah to buy cooking accoutrement, you know, clean kitchen towels, things to squeeze garlic, a nifty bench scraper).

“When I was growing up in Nebraska that’s what we did. At family get-togethers we sat around the kitchen table and ate. I have great memories of this,” he said. “But as a kid I was encouraged to help. My mother did not shoo me out of the kitchen. That makes a difference.”

On two different visits I stopped in on his classes. Once I met a couple from Charlotte who came to Savannah to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary, another time a mother-daughter combination from Orlando “looking for something to do.” Then there was a Savannah couple celebrating a 54th-birthday. This was not their first time. They have been several times earlier with their teenage daughter, who can’t seem to get enough. “Now when we’re cooking she’ll remind me to ‘pinch’ the knife,” her mom said. Translated that means gripping the knife closer to the blade to get a good grip. “Or to get the skillet hot before pouring in the oil.”

I never really gave two thoughts to cooking until I found myself in Eureka Springs, a small town in Arkansas, with a limited number of options for making a living. But I was lucky. I had a business partner who recruited me to open a restaurant. Then he showed me what to do. “This is how you cut an onion, this is how you hold a knife, this is how you measure (you throw in some salt or pepper and then taste).”

I never gave two thoughts to cooking classes until I “won” the class at a silent auction for the Forsyth Farmers Market.  It might be a good gift for a friend, I thought, except then I ended up going too for “meatless Mediterranean” night. We learned how to make and roll dolmathes or Greek leaves (“the hardest thing about this is unrolling the leaves from the jar”)), how to make cold chickpea soup (tasty!), how to make pita bread (simple!), how to prepare peaches with a fragrant cardamom scented syrup (who knew you could roast the peaches and then peel the skin instead of doing the whole boiling water/iced bath thing?).

Two nights later the affable, non-threatening, encouraging Chef Darin entertained 10 people in low country cuisine with his award-winning “shrimp and red-eyed gravy creamy stone-ground grits”. It looked tempting. It’s one thing to throw something together in your same-old-same old way; it’s another to learn from a professional who has thought more thoroughly about what is being done.

But that night I had a date to see “Wonder Woman.” Dinner would be popcorn. Cheddar and chive biscuits, fried green tomatoes and pecan praline angel food cake would just have to wait.