Woman permanently airsick after holiday flight to Turkey - eight years ago

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Woman permanently airsick after holiday flight to Turkey - eight years ago
Woman permanently airsick after holiday flight to Turkey - eight years ago

A mum-of-two has been left feeling permanently airsick - ever since she stepped off a flight to Turkey eight years ago.

Catharine Bell, 46, was left struggling to balance, nauseous and feeling permanently dizzy after she disembarked the flight in Marmaris in 2005.

Catharine, from Bellingham, Northumberland, thought the feeling would pass but was horrified when her symptoms worsened throughout the holiday, to the point she couldn't walk down the hotel corridor without holding onto the wall.

Even after arriving back in the UK following the two-week holiday with her daughters Jessica and Annie, now aged 18 and 13, Catharine's symptoms failed to subside.

Catharine was later diagnosed with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS) and has suffered from incurable and sometimes debilitating attacks ever since - often lasting for months at a time.

Catharine told Caters News: "I got on the plane and I was perfectly healthy, it was a perfectly normal flight. And then when the plane landed I stood up to get my bag and I felt a bit weird.

"As soon as we landed and I stepped off the plane I felt seriously odd. The whole world had transformed into bouncy castle land and I felt as if I was walking on a giant marshmallow.

"Throughout the holiday that feeling never went away, it was like being on the Pirate Ship at the fairground my world was moving up and down and from side to side constantly.

"I felt sick, had a headache and felt decidedly unwell. I presumed I had an ear infection and thought I would wait it out, go home and see the doctor.

"As our plane home took off all my symptoms disappeared, by now I was exhausted with the revolving world and I thought 'hooray, I'm better'. But as soon as we touched down and I stepped off the plane the symptoms were back.

"And so started a terrible few months of doctors visits, travel sickness pills, ear syringing, lying on the floor crying, hanging onto the bed, throwing up, and nobody finding anything wrong with me.

"I felt like my world was constantly moving, I felt nauseous all the time, I couldn't sleep because when I lay still everything would keep moving up and down, back and forth.

"After five to six weeks I was tired, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't read because the words would jump out of the page and I couldn't sit still because the more still I was, the worse it was.

"And then one day I woke up and it was gone. I was so relieved I thought I was cured, I really thought it was an imbalance in my ear and it had settled down."

But when Catharine went to Turkey with her daughters again the following year, her symptoms returned and this time they were worse.

When she returned she was left unable to sleep, read or walk in a straight line. At one point she couldn't stand up and was left clinging to the carpet in her living room as her world spun around her.

Despite several visits to her GP, doctors were baffled by her condition. Desperate for a diagnosis, Catharine took to the internet and came across Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS).

MdDS is a neurological disorder triggered by travel, such as boat or plane journey. The symptoms last long after the journey has finished. Instead of the usual symptoms of motion sickness, such as nausea, people with MdDS feel as though they are rocking or bobbing constantly.

This feeling can last for months or even years and the only time this feeling subsides is when they are in motion again.

When Catharine read about MdDs on the internet, she took the information into her doctor who confirmed this was what she had but with no cure available for the condition, Catharine has been forced to live with it.

She said: "This time it was worse, when I got home I staggered to the doctors and I actually lay down on the floor in the doctors surgery and gripped onto the carpet, I felt so ill.

"The doctor and another patient had to practically carry me into the doctor's surgery and onto the couch. I had to hold onto the wall because I was convinced I was going to fall off the couch.

"None of the conventional vertigo tablets made any difference so I started to research and found MdDS online. I knew instantly this was what I had, I showed the research to my doctor and he confirmed it.

"And then one day after about four months, the symptoms were gone again."

But Catharine's symptoms returned and she's now had them everyday for the last four years.

She no longer drinks alcohol as it's difficult enough to maintain her balance without a drink, she can't dance finds it difficult to read and can't sit still for longer than an hour at a time.

But despite her condition, Catharine leads a normal life, she has two jobs as a school caretaker and play leader, continues to go on holiday every year and does everything she can to prevent the condition from ruining her life.

She said: "I've never had it as bad as the first two episodes but I've now had it constantly for almost four years.

"I take precautions to avoid my symptoms worsening. I don't drink, I eat well, I exercise a lot, I avoid any kind of boat journey, if I fly I walk on the plane and I try not to sit still for too long.

"At the moment I live in a wibbly wobbly world, if I stand still or sit down I can see the world swaying slightly. It makes it hard to read or watch TV and I have a constant headache and feel sick.

"If I'm tired or I've been on a long journey, I am worse but it's usually at it's worst when I'm still.

"When it's bad I'm unable to read, watch telly or sleep. If I stand still I stagger and at times its been so bad I've been unable to get off the floor.

"Walking on a treadmill is really hard, I fall over, standing still with my eyes shut is impossible, I find myself falling backwards almost like I'm being pushed.

"Dancing is almost impossible, anything where I have to be spun around or do a quick turn is a big no no.

"I work as a caretaker in the morning and at a children's after school club teacher in the afternoon. In between work I go to the gym for up to two hours a day, and walk my dog five times a day, anything to keep me moving.

"There is no cure, there's no medical information, no treatment there's nothing that's going to make it better, I just have to live with it.

"I try not to let it dictate my life. If I want to go on holiday I will, I just go for longer. After all if I'm going to get ill after my holiday I might as well go for three weeks instead of one.

"And I'm lucky because I work in a school I have the summer holidays off, so if I return ill from my holiday I don't have to take time off work.

"I lead a very full, happy, if slightly topsy turvy life."

Megan Arroll from the chronic research team at the University of East London, who are conducting research into the condition, said: "Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS), or the "sickness of landing", is a condition characterised by persistent feelings of rocking and swaying, similar to those of being on a boat.

"MdDS is usually triggered by long-haul air and/or sea travel but there have been cases where symptoms began after engaging in motion-based games and fun fair rides. Additional symptoms can include nausea, headaches, fatigue, sensitivity to light, sound and touch and visual motion intolerance.

"Our research within the Chronic Illness Team at the University of East London has shown that these symptoms can last for years and impact significantly on individuals' lives, disrupting work, relational and recreational activities, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety.

"This is an invisible illness, ie. the person may not look unwell, and we have found that there is the additional problem of stigma and lack of social support. It can also be very difficult to gain a diagnosis as there is still much uncertainty surrounding MdDS; we do not know the cause of the illness at present and it is currently a very under-researched condition.

"There is no 'cure' for MdDS at this time although interestingly, those with the condition often find symptoms temporarily diminish during motion, for instance car travel, which differentiates MdDS from conditions concerning the inner ear such as Ménière's Disease."

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