Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Grounded again

Well, I'm sitting and waiting on the FAA again.

For the third time in the eight times I've asked for an FAA medical certificate renewal, I'm sitting and waiting for some faceless person to decide whether it's safe for me to fly.

The problem is the Meniere's Disease, which I acquired, apparently sometime around 2008, when I was over at Oshkosh for a seminar on avionics. I woke up in the motel and the room was spinning. And it stayed spinning for 24 hours.

I didn't know it at the time, but it was Meniere's, which is a buildup of fluid in the inner ear, which sends different signals to your brain about balance than the ones your eyes -- and other body parts -- are sending. The brain's response to the conflicting signals is usually, "whoa, I'm outta here; you're all on your own."

It also comes with a loss of hearing and the feeling of a lot of pressure in the ears.

That put me on the beach for about nine months, but the FAA finally allowed me to fly again, as long as I wasn't experiencing vertigo. This isn't a hard thing. Pilots have no vested interest in flying when they're not feeling well, and Meniere's sends plenty of advance signals.

In February this year, however, some symptoms returned. My "good ear" suddenly went bad and my "bad ear" got worse. For the most part, vertigo wasn't an issue, just the hearing.

A couple of trips to the audiologist resulted in me being prescribed a diuretic, which was intended to help keep excess fluid in check. It is not, however, a banned substance by the FAA, so I didn't think much of it when I put on the medical certificate renewal form that I had been prescribed the stuff for two months.

But, as it turned out, it was a red flag.

I had gone back to re-read the letter the FAA sent me years ago when sending me a new certificate despite having Meniere's. It said that I was prohibited from flying "when symptoms change." I read that to mean that I was allowed to fly again when symptoms disappeared. Fair enough.

The problem is I didn't read -- or at least understand -- the rest of the photograph. It also stated that I was prohibited from flying "when medication changes."

In fact, I hadn't been on any medication until I was prescribed the diuretic. So, technically, my medication changed. Ergo, I was now prohibited from flying, a fact I called attention to in my discussion with the AME.

And that was that.

I had passed the hearing check (my hearing is much better of late), and the rest of the physical. I do have a constant ringing in the ear which sounds like a 24-hour light sabre battle, but "we all have some ringing," the AME assured me, "and I see no reason why you shouldn't be allowed to fly."

But that didn't mean he was about to give me a medical certificate. He's asked for a letter from the audiologist to explain the prescription of the diuretic. And then, presuming I'm able to actually get such a letter (his office didn't return calls and I have an appointment for follow-up next week), it apparently will all go back to Oklahoma City which can either issue a certificate or decide to ask for more information, a process that could take months what with the usual bureaucracy and the added problems from the phony sequester cutbacks.

Until the end of the month, I have a valid medical certificate and I don't have a problem not taking the diuretic (I was only supposed to be on them for two months anyway) and, thus, eliminating the "change" in medication. But after May 31 (my birthday), I'm done flying.

That would wipe out a planned trip my youngest son and I had wanted to make to Cleveland in June, a trip to Massachusetts to see my mother and family, and, probably, Oshkosh -- where I'd hoped to be able to do another radio show for EAA Radio.

Sure, I could fly with a certificated pilot, but this is a two-seat airplane and, frankly, I don't want to go to Oshkosh, or Massachusetts, or Cleveland with any other people but the ones I intended to go to Oshkosh, or Massachusetts, or Cleveland with.

Someday, maybe, the FAA might approve the AOPA and EAA request to allow pilots to self-certify and self-evaluate. But I'm not holding my breath this is going to happen in my flying lifetime.

I'm just hoping my flying lifetime extends beyond 17 days from now.

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