Thursday, August 22, 2013

Welcome to my world ...

Long time, no write.
There's a story behind that … so here goes.
I think of myself as a liberal, so I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me when I began listing to the left.
Unfortunately, I mean that quite literally.
I've been listing, as in Leaning Tower of Pisa type listing, usually to the left.
Call it, "Adventures in Vertigo."
My tilting began in mid-June, in the middle of a dance class. After stretching out on the floor I started to sit up, but the room took a fierce spin around me. I fell over (yes, to the left), and squeezed my eyes shut. The wonderful women I dance with snapped into action, bringing cold paper towels, ginger candy to calm the nausea, and lots of tender, loving care. 
Not feeling steady enough to drive, I called home, and my dear family came to the rescue, picking me up and driving my car back.
I've experienced vertigo a handful of times in my life, and it usually passed within a week or so.
Not this time.
In the midst of week two of waking up to spinning walls, I saw my doctor. She outlined a plan, and recommended that I see an ear, nose and throat specialist if I felt no improvement in two weeks.
My off-center tilt continued. Walking down the street, I found myself constantly drifting to the left. (At least my liberal self got a laugh out of that.) The persistent dizziness made reading (and writing) difficult; the scrolling and quick eye movements used in computer work proved downright nauseating.
After two more weeks I headed to the ENT office, where, after a series of questions and one brief vertigo-inducing maneuver, the doctor pronounced my diagnosis: BPPV, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, a mouthful that means I got dizzy when my head moved into certain positions. He recommended a physical therapy practice in Willow Grove that specializes in balance disorders.
Who knew?
Since starting PT in mid-July, my eyes have been opened to the complex, wondrous workings of the human body's balance system. 
The seemingly "simple" act of standing, not to mention walking, requires constant communication between your brain and your eyes, inner ear, as well as your muscles and joints. If something goes awry with any of those "messages," your sense of balance is … tipped.
That's where BPPV comes in. (If you're not into medical detail, you can skip the next three paragraphs.)
In a nutshell, vertigo can set in when microscopic crystals dislodge themselves from the inner ear and wander into an ear canal, where they start sending wrong signals to the brain. 
  At PT, they induced the vertigo by moving my head into certain positions. By observing the direction of my eye movements (think REM with nausea), the therapists determined which canal was harboring the wayward crystals.
After that, we moved on to the "bump and dump," wherein the therapist carefully and quickly moved my head and body in a way to send the crystals back where they belong. There are different prescribed "maneuvers" for each ear canal, usually named after the person who invented them, such as Epley and Semont.
As I wrote to a friend after the first session: 
"When I wasn't on the verge of throwing up, I found it fascinating."
I still do.
I'm happy to report that the PT maneuvers were successful, and rooms no longer spin around me. Unfortunately, I'm dealing with residual dizziness, visual and balance issues, which often come with this territory.
To help with that, my PT routine includes eye exercises and balance work. My favorite is one I call "the blind flamingo," standing on one leg with eyes closed. (I'm almost up to 30 seconds!)
One side benefit of this dizzying adventure has been the necessity to slow down. My eyes can't handle too much movement -- such as letters moving on a computer screen or cars moving in traffic -- so I have to make time in the day to just sit quietly, with eyes closed.  I highly recommend it, dizzy or not.
On the down side, I wasn't able to watch much of Wimbledon this year.


  1. Cathy -

    I hope you are back to your balanced self as soon as you can be. I was wondering why you were taking a break from the blog because I always look for your posts. I must say I found the information very interesting with the cause of your problem and the remedy. It sounds like you found the upside to all of this - slow down and take care of yourself. Get well.

    1. Thanks, Dimitra. Some day soon I hope I'll be able to do book cart pinwheels again!

  2. cathy, i too suffered from benign vertigo. am assuming you saw Z great margaret fitzpatrick, as did i. my vertigo was caused by bumping my head on a doorknob. i was on the floor cleaning, forgot where i was, and stood up, straight into the doorknob. my ENT diagnosed it right away. so glad you're back in action! luv the photos accompanying this post.

    1. Birds of a feather, Ruth? And yes, I was at Willow Grove PT, though with different therapists, all wonderful. And, I got officially discharged today. Yay!