Saturday, May 23, 2015

Now what can you do for my aura?

So, last Thursday night I stumbled out of bed in the middle of the night to service a biological imperative,* as is the habit of men my age. My next recollection is of struggling up from the bathroom floor, with Biscuit standing next to me asking what happened.

I had sipped one or three beers and mostly skipped dinner the previous evening, but I really didn't have that much, officer, I swear. With no other explanation forthcoming at 3:00 am, I put it down to low blood sugar and fading stamina, made sure there were no bones sticking out, and went back to bed.**

The next morning I sat up, put my feet on the floor, and immediately fell backwards across the bed. I have experienced bed spins before, but never when it was light outside. I took another run at it, albeit more carefully, and found that once I got upright, things were more or less normal after a minute or so. Any significant change in the orientation of my head, however, sent the room spinning and started the process over.

A quick consult with Google pointed to some combination of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and possibly a brain tumor. Or inner ear problems, which (spoiler alert!) turn out to be much more common, but don't get as much internet traction. Of course I only ever take ill on Friday. I determined to wait out the weekend, assuming I would either be dead or getting better by Monday. It turns out there was a third option, and I spent the weekend like a drunken sailor in a hurricane, stumbling from one handhold to the next.

I don't have a regular cardiologist or neurologist, as they are expensive and frightening. I do have an ear, nose, and throat doctor, and she has never used the word "catheter" in my presence that I recall, so I went to see her. I think everyone in the office knew what was wrong about five seconds after I walked in, but they are nothing if not thorough, so I got a blood pressure check, another stroke test, a few hearing and ear tests, and a good listen through a stethoscope. Apparently they also have the Google. Right before leaving the room, the nurse said, "She will be in shortly. She's going to align your crystals!"

My view of the world for much of the last week.

After eliminating the scary possibilities, the doctor tested me for what she already knew was wrong with me, which is something called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. Unlike ED or RLS, positional vertigo is not something made up by drug companies, but a real thing that happens to a lot of people. Apparently, tiny rocks (the crystals) in the inner ear wander into a neighborhood where they are not welcome, and the social tension causes a miniature riot when you move your head.

She put me in Bugs Bunny's barber chair, raised me to a height guaranteed to break something if I fell off, and had me lie back and turn my head to the side. If she said "cough" I was out of there, dizzy or not. Instead, she held up a finger for me to stare at, and when I turned to the left and one finger suddenly became three, she said, "There it goes!" with a look like an arsonist at a bonfire.

The treatment turns out to be something called the Epley maneuver. While this sounds like a British military technique that probably involves a bayonet, it's just more lying down, turning the head, sitting up, and getting dizzy. It doesn't fix the problem exactly, but relocates the tiny crystals to somewhere less annoying in the ear until they resorb. Also, I learned a new word. Re-sorb.

I'm pretty much back to normal now, with occasional bouts of walking like a mildly drunken landlubber in normal circumstances when I forget and do something stupid like lie down and then stand up. I haven't tried driving yet. Maybe today. What could possibly go wrong?

* I'm pretty sure this is why they are called the "wee hours."

** Biscuit made me smile and blink, and whatever else you are supposed to do to check for stroke before she would let me go back to sleep. Apparently I passed, or she just got tired.


  1. Holy shit... Good on Biscuit for doing the stroke test... and i learned something from your experience. Will put this one in the file for "shit that may happen as i age". That process of 'eliminating the really scary stuff' seems to take forever - but there is such relief as each one falls off the list of possibilities.

    Oh, and it's not just men. i used to be called "The Camel" for my well-recognized ability to go for hours (some believed it to be days) without having to break the seal. This was a key to my ascent to management... i would hold people in meetings - after filling them with coffee - by saying "We're not leaving here until we come to consensus..." Now? i've got the bladder of a geriatric hamster... god damn it.

    1. One reason I posted this was to let people know that this sort of thing is actually pretty common in gentlemen and ladies of a certain age, and we don't necessarily have to call 911 when it does. Age is one of the two primary risk factors. (The other is a blow to the head.) Oh, and I always hated you in meetings. Actually, it was really the jerks who wouldn't just admit that things weren't going their way and let us all go back to our offices.