Last week, I talked about what happened when I suddenly and unexpectedly developed benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Here’s the short version: the dizziness came out of nowhere, I thought I’d had a stroke, the local ER doc had no idea how to treat it and, at home, Harrell found a procedure that made the BPPV less terrible. Still, even after using the Epley Maneuver, this overwhelming sensation of vertigo was a fresh dose of miserable that would strike me every two to three months. I lived in dread of when it would happen again.
To prevent it, I began making lifestyle changes. I stood more slowly, turned my head more cautiously, and tried to avoid anything that might cause the calcium crystals in my middle ear to shift and send the world spinning. I gave up dancing, either with Harrell or just joyously alone, and I used to love to dance. I was doing whatever it would take to continue to feel normal.
During my downtime, I went on the internet, trying to see what I could learn about BPPV. I discovered that women get it more often than men; that the middle-aged and old are more likely to suffer from it than the young. There’s a possible genetic component, too; I found out later that one of my female cousins has it. At one time or another, BPPV will strike about 8% of the population. For most people, it’s over and done in less than two months. For others, about 2.5% of the total, it can continue to recur for their entire lifetime.
Without surgical treatment, I was looking like a lifer. Surgical treatment is available, but rarely recommended; the failure rate was too high for my comfort. On top of that, when it doesn’t work, surgery can make things worse. I started haunting BPPV forums, where people spoke about what they’d done to try and improve their situation. One woman said she’d increased the amount of water she drank and it had helped. Another said she’d stopped ingesting caffeine, and that had helped. I didn’t see how either of these approaches would keep those damnable ear crystals in place, but both suggestions were benign approaches to the problem.
I could do those things. Maybe. As much as I feared vertigo, you need to understand, I’ve had a long-term love affair with my morning cup of coffee. I’ve worn t-shirts that say as much, and my refrigerator has magnets that celebrate our tight-knit relationship (I HAVEN’T HAD MY COFFEE YET. DON’T MAKE ME KILL YOU.) If I was told I had to decide between waking up with Harrell or being greeted by a hot cup of Joe… but that wasn’t the decision, was it? The choice was between nausea, vomiting, and being incapacitated, or losing the daily jolt and suffering from a headache while mourning my caffeine high.
Very reluctantly, I switched to decaf. I abandoned chocolate, started checking labels for caffeine content, and increased my water intake. In short order, my inner ear quit misbehaving. The benign paroxysmal positional vertigo became less frequent, then it seemed to go away.
It didn’t return until I visited my regular doctor and her assistant flushed away some inner ear wax. Almost immediately, the world started spinning again. I begged the assistant to stop, she did, and my MD recommended I go to see one of our town’s Ear, Nose and Throat experts. Since my regular MD is wonderful, I did as she asked.
Which, if you’ll recall, is where I left off at the end of my last blog. During my consult with the Otolaryngologist – they get paid by the vowel –I told him I was much improved from how I’d been. I told him, I thought I knew why, too. When I shared the more water/no caffeine regimen, he said, flatly, “There’s nothing about that in the literature.”
I knew this. I’d seen the literature. “Still,” I said, “there’s no harm in telling someone what worked for me. If you have a patient who’s at her wits’ end, you might mention it to her.”
He didn’t respond, but his expression said, There’s nothing about that in the literature. No matter the situation, he wasn’t sharing what I’d said. Not with anyone.
Then he suggested that the two of us do a little experiment together. If I truly had BPPV, this procedure would throw me into full-blown vertigo. Within minutes, maybe seconds, I’d get dizzy and feel like vomiting.
“And this will help you fix it so that it doesn’t happen again?” I asked.
“Oh, no, there’s no cure,” said the sadist solemnly. “But your reaction will allow me to make an official diagnosis. Then I can put that in your chart.”
Either he loved his charts or he hated me. I decided not to do this. Instead, I went home and poured myself a cup of decaf. Later this year, I’ll be attending a wedding.
I intend to dance during every song the DJ plays.