“Harrell, wake up,” I said. “I think I’m having a stroke.”
I was too young to have a stroke (not true, by the way. Ten percent of all strokes occur to people under the age of 45), but nothing else made sense. I could barely stand upright, walking was a challenge, and nausea was coming at me in waves. We should have called an ambulance – and you should, too, if this ever happens to you – but we lived so close to the local hospital that we never thought of it. Minutes later, Harrell had collected a wheelchair from the Emergency Room entrance and was wheeling me inside.
It was 3:00 AM-ish, and the place was empty. Vitals were taken, questions were asked, I was gowned, I.V.’ed, and presented to the ER doctor. Other than my loss of balance, I didn’t exhibit any of the early warning signs of a stroke. I was medicated for my nausea and fell asleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up, I felt better, but not well. Any motion made me sick, which ruled out getting an MRI. Whatever was happening to me, the ER doc didn’t think it was something awful. Which is how I knew he’d never experienced that level of dizziness.
I was sent home and told to return to bed. If I didn’t get better in a few days, I could return to the ER. For what, they couldn’t exactly tell me, but Harrell wheelchaired me out and to bed I went. With the room twirling, twirling all around, I fell asleep again.
While I dozed, Harrell went on the computer. The internet is an easy place to misdiagnose symptoms, but he generally remembers this and treads cautiously. Within minutes, he had a name for what I was experiencing: benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. The condition is benign, which meant it wasn’t going to kill me; paroxysmal, which meant it came on fast; it’s positional, which meant the calcium crystals in one of my middle ears had gone rogue, escaping into the semicircular canals; and those shifting crystals were sending the wrong signals to my brain, giving me vertigo.
According to the online experts, BPPV can be over in a minute. Or it can last for days. WebMD advised, “If you have dizziness on and off for more than a week, you should make an appointment with your doctor.” You think? Just don’t use the ER doc in my town, I’m telling you. He’ll have no idea on what to do.
The good news was, the internet offered multiple ways to treat this condition. Harrell printed out the Epley Maneuver. (Thank you, Dr. John Epley.) It’s easy to do, cost nothing, and only took a few minutes to complete. If you’re curious, there are multiple YouTube videos on how to do it properly. For some people, the Epley Maneuver resolves the problem immediately. For the cursed – like me 😊 – the process has to be repeated over a period of time to shift those inner ear crystals back to the utricle, where they belong.
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad news was that BPPV can return. And, when it does, as it did frequently with me, it’s as miserable as ever. Each time it happened, the dizziness and nausea would knock me down for a day. There was no way around it.
But, but, BUT… after making a couple of lifestyle changes, I haven’t had a BPPV attack in years. When I told my local Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, Throat MD) what I thought had helped, he looked at me as if I was crazy.
“There’s nothing about that in the literature,” he told me, completely dismissing what I had to say. Then he asked if I’d let him do something to me that sounded completely crazy.
That story, however, will have to wait until next week.