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This past Summer, a carnival rolled through Portland’s waterfront and Melody & I decided to bike over and check it out. We wandered the fairgrounds from end to end, and eventually decided to ride just one ride, then head home. The ride was a favorite of mine, one I’ve ridden a dozen or more times. You enter into a circular room (often shaped like a UFO), lean back on sloped ramps along the wall, and when the room starts rotating, centripetal force sends the ramp (and your body) sliding on rails towards the ceiling. It’s a very simple ride, but quite playful, and I used my time lifting my head against the g-force of the ride to get double extra dizzy. Fun!

As we were leaving the ride, I was a little unsteady on my feet and laid a hand on Melody’s shoulder to steady myself as we walked. A little dizzy, but hey, that’s what you ride carnival rides for, right? That’s the whole point. My head soon righted itself, we got back on bikes and pedaled home. We stayed in that evening, a mellow relaxing night. At the end of the evening, as I slid into bed, I had a wave of vertigo as I went from standing to sitting on the bed. I gave it little thought, laid down flat, and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, I awoke with a full bladder and headed to the bathroom. I was so dizzy and unsteady on my feet I had to trail a hand along the wall to stay upright. Making my way back to the bedroom, I made myself so dizzy that I fell back into bed and promptly threw up from nausea. Melody sprang into nursemaid mode, I slept a lot more, and had a very undemanding day reading in bed. At this point, I still wondered if I had caught a flu and that was making me light headed.

The next day I was vastly improved, doing chores about the house and yard, feeling energetic and (mostly) steady on my feet.

The following day I was dizzier than ever. Just standing still in an upright position was enough to make the world tilt sideways. At this point, I was beginning to freak out a little; this wasn’t a flu! I had an appointment downtown to get a suit fitted. Melody had to drive us downtown; there was no question about me doing it. As we walked from the car to the store, I kept a hand on Melody’s shoulder to help guide me. That was the intention, at least. Instead, I leaned into her through my arm hard enough to nearly guide her path right into the street. Repeatedly. With equal measures of worry and amusement, we somehow got through the suit fitting and returned home. As I relaxed in a horizontal position in a darkened room, Melody got to work Googling my malady. Like you do in this DIY-healthcare world we find ourselves in. She found “benign paroxysmal positional vertigo” (BPPV). In very crude terms, the semi-circular canals in your ear have these structures called “otolith organs”, and those contain these little crystals. For any number of possible reasons, these crystals can get dislodged and float about the semi-circular canal. In my case, the carnival ride probably helped jar the crystal(s) loose, and that rattling about in my inner ear was causing the vertigo.

Further research led to a potential fix for BPPV that you can do in your very own home! It’s almost like science, except with none of the safeguards. There is a sequence of head movements the patient follows. “Turn to the right 60° and then wait 60 seconds. Then tilt your head back and wait 30 seconds.”, that sort of thing. The guidelines we settled on suggested the movements could be done on a bed or exam table. “Hey, I’ve got a massage table upstairs! It’ll be perfect! Let’s use that!” So we walk and unsteadily totter upstairs, I lie flat on the massage table, and Melody holds her laptop balanced in one hand while she narrates the steps for me to emulate. The movement pattern is uni-lateral; you do it one way for the right side, then the mirror-image movements for the left side. Since it’s not clear which ear has dislodged crystal(s), you arbitrarily decided what side to start with. I started with the right.

Melody narrated each step. Turn this way, wait 60 seconds. Turn that way, wait 60 seconds, several stages. It culminated with “… then roll onto your left side. Wait 60 seconds. Now slowly, gently push yourself upright to a sitting position.” I sat upright with poise and confidence… and immediately pitched over backwards nearly failing off the side of the massage table, and Melody juggled the laptop while trying to restrain me. Okay, so apparently my problem wasn’t in the right ear! With much hilarity and leaning, I finally got laid back on the table and Melody kept a hand on me this time as I went through the mirrored movements for my left ear. “… then roll onto your right side. Wait 60 seconds. Now slowly, gently push yourself upright to a sitting position.” This time I sat up and held reasonably steady! It was a very clear, significant improvement, probably 60% of the vertigo vanished. With some excitement, I laid down and we repeated that set of motions for the left ear again. Further improvement, and we decided to leave well enough alone for the remainder of the day. The next day I felt markedly better and started moving about tentatively. The following day I was at full speed and the vertigo hasn’t been an issue since.

BPPV. Crystals in your ears. The more I learn about how our bodies work, the more amazed I am that they work at all.

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