dizzy – adjective | diz·zy | \ˈdi-zē\
: foolish, silly
: having a whirling sensation in the head with a tendency to fall
: mentally confused
I laid back over a pillow quickly and turned my head 45 degrees to the left. The swaying curtain with the swirling pattern separating me from the next patient made me as dizzy as the maneuver. The physical therapist braced her hands around my neck and counted to 30. As the dizziness subsided, I turned my head 90 degrees to the right, guided by the hands supporting me. Another 30 seconds. Then, I turned my whole body over on my right side, head still tilting back but rotated another 90 degrees so I was now looking down at the floor. In 30 seconds, I sat up.
“How did you do?” the therapist asked.
I was holding on to the therapy table, feet dangling. “I think it worked,” I said. “Well, at least something changed. I feel different. Better.”
“Well, sit here a minute,” she said. “I’m trying to decide whether we should do it again, or just leave it.”
The therapist headed toward the printer to grab copies of exercises I could do at home. I sat in the same position for a while. Then, I tested out the procedure. I quickly turned my head to the left. Nothing. Earlier, that same movement while standing almost toppled me to the ground.
When the therapist returned, I did the fast jerking movement to the left again. “No dizziness when I turn to the left now,” I told her.
“Oh, don’t do that too much,” she said. “We don’t want to undo what we’ve done.”
“I still think I feel better,” I told her.
So, we agreed that I would go home, do the same exercises at home three times a day if the dizziness was not indeed better, and then come back in a week to measure our progress.
I’d been dizzy for about two weeks by the time I walked into the Rehabilitation Services office. In my mind, it started when I went to the dentist to have a filling replaced. The next day, I became dizzy during an exercise class and had to sit down. The following morning, I awoke twice to the room spinning. I held onto the bed, opened my eyes, and willed it to stop. Both times it did. Just a couple of days before the appointment, I sat up in bed, stood and turned left to go around the bed toward the bathroom, and the world continued on to the left as I held onto the door frame. I had never experienced anything like it, but for 16 days, I had been dizzy, lightheaded, off.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (or BPPV) is what the doctor called it. Small crystals in the ear move to the wrong spot. The physical therapy maneuver, known as the Eppley Maneuver, is designed to get the crystals back where they belong. The problem is, sometimes the maneuver doesn’t work the first time. Another problem is that even if it works, patients can still feel mild residual sensitivity to motion and unsteadiness, which is why you may see me holding on to the stair rails a little tighter.
I suspect the feeling will go away completely in a week or two. That’s the advice everyone has given me. I continue to perform the recommended therapy moves at home each day when I get up and still feel dizzy. But it’s getting better. And I describe the feeling, when I have it, as more unsteady than dizzy now.
But it’s scary watching the world spin out of control. Though I often feel like the world revolves around me, there’s nothing more frightening than when it actually does. It throws my sensors off; I forget which way is up and which way is down. I’ll grab on to anything I can reach, even it’s more unsteady than I am.
Interestingly, there’s often more to treating dizziness than just getting the little ear crystals back to the right place. We also have to give our brains time to readjust to reality. When everything is spinning, the brain begins to think that’s normal, and it adjusts to the new sense of movement. Habituation is like the training ice skaters do in order to spin rapidly in circles and not feel dizzy. In my case, though, the feeling of “off” that my brain had started to adapt to is not normal. Now, I need my brain to remember what steady feels like. The more I can move around and do my normal activities, the more quickly my dizziness will subside.
In the meantime, I’m just holding on.
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