Let me start off with the caveat that I don’t generally mind nor complain about aging. I’m reasonably content with my age of sixty-something. I’ve learned some things, let some go, and I’m satisfied with who I’ve become, most days. Oh, and I’m in generally good health, for which I’m grateful.
Here’s the problem, along with aging come, let me call them, aging syndromes that don’t so widely appear in younger populations and hadn’t appeared in me until the onset of my sixties, almost like clock-work. What’s that all about? In fact, when on occasion I’ve “Googled” said mild maladies, the only named cause – probably more accurately, correlation, is aging. Something is mentioned in passing, like, “this has no known cause, but has been shown to occur significantly more frequently in those aged 60 and above, and is perhaps a ‘normal’ part of aging.”
Recently, it’s BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo), in my right ear. It started suddenly and ferociously in the early hours of a Friday morning at the end of October. I got out of bed and the room took off at jet speed but my feet and body did not correspond. I sat down and the spinning continued, nausea nearly overtook me and I, Dorothy’s conjoined twin, abruptly leaving Kansas for Oz, was so disoriented that my husband insisted we go to the Emergency Department, which is not exactly Oz, if you get my drift.
Like a truly aged person, I made it only on his arm and with baby-steps or shuffling, to the car and through a torturous five-minute drive, with me not moving forward with the momentum of the vehicle but hovering above it doing circles like “crazy Ivan’s,” we arrived at the hospital. With a description of dizziness, they took me right to a bed, where invited to lay down, I gingerly sat. I felt certain I would lose consciousness if forced into a prone position, not the lack of control I wished to hazard.
The first nurse grumbled at me for not relaxing my arm for her to get IV fluids started. How do you relax your body when your head is irrationally hyperactive , on jet fuel and I don’t mean strong coffee!? Ditto for the much better at bedside manner lab tech, trying to coax blood from my stiff, guarded, and reneging veins. After a CAT scan, X-rays, EKG, and lab work all came back negative, I was thankful I wasn’t dying or engulfed in a serious health train-wreck. But, I still felt like I was on a runaway train going way too fast on the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona.
The only thing left diagnostically was vertigo, and I left the Emergency Department with a Meclizine RX for motion sickness, and a Scopolamine patch on the back of my right ear, for nausea. The emergency room Hospitalist said we could do a maneuver where they would lay me down and quickly back up, to treat the vertigo, but feeling so sick, I sort of refused to lay down.
I made a follow-up appointment for a couple of weeks hence with an Ear/Nose/Throat specialist after only one fall in the bathroom and a few days of little improvement in my balance, nausea, and spinning sensations, especially when laying flat on my back or on my right side (my favorite getting ready to sleep side). The ENT (ear/nose/throat) intake nurse was relieved to hear that I had finished taking the Meclizine Rx and stopped using the useless Scopolamine patches as well as over-the-counter Bonine. She called them band-aids, not treatment, as well as giving little credence to the usefulness of the Emergency Department labs and clinical tests – not in general as they ruled out stroke, heart anomalies, etc., -but as to the diagnosis of BPPV.
The individual words in the BPPV diagnosis are definitive in understanding the condition. Benign, simply means, you’re not going to die from this pain in the bum inner-ear disorder (I use this word quite deliberately because BPPV makes you feel very out of sync with reality and out of order.).
Paroxysmal, means that it has a sudden onset and lasts briefly, usually seconds. In fact, the ENT doc, in diagnosing BPPV in my right ear, asked me to lay on my back with my chin wrenched toward the right corner of the floor, and when my instinctual reaction to the severe vertigo that ensued was to tightly close my eyes and hold my head “steady,” she said to leave my eyes open and tolerate what would be about 20 seconds of extreme discomfort so that she could watch my eyes dart in cartoony and unreasonable motion. No such thing when I looked to the left, in that same distorted position. Thus the right ear being the culprit of errant particles rattling around in my inner-ear, out of place and not where they belong, like stray socks, car keys, and drink cups strewn about the house, not where they belong.
Residual episodes have been much less distressing as I’ve learned they are paroxysmal or extremely temporary. Peace of mind goes a long way in many of these aging-syndromes. “It came to pass.”
Positional, provides a hint of a cause of the disorder. The inner-ear is the place. The triggers for the vertigo are certain positions or movements. For me, laying on my right side is a trigger. Bummer, since that is habitually my favorite position for getting ready to sleep, to actually fall asleep on my back. In fact, when I was heavily pregnant, it was recommended that I sleep on my left side; what a challenge. Who knew I would find myself these many years later, facing the same challenge, with BPPV.
Another trigger is prolonged looking up, such as searching for something on a top shelf and not finding it immediately. Or, I found looking up to be a trigger the first time, when I started cleaning the bathroom ceiling. Whoa baby, that was a trip. Hubby had to finish the job – reminds me of the story of a person describing to their doctor, “it hurts when I do this…,” and the doctor says, “then don’t do that.” No more cleaning ceilings for me, tee hee. It’s the BPPV!
So, living with the threat of BPPV symptoms is about putting those mischievous crystals back into place so they can no longer lie to you about your movements. But, as most offenders are, these little buggers can be cantankerous. My crystals seem to want to jump off-sides at the least provocation, or is it me that’s stubbornly refusing to embrace the joys of an aging, new normal.