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Dizzy day

January 19, 2005

Apparently smacking my head against the pavement real hard is not a good thing.  Since my accident in August, I’ve had problems with balance.  Not usually walls-swimming-around dizzyness, but just being off-balance.  Walking down the hall and feeling like I’m heading toward the wall.  Holding onto the railing on stairs.  Turning around in the kitchen and falling flat on my face.

Today I went in for a long series of tests of my inner-ear function.  It was a strange experience…
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I missed the technician’s name, so I’ll call her “Jennifer.”  She had me sit on a torture rack specially built reclinig chair and clamped an instrumented cage to my head.

“It’s good you shave your head,” she said.  “It makes it easy to position the goggles.”

These goggles resembled a metal-and-silicone version of the face-hugger creature in Alien, wrapping entirely around my head and ratcheting tight.  Huge seals suctioned against my eyes and (disconcertingly) nostrils.  The left goggle had a double-thickness hocky-puck on it with an infrared camera and some built-in lights.  The right had a little window that could be opened to observe things in the room.

She turned my head to the right, laid me back, then forward, and did the same with the left. 

I tracked blinking lights in a frame on a stand in the front of the room.  This was less than easy with my glasses off.  “Follow the blob,” I thought.  There were many versions of follow-the-blob.

She ran cold water in my ears one at a time, studying the results in my balance with the infrared camera.  For a distraction she had me recite boys’ and girls’ names.  I did very poorly at this.  But I think I’d do poorly at listing names anytime.  I just don’t do names very well.

She ran hot water in my ears and did the same thing.  This time she had me recite places and features of American geography, at which I did a whole lot better.

“Just out of curiosity,” I asked, “how hot is that water?”

“44o celsius,” she answered.  “I don’t know how to convert that to Farenheit.” 

She kept telling me to keep my eyes open.  It was dark in the room and I wasn’t nearly as disoriented as apparently some people are.  I worked for years in a darkroom so being in a dark room doesn’t throw me.

A green light lit up inside the left “goggle.”  Jennifer told me to follow it with my eyes.  I asked her “Is the light really moving?”

“No,” she said.  “Your eye is.”

Jennifer was very nice.  But she wouldn’t tell me any results.  I don’t find that out until the follow-up appointment in two weeks but I have a feeling they’re barking up the wrong tree.  I’m really not so much dizzy as off-balance.  Just sitting a chair I have the feeling things aren’t lined up right.

One of the possibilities is inner-ear damage but there are other possibilities I like even less. After a lifetime of climbing cliffs, caving, and bicycling, I don’t mind saying it’s got me a bit rattled.  Lots of things I like to do are impossible like this.  I’ve never had reason to be concerned about heights or movement.

A question that comes to my mind is: how can medical tests find anything useful if they’re always done when you are in an abnormal state?  “No medications, don’t drink water, don’t eat.”  No medications meant no pain reliever so I didn’t sleep well.  I was dehydrated.

There was an enormous questionaire.  I wish I could fill it out again.  I’m much more off-balance when I’m tired and right now I’m very tired.

In our first meeting, the audiologist told me: “We’re not always able to impact this condition as favorably as we’d like.”  He also told me: “Dizzyness is often a long journey through what it’s not.”

44 degrees celsius is 111 degrees farenheit.  Just about right for a hot tub.

Update: next day… Wow, I made a lot of spelling and grammatical errors on this post.  I forgot to mention that on the way out of the building, I stopped for a different test at one of those blood-pressure-machines in the lobby.  135/85 is apparently “high normal” and my pulse was 51.

Categories: Personal
  1. January 20, 2005 at 02:41 | #1

    Loss of balance can sometimes be more of a kinesthetic issue than one to do with your ears.  For example, many seniors fall as a result of a loss of sensation in the feet rather than inner ear damage.  Maybe your concussion led to changes in your ability to sense the positioning of your feet.  Though, if that happened you would probably have a fair deal of brain damage.  I guess you can’t remember what part of your head you hit….  Hmmmm….  The doc was right, a lot of things can cause loss of balance.  Good luck with identifying what the actual cause is, I hope you can track it down.  I know how much it sucks to not be able go out climbing (I haven’t really been able to climb till I trashed my shoulder, I can’t reach my right hand much above my head anymore).

  2. January 20, 2005 at 23:19 | #2

    Good luck on finding the problem.  About three years ago I had a non malignant tumor removed from the area behind my right ear drum.  Last year I had about a month dizzyness which was controled finally by motion sickness medication but the doctor never explained what caused it.  Of course I thought it might be due to the tumor/surgery but he said no.
    He did say when an older person moves too quickly dizzyness sometimes results.  But you don’t qualify for older.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know how you feel when you know something isn’t quite right but you don’t know what!

  3. Chad
    March 1, 2006 at 22:29 | #3

    hi im only 15 and i feel the same way that you do and im sick of it and the doctors just keep doing more and more test.  I feel like this all of the time and im beginning to think that it will never go away and that scares me.

  4. March 3, 2006 at 16:31 | #4

    Chad, what can I say – my heart goes out to you.  Please keep trying and strengthen yourself every way you can. Never give up.

    It’s been a year since I wrote this post and in the meantime every aspect of my balance has been tested.  It appears that the problem is not with my inner ear at all, but with the timing of fine muscle control when I am standing still.  My vision is involved too.  So I am not ‘dizzy’ but have poor low-speed balance, if that makes any sense. 

    This is very frustrating but I am learning to live with it.  I also practice balancing on a wobble platform, while passing weights from hand-to-hand, and bounce a ball and catch it while I am walking to improve my vision control.

    I find it helps to think of my life as a story, in which I am the main character.  No story is any good unless bad things happen to the main character and he/she has to show the strength to live meaningfully anyway.  In this story, the balance problem is part of who I am and so is my effort to overcome it.

    All the best to you.  :-)

  5. August 5, 2006 at 08:07 | #5

    I feel as if I am falling off my feet.  I actually do stuble one way or the other and I will observe if is always in the same direction.  This is a new experience for me.  I reported to B lue Cross HMO Dr. and she suggested I drink more water.  Sound like and HMO solution, right?

  6. August 5, 2006 at 08:34 | #6

    It sure does.  Don’t give up!  Now you have two battles – one with dizzyness and another with your doctors.  The doctors are trying the cheapest thing first – that’s what HMO’s do.  My advice is take two weeks, drink more water and take careful note of how much, then go back to the doctor and say “OK doctor, I tried that.  What’s next?”  Since you are researching on the ‘net you probably have some suggestions of your own you can make to her by now.  Hope they listen to you this time!

  7. March 19, 2008 at 15:06 | #7

    I feel like this all of the time and im beginning to think that it will never go away and that scares me.

  8. March 19, 2008 at 15:17 | #8

    I don’t know which is funnier/sadder; the fact that the above comment was spam disguised as a real comment or that the commenter misspelled his own domain name in the link.  Or the fact that the spammer didn’t even write his own text, he just copied some text from from an earlier, legitimate commenter.

    For the record, spamming will get you banned ‘with extreme prejudice’.  Buy Google ads if you want web publicity.

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