Tag Archives: Vertigo

One Year Ago

Today is my birthday! (Please excuse the exclamation point.) A year ago today it was muggy and rainy as it is now, and I went for six mile run which I barely finished. I had worked my way up to eight again after years off from distance running. That was the day I began to realize something was wrong, but as you can read in My SCD Story, I had no idea what I was about to face. A year and one craniotomy later, I’m still facing it — but at least it has a name now, and I have a few new tools for fighting it.

For the past sixteen days I was in Germany. I travelled with my warrior wife and two small children to a time-zone seven hours away. I got my first ear infection in my repaired ear on day one of the trip, but armed with emergency steroids and antibiotics, it was sent packing fast. I had several good days to start, then relapsed into symptoms that felt a lot like the beginning of everything a year ago. It’s the left ear acting up, reminding me of those holes still in my head.

Despite the downturn, though, and the hearing loss and tinnitus, I have a lot to be grateful for only five months removed from surgery.

The fact that I made that trip  — two 18 hour travel days, hustling through airports, walking through big cities and across open country side — is pretty incredible to me.

I’m able to write on most days without serious brain fog, though cranking out a letter of recommendation yesterday with the jet lag was pretty rough. I have lots of projects cooking again which give me energy and hope. I find, for whatever reason, that pain relievers and swelling-reducers lessen the pressure that builds in my skull over time, as does sleep, so I’m hoping to find a healthy balance there. Can’t live on tylenol, I guess. I’m also beginning Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy today, hoping to sharpen up and take the fight to memory loss and brain fog. Taking consistent breaks from the computer screen every 20 minutes helps, and forces me to waste less time. Avoiding stress, or coping with it well, helps, too.

I worked in my garden for two hours yesterday, which was necessary given that it had been neglected for over two weeks.  I can walk a couple of miles at a time. Occasionally I can jog if I keep my eyes on the ground and not on the bouncing horizon.  My legs get tired really fast, and bending up and down makes me dizzy, but avoiding those kinds of situations won’t make it better, and does not teach the brain to adapt, so I plough through it.

With consistent stretching, I think I’m learning to manage SCDS’ power to twist my body into painful knots. My neck, shoulders and left hip/leg are still problem areas, but I’m working on it with PT, VRT and Yoga. I stretch a lot, and spend a lot of time and money working for equilibrium these days, but I’m lucky to have these options and opportunities.

I’ve learned that sodium, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar make me feel worse. Add that to my gluten free diet from Celiac Disease, and the fun food options quickly become limited — but also more healthy in the long run.

My loving sister-in-law is an incredible audiologist, and she is going to be able to get me a great deal on cros hearing aids if I want them. I’m still trying to decide if I need them yet. I feel the loss at work more than at home, so I probably should. The neuromonics tinnitus therapy is still a bit out of our price range, and while it’s bothersome, I’m coping with that fairly well most days.

So, as I gain a year today, I’m hopeful but not content, inspired but not naive, and better but not well. I may never be all of what I was, but I can try to be the best at what I am now.

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If she can do it, so can I.

I’ve been so focused on functionality, I’ve yet to totally deal with things emotionally since my surgery and its aftermath. As a result, it doesn’t take much to make me cry these days. I had no hope avoiding tears watching the story of blind pole-vaulter Charlotte Brown, and yet, all she does is give me hope: http://es.pn/SIlna4

Blind pole-vaulter in Texas.

Track and Field

Hello all,

When I first joined support groups on Facebook, I’d panic at every side effect or bad outcome I read about, when it came to Superior Canal Dehiscence surgery. A wise woman in one of those groups told me to remember that all of the folks with good outcomes had moved on with their lives, and didn’t have time to be checking the boards all f the time. That made sense to me, but only about two weeks ago.

I’ve been back at work for three weeks and feel like I’m tuning in much better than before, and getting stronger. I’m not to where I was this time last year before my symptoms began, but I’m getting through my days fairly well now, and my work days on campus are quite active and stimulating — physically and mentally.  I must also say, that for reasons unrelated to SCDS, my last two weeks have been emotionally stressful, and my response to that stress is drastically improved from the worst days of my symptoms.

The best news is this. I had to teach my daughter to ride her bike, which necessitated running along side her as she rode for brief stretches. Then, trying to keep up with her as she went around the block. If you read My SCDS story, you’ll note that I was a runner before this all went down. In fact, a month before I became severely knocked out, I finished a 5K in about 27 minutes — my best time ever. Well, that jogging with my daughter, led me to think I could run again, and I’ve started back without too many problems. I run one minute and walk three, and can cover two miles that way in under thirty minutes. My fastest mile is 13:48. I have five minutes to shave off, but I’m thrilled to be running again.

I mostly stare at the ground, but try to challenge myself and raise my head to hold the horizon every several seconds, and the bounce seems to be improving. My legs are sore, naturally, but not just from the exercise. My lower back, neck, and outside leg muscles continue to be severely stressed by my new balance situation, so I’m at the Chiropractor and message therapist at least once a week.

The dizziness still comes, but only slightly, and it’s very manageable. I’m starting to believe it’s from my unrepaired side. Two milligrams of Valium each night before bed help with that. My balance is good. I’m no late-life gymnast, but I can walk a balance beam front to back, then do it backwards, then turn and repeat without touching the floor (most of the time).

Noisy, stimulating environments still wear me out, though. And my hearing has not improved in my repaired ear. I may never know why this happened, when so many people report better hearing post-op. Right now, I’m trying to get the most out of every day and enjoy this good period. Because with the other side unrepaired, and potentially unable to be repaired due to the possibility of complete deafness,  I can’t be sure how long it will last.

Here’s a picture of me attempting a (very short) long jump for my two kids:

 

Solving for X: Getting a SCDS Diagnosis

As I have been made to understand it, there is a clear equation, or proof, required for diagnosing a Superior Canal Dehiscence.  The first step seems to be the hardest of them all:

You need 1 doctor who can put together the puzzle of your symptoms into a clearly assembled picture and send you for testing; or, you need to somehow put that puzzle together yourself and find the 1 doctor who understands this problem and will take a shot at investigating it. It’s still new, it’s very rare, but I don’t buy that the modern ENT worth his or her otoscope shouldn’t have heard about this disorder by now. Google lists hundreds of pages about SCDS. It was on The Doctors TV show, famous people have suffered from it and brought it into the news, and there are dozens of journal articles regarding the problem. And yet, it remains so “mysterious.”

If you manage to solve the first part of the equation and get a referral to a specialist, there are many tests that are performed on dizzy people. Dizziness is my primary symptom, and it is what leads to my other complaints of brain fog and fatigue. In some ways, people who have  stronger audiology-related SCDS symptoms should be a tad bit easier to diagnose. Autophony and Tullio are very rare, and strongly indicate a dehiscence to a doctor who is current on the research in his/her field. There are many causes of dizziness, however, and most docs are under the inclination that “it’ll just go away over time.” If you’ve somehow passed through the first stage and found a SCDS-suspicious ally, you will need to have at least 2 tests. First, a hearing test. Most SCDS sufferers have some degree of low-frequency hearing loss. But again, lots of people have that symptom for a variety of reasons, so, in and of itself hearing loss cannot be the smoking gun. That gun is usually the VEMP TEST (Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential). If you have a strong VEMP response (which is perfectly comfortable, but very strange to endure), you are allowed to continue your progress to the final proof and solve for X.

It’s all well and good to have lots of symptoms, low-frequency hearing loss, and a strong VEMP, but they have to see the dehiscence in order to fully diagnose the problem. So, step 3 is a high-resolution, thinly-sliced CT of the temporal bone. It was strongly suggested to me that I have the images taken at the location of my doctor’s choosing because that facility is quite familiar with SCDS, understands how to get the best images, and would forward those images to a radiologist with experience diagnosing the disorder. Proof is in the picture. I understand that sometimes they can’t see it. Unfortunately, as I’ve been told, if they can’t see it, they don’t like to operate, so getting a great image and experienced radiologist are crucial in this final step.

And yet, even with a clear image and a reading from a trustworthy radiologist who has seen SCDS before, there can be wild differences of opinion. My radiologist called my dehiscence “slight.” Dr. Hain, the specialist who diagnosed me, thought I should opt for a more conservative approach and let my condition ride for a while longer, while Dr. Wiet, my surgeon, feels a 3mm hole is quite significant, and that my situation is clearly one in need of repair sooner than later. So, I then sought a second and now third opinion just to be sure.

With clear proof and X solved, there comes some relief — mentally. You know you’re not crazy, you’re validated in that someone believed you, and now you have a solid answer. But what you do with that answer is ultimately up to you, whose opinion you trust, and the degree to which you are suffering. I see that big in front of me every day, and still debate what to do with it.

The Day I Was (almost) Diagnosed

This big dork sitting in a rotating chair wearing funny goggles to measure the movement of my eyeballs as I spun.

This big dork sitting in a rotating chair wearing funny goggles to measure the movement of my eyeballs as I spun.

We received the first real snow of Winter on 11/11/13, when my wife and I trekked into downtown Chicago to visit with Dr. Timothy Hain at Northwestern. Six hours of testing finally revealed a likely answer to a then five month quest for answers to my symptoms. The VEMP test on my right ear was off the charts and a very strong indicator, as was low frequency hearing loss, pulsatile tinnitus, measured and documented vertigo, and the fact that a tuning fork placed anywhere on my body would only hum in my right ear. It would take a high definition CT Scan to finally prove it, but we had a solid answer: Superior Canal Dehiscence.

I remember….

I remember the Outer Banks, taking my daughter fishing for the first time, and being completely unsteady on my feet crossing the pier. The planks seemed as if they were moving. The surf nearly knocked me over once we got into the water, and negotiating the sandy beach left my legs burning and exhausted.

I remember going the opening game of the NFL season to cheer on my (disappointing) Bengals as they played the Bears at Soldier Field. Our seats were very high. I didn’t move from my seat during the entire game for fear I’d fall over. I couldn’t even wear my prescription eye glasses because they caused me feel unsteady.

I remember going to a RUSH concert where the Blackhawks showed up with the Stanley Cup. If not for earplugs I never would have survived the concert. I felt swooney from the noise.

I remember cheering my Kentucky Wildcats as they opened the season against Michigan State in Chicago, and between my clapping and all the shouting in the arena (they lost), I felt my whole body was vibrating through that night and into the next day.

I remember going for a jog one week after running 6.5 miles in an hour, and stopping at the end of the block, turning around, and walking home because I was already exhausted.

I remember not being able to clearly understand what the University Provost and my colleagues were talking about three feet away, because I couldn’t filter out the noise.

I remember falling into my garden, destroying a broccoli plant, and fearing I had broken my hip.

I remember taking naps under the desk in my office because my computer screen would set my head to spinning so bad that I had to rest every 15 minutes.

I remember the horror of quitting caffeine and the sadness of abandoning bourbon.

I remember breaking down in tears upon my first visit to the vestibular therapist. She’s a tiny little lady, and I’m a 6’4″, 200 lb man, and when she did strength tests on me I could offer no resistance.

I remember not being able to remember how to put my little boy into his car seat.

I remember trying to write and finding that I had no words.