Getting better? How do we know?

We don’t live in an age when people put total belief in what their doctors tell them – well not unless it is something pretty serious, like you only have so long to live and there isn’t much you can do about it or something pretty trivial, like you have a cold and there isn’t much you can do about it.

There is always that urge to seek a second opinion, or to find an alternative medical practitioner who will make you sit under a blue plastic pyramid or buy large quantities of harmless and useless herbal tablets.

I have been pretty impressed by my doctors since being taken ill on the 30th. October last year.

Not to bore previous readers of these blogs, I can just say quickly that I had a brain haemorrhage followed by two violent brain seizures and was left with a fractured spine and torn muscles over most of my torso.

It wasn’t fun.

Nearly five months later, I have been hoping for some signs of improvement but mostly I have felt the same as far as head symptoms are concerned but my body injuries have now improved a lot so I can now move pretty flexibly and I am no longer in constant pain.


The brain bit is boring though.

When I went to see my consultant neurologist last week, I was feeling pretty fed up with feeling that constant sensation of concussion and giddiness and she, as she has always been since I was hospitalised last year, was very sympathetic and refreshingly upbeat.

More importantly, she was positive about my condition.

A new MRI scan has been booked and I am now waiting to receive a call telling me when it is scheduled. This will show any activity in the brain since the last brain scan. We are hoping that there will be evidence that the blood in my brain will have dispersed and that the cause of the haemorrhage will be revealed.

Only then will they know what further treatment I need.

In the meanwhile, I thought, I just have to suffer.

One of the worst things has been feeling giddy and disorientated all the time – so much so that I found it difficult doing any normal household chores – yay! – and I felt disorientated by climbing or descending stairs which made me feel I was a long way off from my first ascent of Mount Everest.

Well, unusually in the medical world, my neurologist took immediate action.

I was made to sit on a bed and she gave me what is known as the Dix-Hallpike Test.

If you were one of those people who dread school tests, don’t worry about this one because you are in the middle of it before you know where you are.

Sitting on the bed, legs stretched out in front, back straight, your head is manipulated into a 45 degree angle to one side with the doctor holding it steady. You are then pulled back rapidly to a lying position, left for a moment and then pushed back up. This is repeated with your head pointed in the opposite direction.

Well, it was a really unpleasant experience. A bit like falling out of a plane without a parachute.

For someone who had been walking around as if I had a glass of water on my head for all these months, it was positively terrifying.

The neurologist asked me how I felt. I omitted the obscene adjective and just said awful.

She certainly made the Earth move for me on that bed.

So brain racing, body spinning, she helped me back to my feet and explained what she thought was causing the giddiness.

It was Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) – something relatively common in cases of head injuries and, fortunately, almost 100% curable. She told me she would book me a course of sessions with a physiotherapist who was expert in tossing people around on beds.

BPPV is caused by small crystals of calcium, if you are interested, if not spin down to the next paragraph. These crystals, ear rocks or Otocania, floating around in your inner ear, can be caused by a head trauma and they can be dispersed by suitably rough treatment.

Now this is the miraculous bit where Wolfgang invents a miraculous ending to this long drawn out drama.

I couple of days after this treatment, I suddenly felt better.

No giddiness – an amazing sensation after all these months.

So I swept the floors all through the house, as you do, and went down to the park to do my Kung Fu practice.

Still no giddiness.

I love my neurologist.

I now have various exercises to practise every day, the rather posh sounding Cowthorne Cooksey Exercises, which involve a series of movements that you wouldn’t practise on the bus.

There is a lot of eye rolling and head nodding and, bizarrely, tossing a tennis ball behind your knees.

Well, if it stopped the giddiness, I would do much odder things than that – even on the bus.

Well let’s hope this new feeling of health – now I only have that concussive sensation – will be a real sign of recovery.

Not, I hope, like the final scene in Verdi’s opera La Traviata where Violetta, dying of tuberculosis but reunited with her lover sings optimistically and passionately:

Cessarono gli spasimi del dolore! In me rinasce, m’agita insolito vigor!

The spasms of pain have ceased! I feel reborn in me the strength that once was mine!

This is, of course, Verdi, so as soon as Violetta finishes this hopeful phrase, she falls back on the sofa and dies to some very disturbing chords in the orchestra.

I am feeling as hopeful as Violetta but not as she is in the last act – more the act one model, I think when she raises her glass and sings:

Tutto e follia nel mondo cio che non e piacer.

Everything is folly in this world that does not give us pleasure.

Well, I am allowed three glasses of wine a week and there is no point in letting these brain haemorrhages get you down.


  1. Traviata rarely fails to hit the mark – and I remember seeing the Georghieu broadcast and being bowled over. Act 1 is so hopeful, Act 111 all the hopes dashed.

    I think Traviata and a glass of wine sounds a good way to spend time – and is almost worth recovering for (as well as helping you recover, I hope). Perhaps the message of it all is to try to cram in as much happiness – and happiness is different from pleasure – as you can.

    I’m not sure why, but I found the death of Natasha Richardson incredibly sad and a reminder of how fragile is our hold on life. She’s not a performer I had particularly followed, but always thought she was good value. When the accident was first reported, it had all the hallmarks of tragedy – the end seemed inevitable. How do the media know which stories will end sadly?

    Let raise a glass to recovery!

  2. Thanks Claudio, exactly what I am trying to do…..on three glasses of wine a week anyway!

    La Traviata does do great things to me…as do most of the Verdi operas….but there is something special about it…maybe cos it is the one I got to know first.

    Well I plan to get better so there is no tragic opera to be made of my life I hope.

    The Natasha Richardson story was just a bit too close for comfort – if I am allowed to be selfish here.

    Yes, it was really sad….but it has definitely shaken me in a totally selfish way.

    The media, from my days in it, know much more than they can say a lot of the time – that was often my experience.

    A sad and, as you say, sobering experience…I was feeling very bright and happy on the morning when the lights went on on me also. None of us know when our number is going to be called.

    Thanks for the good wishes though Claudio.

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