My visit to the Dizzy Clinic

With wonderful lack of pomposity and, I suspect, a welcome sense of humour, my hospital’s Ear, Nose and Throat department have named the consultancy that specialises in problems caused by of the inner ear and balance, the Dizzy Clinic.

I had an appointment there yesterday to try and rid myself of the final symptoms of, yes, dizziness which have been one of the most debilitating side effects of the brain haemorrhage I suffered five months ago.

Unless you suffer from dizziness, you would be forgiven thinking of it as a joke.

Dizzy blonds, male or female, are seen as charmingly extrovert but largely brainless enthusiasts of partying, shopping and, yes, you have heard of that scandalous play too.

Sadly, no one remotely like that turned up in the waiting room whilst I was there, well, apart from me, I guess.

For many people, let’s face it, dizzy means silly.

I wondered if the waiting room might be a bit like a bar after closing time with dazed folk walking in zig zags towards uncertain destinations – something like a vehicle-less game of dodgems.

But no, I was probably as outlandish as anyone there and, due to my illness, it is now a long time since I was drunk.

No one bumped into anyone else and we all sat, in true British style, silently in rows awaiting our turn with the Dizzy Consultant.

He, or rather they, were not blond or silly or, as far as I could tell, drunk.

In the impressive world that is the British National Health Service, the Dizzy Clinic is composed of two consultants who work in partnership, one specializing in the inner ear and the other in balance, vertigo and, yes, dizziness.

Sitting in an archaic-looking high-backed wooden swivel chair, I faced the consultants and answered their questions with as much accuracy as I could muster.

It is not easy being brain damaged. When people ask you how you feel, what you feel, and what does it feel like, it is often very difficult to give a precise answer.

The brain is very good at telling you when your toe hurts, you feel thirsty or you need to sleep but, like a shy social worker, it is not nearly as good at telling you how it feels itself.

So some of the questions were easy.

Do you get ringing sensations in your ears? Yes.

Does the room seem to move after you stop turning your head? Yes.

Do you feel disorientated even after climbing one step? Yes.

Do you find it difficult looking upwards? Yes.

And so on.

Less easy were questions:

Do you feel dizzy all of the time? Well, my brain feels disorientated all the time but where that turns into dizziness I am not really sure.

Does moving your head make you feel dizzy? Well, my symptoms get worse when I move my head but I am not really sure if that is dizziness.

Can you describe those symptoms? Well, this is very difficult. It is like the feeling you get after being hit on the head. Yes, it has an element of dizziness but it is also a general disorientation. I am not sure where one begins and the other ends.

Maybe it is because I am a pedant but I always try to give an accurate answer to questions. I have the same problem at the opticians, wavering backwards and forwards when I am asked if my vision is clearer through one lens or another.

They seemed happy with the answer. There were no signs of them tearing at their hair, snapping pencils or tapping their feet.

In fact they were remarkably patient and gentle with me. I had never known such consideration until I had that dreaded haemorrhage on the 30th. of October last year.

I then had to do various balance tests, performing various moves as if I were tight-rope walking with eyes open or closed.

Apparently I passed. Yay!

I told them that I practise tai-chi and kung fu on a daily basis and they said that that explained my successful balance in spite of my disability.

In fact, the vertigo consultant said, that he often told his patients to try taking up tai chi as a beneficial cure for many of these conditions.

I was then taken to another room for some hearing tests which involved wearing headphones and clicking a buzzer, quiz show like, when I heard sounds which varied in volume and frequency.

At first I was worried. I couldn’t hear anything.

Then he apologized and said that the computer was being slow in uploading the progamme.

When it did start, it really did feel like a quiz. The sounds kept coming fast and I felt an adrenalin flow pushing me on to success. I wanted to win, to get them all right, to be the best at hearing tests in the history of the hospital, to win that silver cup with my name engraved on the base.

It was a triumph. I won with honours and he told me I had exceptionally good hearing which sat on his graph as being the average for an 18 year old.

I was less sure then….how many 18 years old do you know who ever hear a word you say?

He then stuck some tubes into my ears and played some more sounds and vibrations which were recorded on a computer screen and showed that my ear drums were fine except for a slight congestion effecting some low tones and probably caused by catarrh.

So I felt good as I went back into the main consulting room and where I was told that I was indeed suffering from Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) and that it was almost always curable.

It is caused, so I am told, by small crystals of calcium being dislodged in the inner ear after some form of head trauma.

My neurologist had referred me to this clinic after she had diagnosed BPPV and after she had made a big improvement to my almost constant dizziness by pushing me a round on a consulting bed as a described here a few weeks ago.

Well this rough treatment started all over again. The two patient and, luckily, still gentle consultants got me to sit on a bed whilst they pushed me backwards and forwards, head raised or lowered in various positions, until I felt dizzier than Marilyn Munroe in Some Like It Hot.

All the time they were staring into my eyes looking for any changes until I felt like confessing to any crime they choose to throw at me. Yes I did it, I blew up the bank, I stole the money, anything but please stop torturing me.

So there it was. The treatment over, they helped me to my feet and led me, dizzier than ever, back to that wooden chair.

They expected my BPPV would now pass.They said that it is almost always caused by a blow to the head so even if hitting my head had not caused the haemorrhage then the haemorrhage almost certainly caused me to hit my head. I will never remember what happened that day.

Until the following morning, I was not allowed to look down or bend down, I had to sleep with a bank of pillows sitting me up and I should do nothing involving sudden movements.

They said that I did not need to do any other exercises because I was doing tai chi. The vertigo man said to prescribe exercises to me if I did tai chi, would be like prescribing a short walk to the shops if I was training as a marathon runner.

So I shook their hands and got told off for giving them a slight martial arts style bow – heading nodding was forbidden until the morning.

That night, I felt very frail, vulnerable and exhausted but excited to know that in the morning I should see the beginning of the end to all that dizziness.

Today, I have to move my head as much as possible and, more important than anything else, keep up my tai chi practise. Has the dizziness gone? Well, it is difficult to say.

If you out there think that martial arts are a cranky waste of time, think again.

Here is today’s poem, I wrote it earlier today whilst testing myself for dizziness:

Escaping

Sitting on a train looking at the moon, a Romantic pastime, no doubt.
Lying on the beach, timing the waves, feeling the sun, that too.
Counting the rhythms as the train moves on; throwing stones into the sea;
Pass the time, distract the mind.

Stand on the corner, watching, hands in pockets, chewing gum.
Kicking cans as you shimmy along, you, key scraping the railings,
A one-man minimalist revolt, heroism with a touch of rebellion.
Disturb the peace, break the silence.

iPod soundtracks make you a star,
Your movements, choreographed, fit with the beat.
Everyone loves you, looks at you, wants you.
Hurts you, dies for you, hates you.

Ignore shop front reflections and photographic recollections.
Select only those memories that fit the bill,
Spice them up, shift focus and set them free,
Then change the track and sigh.

No problem – any of that: the mood, the look, the stance.
Earphones off, lights on, bored faces turn briefly to you;
The arrival, the puncture, the end of the show.
Now what do you say or do?

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