Two weeks ago I had a severe inner-ear episode, presumed to be an infection. One moment I was 100% healthy and then, ten minutes later, I was deaf in one ear, with severe vertigo. The word ‘vertigo’ doesn’t quite capture the horrific nausea and vomiting that ensued as my lunch guest drove me to immediate care, nor does it capture the six uncomfortable days that followed.
I’m doing much better now and I thought I’d share the recovery timeline:
Days 1-2: Rolling over in bed requires lifting my head slightly, which induces severe vertigo – it’s usually not worth it. I learned that head movements trigger vomiting, and vomiting triggers head movements – a vicious cycle that can only end badly.
Day 3: I crawled down the stairs and my wife drove me to an ear specialist. This was a terrifying trip. But it was worthwhile because we got prescriptions for prednisone (treats the condition) and Valium (treats the side effects of prednisone, and reduces nausea).
Day 4: I walked to the bathroom all by myself, like a boss, only leaning on the walls twice.
Days 5-6: I briefly got out of bed – intoxication staggering equivalent: three martinis. We got audiologist confirmation that my right ear has zero reception. Any response from my right year (at ~110 db) was actually from the vibrations traveling through my jaw to my left ear!
Day 7: I stayed out of bed all day like a big boy.
Day 8: I returned to work. A sadistic man stuck a syringe through my ear drum and injected prednisone. We visited a cruel physiotherapist who made me walk in a straight line while I turned my head. She then laughed at my drunken wobbling. My balance was terrible.
Day 9: I successfully unicycled – it really is no harder than walking.
Day 10: I still couldn’t turn my head while walking without lurching badly: intoxication staggering equivalent: one martini.
Day 11: I balanced on my tight wire, and could now one-foot idle my unicycle. I love measuring progress. My drunken wobbling when turning my head was downgraded from ‘hilarious’ to ‘mildly amusing’.
So that’s all good, right? I mean, I’m still deaf in one ear, but that might resolve itself, and if not then I get a hearing aid. But my own testing makes it pretty clear that my balance is not really ‘fixed’. My brain has just successfully taught itself that my right ear is not to be trusted, so it is relying strictly on visual and physical cues for balance. If I stand on one foot and close my eyes (try this at home, kids) I fall beyond the recovery point in half a second, maximum.
So, my dreams of becoming a professional closed-eye circus performer are dashed, and I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of the inner ear, and for how miserable it is to be ill. But otherwise, I feel good. The trajectory of the improvement has, oddly, left me positively giddy. Or, that might just be the Valium, in which case you should expect a grumpy rebuttal once it wears off.
Many things about this adventure could have been much worse (the timing was actually ideal) and I am madly grateful to my wife for caring for me during my days of helplessness.
This is my favorite picture because I think it captures the joy that comes from going from “can’t sit up” to “I think I’ll hang like a bat” in one week.
Also, mad props to my youngest child for editing this.
Since the incident in 2016 my body has almost completely adjusted to losing my right ear’s vestibular function. My eyes and other ear have taken over and I rarely notice any impairment. I still wobble occasionally, and my tight-wire skills aren’t quite what they used to be, but I can’t complain. I’ve even managed to learn quite a few new balance skills. Here are videos of a few of them:
- Kite boarding – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRwfZ1m1Inc
- Stacked rola bolas – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g_lJhhYINQ
- Hand stands – https://youtu.be/AgIiwQMbPg8
- Drift skates – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTqbRO1Jkmo and https://youtu.be/u_PrzlpAFjE
- Idling a Solo Wheel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvyFon2Q7aE