After some mix ups and delays, I finally got to see a vestibular physical therapist on May 7.  By that point, I’d had vertigo almost daily for three months.  I had cried in the otoneurologist’s office the week before because I felt so nauseous (plus I had nearly fallen in the parking lot on my way in).  I saw my PT four times in 11 days, and while the CRP did relieve my symptoms, it was only temporary.  For the first eight days the vertigo always came back a few hours later or the next morning.  But on the ninth day, the CRP I was doing at home began to stick.  At my appointment on the 17th, my PT gave me her blessing for my vacation trip (warning me to avoid tipping my head back while star gazing), and we made plans to start balance retraining exercises when I returned.

My wife and I traveled to Utah to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and we hiked every day for eight days.  It was beautiful!  Unfortunately, on the fourth day I apparently converted myself to horizontal canal BPPV (HC BPPV).  While on a ranger-led hike, we had the opportunity to shimmy through a narrow opening in the rock.  I wasn’t going to pass that up!

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Yep, that’s me

As best I can figure, this is what created the problem.  I probably looked up at the canyon around us, then looked down as I stepped up on the ledge, then I went face down and horizontal into the slot, turned my head left to look at the camera then right to go out the other side, stood up, then turned and looked slightly downward as my wife wriggled through behind me.  This was some sort of perfect storm as far as my otoconia were concerned.

As we continued to hike, I noticed that I was double checking before stepping down.  I wasn’t aware of feeling unsteady, yet my body was definitely forcing me to be cautious.  At the end of the hike, the ranger gave an inspiring homily and invited us to lean back and stare up at the blue sky in silence.  It was a wonderful moment…and I couldn’t do it.  Tilting my head back was verboten, plus I was beginning to realize that my equilibrium was off.  I sat quietly with my eyes closed.

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Fiery Furnace section of Arches National Park

For the rest of the trip, I was horribly off kilter in the mornings.  I had visual disturbances that caused me to squint intensely at the ground while walking — and even then, I weaved drunkenly.  I used my hiking poles to get through a short hike or walk each morning, and gradually I became more steady over the course of the day.  It was a revelation to see how helpful it was to have two additional points of contact with ground.  With the poles I didn’t have to rely on visual input to keep my balance, which was good since my eyes were definitely providing suspect data.  At times I focused on the soles of my feet as I hiked, and that reinforced my confidence and allowed my stomach to unclench for a few moments.

Still, I gradually felt worse.  On the last two days of our vacation, I had to hold on to my wife to get around in the mornings.  I think I cried five times in three days — the emotions would just overwhelm me because I felt so nauseous.  I cried with grief and disappointment, because I was almost well before I went on vacation.  I cried with regret, because I seem to have done this to myself by crawling through the rock.  And I cried with fear, because this might be my new normal.

When I felt at my worst, I would lie in bed at night and mentally revisit our hikes.  I distanced myself from my sadness and nausea by visualizing each arch and overlook, challenging myself to remember every detail.  I would think, hiking poles made it so much easier.  I would think, I guess we should focus on hiking trips from now on.  I would think, I guess that isn’t so bad.

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