Category: DIY

Ceiling fan

Recently I purchased a ceiling fan for our home. Installation was not difficult (I’ve installed fans before), and although I considered using my belay glasses to avoid tilting my head, I decided against it, figuring I would be OK. My spouse helped me, and that decreased the amount of time I was peering overhead. Success! I did not feel dizzy or experience nystagmus.

A few hours later, I was planting a container garden on our deck. Twice I stood up after working on a planter and then lurched to the right. I didn’t feel like I lost my balance–just misstepped or something–but after the second lurch, my spouse asked if I was OK. I realized that looking up at the ceiling during the fan installation had indeed rearranged some otoconia in my inner ear, and looking down at the planters and then standing and looking forward was enough to throw off my vestibular system. Those two instances were the only problems that I noticed.


Notable progress

I recently installed an eight-foot vertical cellular shade over my siding glass door. First I removed the old shade, and I definitely felt nauseous as I unscrewed the brackets. That made the job a bit unpleasant. I had to wait for my cordless drill to charge, so I finished up the next day. I did not feel nauseous when I installed the new brackets.

Then I spent the better part of an hour down on the floor loading the monstrous shade into the rail. The strings were tight, and it required some fancy handy work with a pliers to complete the final step. I was able to avoid turning my right ear down for the entire job until I reached that last part. I tried to figure out if I could use my belay glasses, but there really was no other way. So I laid my ear right down on the floor so I could see up inside the rail. A few more twists and turns, and I was ready to hang the shade.

Which I did.

So let’s recap. I triggered the vertigo when I looked up to remove the brackets. The next day I looked up to install new brackets, then put my right ear down, then looked up to hang the shade. And I had no vertigo or related problems that day or the next! This is notable progress indeed.

Roof rake

I recently had cause to borrow a roof rake from a neighbor. If you don’t live in an area that gets snow, you may not know that having snow piled up on your roof (especially a flat or shallowly angled roof) can lead to water leaks inside your home. So anyway, I have a structurally unsound front porch, and I needed to get the snow off of the porch roof because I want the porch to stay attached to the house until we can repair it in the summer.

Here’s a photo of a roof rake in action:

man using roof rake to scrape snow off roof

With thanks to Northern Tool & Equipment (Item #150854)

I will say that this fellow makes the job look deceptively easy — his roof is low and he is able to get relatively close to the building. Not so in my case. Suffice to say that I was standing about 10 feet from my porch and swinging an enormous pole (20 feet long perhaps) up onto the porch roof and using my full body weight to pull down snow. It was surprisingly exhausting, and after an hour of work my arms felt wasted. After I got inside, I told my wife that I felt like I had just run a triathlon! (I was unusually dehydrated, so that was a contributing factor.)

I worked on the roof from various angles, and there were times that I was able to stand closer and look up to carefully position the rake or knock down some icicles. I could tell that my inner ears were disturbed by this. I felt a bit unsteady and did OK in my normal activities, but I had more vertigo when I lay down in bed the following two nights. Four nights later I was strangely nauseated in bed. All in all, I’m very pleased — there really is no substitute for roof raking, so I’m not sure what I would have done if looking up had incapacitated me!


Good news, bad news. So I announced to the world that I am doing a triathlon, and guess what? I triggered the vertigo! I have not had major problems since March, and NOW, weeks before my triathlon, I managed to trigger it.

Two nights ago I looked up to open the shade on the skylight. I have been able to look up lately, especially if I keep it brief. I had closed the shade against the summer sun a few months ago and didn’t have any trouble. (Maybe I wore my belay glasses then?) Anyway, my wife questioned the wisdom of what I was doing, so I hopped down and let her do it. I felt only a little off and went to bed with no worries.

Yesterday morning I woke up nauseous and unsteady, unsteadier than I’ve been for months. I was supposed to do a bike-run brick with my training buddy, so I tested myself by walking down to the corner and back. I was wobbly enough for me to know I had to stay home. There was no way I would be safe on the bike.

The good news is that today I feel almost back to my “normal.” I did a bike-run brick on my own, and although I was slower on the bike due to residual unsteadiness, I got it done.

I love the fact that my vertigo flares don’t last more than a day or two now. That is very manageable. Hopefully I can keep in the clear until race day!

Old guys

While walking to my office this week, I noticed an older gentleman ahead of me in the long corridor. His steps were short, and one of his hips seemed to have a hitch in it. He carried two identical canes in his left hand as he made slow but steady progress down the hall. What drew my attention was the fact that he was keeping his bent forearm in constant contact with the wall. Suddenly his torso weaved and he came to an abrupt halt. After a beat, he kept going. A few seconds later, it happened again. “This guy has vertigo!” I thought. Sure enough, at the corner he stopped, executed a slow turn, and paused before continuing on his way, elbow dragging along the wall.

We had a short conversation in which he acknowledged that vertigo was one of his problems. When I noted the two unused canes, he said, “Oh, I don’t need these!” and defiantly took several steps to demonstrate “I can walk!” (with his elbow on the wall! ). Employees then interrupted us with a caravan of large, wheeled carts, and I took my leave. I didn’t pry into his medical issues, but I do wish I had chatted for longer.

Recently I talked to my dad about my symptoms. When I complained that I sometimes have to come to a complete stop at street corners in order to check for traffic, he was unimpressed. “I do that.” he said. “When I leave the gym and walk into the parking lot, I always stop and check for cars.” “Yeah, but you’re, like, 80 years old, Dad!” I struggled not to offend while explaining that a person of my age can typically stay in motion while looking over their shoulder, whereas it wouldn’t be uncommon for someone of my dad’s vintage to have age-related disequilibrium due to a lifetime of wear and tear.

That said, my dad did something a couple of years ago that sure looked like the result of vertigo. We had a long conversation about the difference between light headedness and dizziness, and in the end he insisted that he didn’t have symptoms of vertigo. I sent him an article about it and let it drop. But during this last visit, he got on the subject of “changes I’ve made now that I’m older,” and he was describing the way he goes about changing a light bulb. As he mimed climbing up the ladder, placing his hand on the ceiling, and then slowly raising his gaze, I thought, “That IS vertigo!” So I asked him, “What happens if you don’t put your hand on the ceiling, and you just move your head at a normal speed?” His immediate answer was: “My legs feel wobbly.” Methinks the sequence of up and down head movements that are required when setting up a ladder and climbing it are shaking up the otoconia in my dad’s ears!

Old guys. 🙂

Smoke detectors

Cartoon man testing smoke detectorWith Daylight Savings ending, checking the batteries in our smoke detectors ended up on my Honey-Do list.  “You just have to look up and check them,” my wife explained.  Riiiight, I said.  This is me we’re talking about. There is no “just look up at the ceiling” for me.

Belay specs to the rescue! The prism glasses are designed for rock climbing, but they were perfect for working on smoke detectors.  I stood on a step stool and found I could read “open – close” and “press to test” without tilting my head back. After a few moments of coordinating my brain and hands with what my eyes were seeing, I was able to open each smoke detector and replace the 9v battery. Success!


My vestibular physical therapist warned me not to put my head in THAT position during yoga class, and in fact I am being a superb patient by not even attempting a yoga class until September.  But I didn’t realize how often that head position comes up in home maintenance.  Let us count the ways, shall we?

I’ve triggered several days of vertigo by doing DIY projects around the house. The first was organizing things under the bed. Getting it up on risers and packing new under-bed boxes was easy. It was laying my head down near the ground to see underneath and move the boxes into place that messed up my equilibrium.

Girl looking under her bed

Photo by Liz Banfield

I self-treated and was pretty well recovered the next day (when I did my brick workout), but then I worked on reversing the bifold door on our laundry closet. This involved looking up, and yes, tilting my head so that I could mess around with the metal track at the top of the jamb. I realized what I was doing the first night, and I stopped right away. (I had to charge my cordless drill, anyway.) I self-treated before bed even though my DHP were negative.

By the next night my drill was charged, and I worked on the laundry door again. I tilted my head, I did. Everything was fine until I bent over to fish in my caddy for a screw. Ah, vertigo. It lingered and made me unsteady, so I self-treated with the Epley’s and waited 15 minutes before having my wife help me hang the door. I was still unsteady and nauseous. This made her anxious and sad, and her emotions manifested as anger at the difficulties we had positioning the door. We got the door in place without biting each other’s head off. (As expected, it doesn’t quite close over our oversized washer and dryer, but it stays shut and will keep the cat out.)  I am still woozy and am about to self-treat again.

I guess my other recent projects didn’t help the situation — I installed a rigid dryer vent in the attic and inspected the support beams under our staircase.  It was so exciting to even be able to do those things that I didn’t realize I was was tempting fate. Crap.