Wheee! It was off to the emergency room with meee!

Yesterday, I stood up from my chair and nearly fell over. Then I started to walk, and it was like the world was heaving and swaying all around me, and I nearly fell a couple more times as I walked down the hallway, clinging to furniture and walls to keep myself upright. Something was clearly wrong; was I having a stroke? A brain tumor? The aliens had used their mind control beams to take over, making me all herky jerky? I told my wife that it looked like a trip to the emergency room was in order, especially since all the spinning and heaving was making me acutely nauseous.

We got a lift from our neighbor, Ted — yeah, not even fear of my brain imminently exploding will motivate us to pay the bill for an ambulance pick-up — and made it to the emergency room to discover that Saturday, 16 February, is the day everyone has an accident and the waiting room was packed. Fortunately, presenting as an old man pale and sweating and swaying gets you bumped to the front of the line. Sorry, chainsaw accident! Sorry, broken bone! Sorry, ebola victim! Old dude privilege, coming through!

It may have been the fact that I looked like an imminent font of projectile vomiting, which I was, and they wanted to avoid the mess. As soon as they got me in an examining room, it all came up. I’d picked the wrong day to experiment with trying my hand at spätzle in the kitchen, because that stuff looks like a horror second time around.

Anyway, I got diagnosed: Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or BPPV. My inner ear is messed up. Apparently this is fairly common in us old people over the age of 60, and treatment is simple: I’m taking seasickness pills, which are already helping, and there are some easy physical therapies that can lead to the problem going away in a few days to weeks.

So right now, I’m just sitting quietly, no sudden moves, and the world is mostly motionless. I’ll try to avoid abruptly standing up or turning around to make you all suddenly jump up and get shaken around. Also, no spätzle.


  1. hemidactylus says

    I thought it unusual for you to go suddenly silent for a day like that and was concerned. Thankfully you are OK after what sounds like a very unpleasant experience with vertigo. The worst hangover ever without the excessive drinking the night before. Yipes!

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    One of the standard questions my doctor asks is “do I feel lightheaded or dizzy upon standing?” Could be your BPPV or some side effect of my meds she’s checking on.
    Good to hear you’re mostly OK.

  3. evodevo says

    Yeah … welcome to my world. Been having these for 15 years. Thank goodness for the Epley Maneuver!!

  4. says

    Thank goodness you’re mostly OK. Hoping for a speedy recovery.

    I’d picked the wrong day to experiment with trying my hand at spätzle in the kitchen, because that stuff looks like a horror second time around.

    That’s not something I needed to know. But if you want to press the point, I like making them with bear’s garlic in spring, so you could at least dial up the mess by puking green Spätzle (or as I like to call them, ogre boogers)

  5. leerudolph says

    The Wikipedia article on the Epley maneuver links to a fascinating article on the otolith organs of vertebrates. Don’t tell Behe about them, or he’ll incorporate them into his “irreducible complexity” routine. (For all I know, he already has; I make a point of not keep up with him.)

  6. robro says

    As I read the opening, I thought perhaps you had seen that Ann Coulter called Trump an “idiot” and that the the national emergency is “to scam the stupidest people in his base.”

    I’m also glad you’re OK with nothing more serious than BPPV.

  7. opposablethumbs says

    Glad to see you back, and hoping you feel OK (with ‘completely OK’ status to be restored as soon as practicably possible). Best wishes to both of you!

  8. says

    When my mother was about 80 she got that BPPV. About every 3 months I had to help her through the Epley to straighten her out, and it worked every time. (OK, once I had to do it twice.) It’s amazing (despite being such a logical solution).

    It’s also a great occasion to remind someone that they have rocks in their head, and even their rocks are confused. ;-)

  9. thinkyboy says

    I’m going to butt in here with some unsolicited medical information. I am an otolaryngologist.
    BPPV is a gravity-induced symptom that rarely lasts for longer than 3 to 5 seconds after positioning your head such that particulate matter in a semicircular canal tumbles downward creating drag in the inertial system of the inner ear. This is the only condition for which the Epley maneuver is effective.
    Persistent vertigo lasting long enough to cause nausea and vomiting is more likely a different illness — i.e., vestibular neuronitis. It is a viral reactivation syndrome attributed to type-1 HSV, the virus that can cause “cold sores” (aka “fever blisters”). Typically it has abrupt onset, often presenting at arising in the morning, becomes as severe as it is going to be during the first day, then resolves gradually in a fluctuating course (brief relapses common) until complete recovery. The cardinal symptom is head motion-intolerance. Notably, the Epley maneuver is not curative for this, and in fact just aggravates the condition.
    Sorry if this seems like trolling. I just want to help prevent some unnecessary aggravation for PZ.

  10. newfie says

    I had BPPV a couple of years ago and the Epley Maneuver cleared it up. But as thinkyboy said, it would only last a few seconds and I wouldn’t become nauseous. You may want to follow up with your doctor.

  11. says

    I have a friend with that; it sounds like it’s no fun. She had some surgery done that fixed it right up.

    Related but unrelated: apparently a “thing” is to sit in a chair and have someone spin you around until you get dizzy. Then, you stand up and walk around. Then you sit back in the chair with your head in a horizontal plane and do it again. Now, instead of feeling the world spinning around you, it’s spinning like you are flipping end over end. Fun! There are 3 different axes you can make yourself dizzy in! (This was discussed in the last edition of Adam Savage’s podcast. Apparently you really should have someone handy to catch you for the more complicated axes of dizziness)

  12. davidnangle says

    zoniedude, the loss of balance and nausea was just the sensation of limb loss… just tottering along on the last two legs.

  13. anxionnat says

    I’m glad you are doing better. A couple of years ago, I had the same symptoms, but didn’t go to the ER. By the time I got in to see an ENT doctor, the symptoms had gone away, not to return. At least yet. Be sure to follow up–the ENT doc I saw did about 4 hours of tests. I do have chronic ringing in my ears, and the doc was very concerned about that. With tests, you’ve got a baseline, if anything like this happens again. Best California vibes.

  14. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    I think I had BPPV for two weeks. For the most part, the nystagmus was a lazy drift. When I acclimated, balance was still lousy with eyes closed. IIRC, my perspective felt detached like I was watching my vision through a handheld camera. The room only spun fast enough once to threaten nausea. A deeply unpleasant couple minutes that was. Some amateur Semont Maneuvers cured it – or it ran its course.

  15. nomdeplume says

    If you are mobile then a neighbour’s car going just one way is probably quicker than an ambulance, which has to get to you then go back. Doesn’t apply if you think you need emergency treatment from the Ambulance medics to stabilise you before heading off.

    In terms of clearing Emergency triage quickly I found that being an old man and saying “chest pain” gets the door open quickly in a way that (on another occasion) having pneumonia didn’t…

    Anyway, good news PZ, a lot of us were worried with no posting yesterday. I hope you are fit, old age isn’t a time for the faint-hearted. A lot of poor design built into the aging human body!

  16. bachfiend says

    What a bummer. It’s even worse that I turned 64 on February 16 (and finally got to play Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ as if it was written for me) and to realise that I’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting it too.

  17. tacitus says

    When my mother was about 80 she got that BPPV. About every 3 months I had to help her through the Epley to straighten her out, and it worked every time. (OK, once I had to do it twice.) It’s amazing (despite being such a logical solution).

    It’s happened a couple of times to my mum since her 80s birthday, we think after she’d had a fall. It took a few weeks of Epley to work its magic the first time, but the second time it was instantaneous.

    When it works, its effect is so immediate it seems miraculous. To feel so bad one moment and the perfectly fine the next. It’s a wonder none of those fake faith-healers haven’t taken advantage–pretend to slay in the spirit while doing the Epley maneuver and get a real healing into the bargain…

  18. weylguy says

    Dr. Myers, sorry to hear about your problem, but hope it clears up. Believe me, it’s better than Meniere’s disease (my condition), which has the same symptoms but never goes away.

  19. nomenexrecto says

    Get better, PZ.
    Now that’s out of the way, let me confess to being shocked that you’d get charged for an ambulance pickup. Call 911 or whatever and be not fully in control of yourself – or someone reporting that you aren’t – and they’ll send you at least an ambulance, most likely an emergency doctor where I live. No charge, else people in serious conditions might be afraid to call for help and die…
    I’d thought that’s very basic first-world medical infrastructure…

  20. Gregory Greenwood says

    That sounds like it must have given you both a nasty scare, I’m glad to hear you are OK.

  21. davem says

    I’ve had BPPV since a car accident. At first it was just waking up in the morning, turning my head right, and falling back on the bed. A sneezing attack cured that… Now I get it when flying, and going negative G. It feel horrendous, as if I’ve had 30 pints of beer. The cure is to immediately turn my head right, or left, before the nausea, and it doesn’t happen. Try working out what combination of head movements causes it, and turn your head at 90 degrees to that.

  22. gaparker says

    Ah, PZ: Just last Wednesday February 13th I suddenly started having extreme abdominal pain at about 3:30 PM. Long story short, I drove myself to the local E.R. around 6:30 PM and my beloved wife eventually joined me there. It turned out to be my first and hopefully last kidney stone (I am 63 Y.O.). Once it made the painful journey from kidney to bladder, I excreted it by the next morning without further pain. I caught the stone with a hospital-supplied funnel-with-strainer device for further future analysis. Getting old sucks until you consider the alternative…

  23. says

    I saved my next-to-last kidney stone from being ground up for its auspices. Under magnification, it’s an intricate little composite, and I wouldn’t mind having it put into a small glass sphere for use as jewelry.

  24. Ed Seedhouse says

    @28: “I turned 64 on February 16 ”

    We share a birthday, but oh I wish I was 64 again. However if we count in decades I turned 7 and 1/2 on the 16th.

  25. hemidactylus says

    I was on a smallish ship a couple decades ago for a week helping with an ichthyological reef survey somewhere between the Caribbean and Gulf. Being acclimated to the oceanic feeling of constant toss and turn we returned to Key West for some barhopping with a world renowned sharkbite expert and other cooped up shipmates. The result was rebound landsickness coupled with a hangover. Took seasickness meds and slept most of the 8 hour return trip. At least I knew why my world was tilting back and forth. Landsickness is bad enough on its own. Wow it’s got one if them fancy names:


    Sorry to make your thing into my thing, but I can kinda empathize. The initial uncertainty before diagnosis must have been really frightening.

  26. manymistakes says

    Thank goodness for your trusted companion, furniture, walls, a helpful Ted and physicians.

  27. hemidactylus says

    I overstated my retrospective self-diagnosis for MdDS. My experience has been both years after being on that research cruise a couple days of slight rebound disequilibrium or prolonged land sickness. MdDS is more severe and prolonged.


    Glad I didn’t have that. I feel bad for those who do.

    Beer nystagmus is a thing we called “the spins”. A Cylon Centurion thing. BSG reference.


  28. hemidactylus says

    In interblog news I tried posting a critique of Sam Harris on Coyne’s blog yesterday. And strangely we get this:



    Tested as “Anothername” and some of my more cantankerous posts got selectively rejected:


    I don’t belong there. Posts as Hemidactylus are DOA. Message received. So much for frozen peaches and every thought is sacred, right? Hilarious. Hope PZ appreciates the irony. I don’t always quite fit here yet here I am still commenting. Who protects speech more then? This post won’t be awaiting moderation or disappear altogether. Sorry for the distraction, but the irony and humorous consequences are more than I can contain within my limited space. PZ isn’t the true controller or authoritarian. Hah!

    Get well soon!

  29. hemidactylus says

    Yeah. Coyne is totally hypocritical and full of shit as are his Sam Harris fawning fanbois. No surprise there.

  30. pigdowndog says

    @44 You’re right.
    ” pay the bill for an ambulance pick-up ”
    For such a modern forward thinking country that’s a sad statement to make.

  31. unclefrogy says

    well a few years ago I had to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital because I was in extreme pain it was either diverticulitis or kidney stones I have had both the pain was not going away and there was no way I could drive I could barely get off the couch. So I called 911 and they came a took me I survived and some time later I got a bill, which there was no way I could pay, the bill think it was just over 2 grand one trip.
    a taxi in many circumstances would be just as good as a hotel with good room service would be just a good as a hospital and probably cheaper.
    uncle frogy.

  32. says

    Congratulations on reaching the age where you can grow old disgracefully. You were lucky. My dizzy spell involved a swan dive down the stairs resulting in a partial hip replacement

  33. says

    @8 Giliell,
    Spätzle? What is this heathen north-of-the-border nonsense? Spätzli is, naturally, much superior and only occasionally contributes to projectile vomiting. ;)

  34. Onamission5 says

    I hope you recover quickly and thoroughly, PZ.

    Re: Ambulance costs:
    Many years ago, a friend’s pre-teen stepped on a fork he’d left on the floor when eating his after school snack. Unable to immediately get ahold of his mother at work, he did the next best thing to calling Mom for a panicked 12 year old with a fork stuck in his foot. He called 911. The paramedics arrived in short order, pulled the fork out of his foot, gave him a tetanus shot, applied antiseptic and slapped on a bandage. His mom, unable to contact her son after receiving a distressing message, flew home from work as fast as could be to find an ambulance pulling away with lights off, leaving behind a chagrined 12 year old, his flabbergasted mother, and a bill for about $800 USD.

    My friend had insurance but I don’t recall how much if anything it covered. Deductibles for lower income people on private coverage tend to be quite high.

  35. avalus says

    It’s sad to read that the cost of calling an ambulance is not covered by society but falls back to the individual.
    I thought Shadowrun was describing our dystopian future.

    I hope you get better soon. And don’t miss out on Spätzle!

  36. drst says

    Ugh. I had vertigo for a while when I was younger and it sucked. I hope you feel better soon.

    I’ve driven myself to the ER three times, including the night I feared I was having a heart attack and the night last summer when I thought I might have appendicitis, because ambulances are so expensive. I’m sure you’ll all happy to know people who might be having heart attacks are driving themselves around because it costs too much to call emergency services. This country is so effed up.

  37. Bad Bart says

    I’ve been dealing with BPPV off-and-on since my 40’s. Be careful, especially in the days following a particularly bad episode. On the day after my worst episode, I biked to work OK, then had an “aftershock” on the way home. It felt like I was knocked off my bike–after that I used more care for a few days.

  38. bryanfeir says

    My grandmother had Meniere’s after her stroke. It was definitely not fun. (And my grandmother was a farm girl who had never really taken well to being unable to move much. While this helped after the stroke because she went above and beyond the requirements for physical rehab, it meant she was a really lousy patient to be cooped up with.)