Welcome to Life with Vertigo
Hello. My name is Alyssa Silva, and on Jan. 7, I failed my vertigo test. Again. For the sixth or seventh time.
Here’s a little useless fact about me: I’m a terrible test taker. In college, my final grades were saved by papers and projects because I always faltered on my exams. They were never the best reflection of who I was as a student, nor the amount of time I dedicated to my work.
In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have expected anything less in the doctor’s office that day. After all, the bottom line was I have vertigo. And while it comes and goes, I was experiencing a bigger bout of it when I went for my test. Just as they say history repeats itself, so do the failures of my test-taking abilities, apparently.
Like in college, testing for vertigo is a unique experience because of my unique limitations. Fortunately, I’m small and practically weightless, so my mother is able to assist me. And while gaining weight is a perpetual uphill battle, I refuse to stop climbing. Being tiny has its perks. My friends, family, and caregivers are able to transfer me easily, I don’t require a lift, and I basically get to do acrobats in the otolaryngologist’s office every few months.
Although testing poses challenges due to my physical inabilities, it goes something like this: My mother scoops me out of my wheelchair and sits me upright on her lap. Heavy, ski-like goggles are placed over my eyes, and my neck muscles can barely hold my large head up. The doctor turns off the overhead lights, and the only light in the room glows from the television screen that’s about to record my eye movement. From there, the doctor places a camera onto the goggles, and in my pitch-black darkness and state of dizziness, I have to focus on keeping my eyes open, not blinking, and staring straight ahead.
With everything set in place, it’s time for me to take my test. The maneuvers are difficult for just one person (my mother) to do, so the doctor assists and usually recruits a third person to be on standby. Fortunately, my mother is freakishly strong and can handle the majority of the physical work on her own. Maneuvers such as quickly tipping me upside down so my head is facing the floor, to rotating my body essentially off her lap while I hang head first and then quickly bringing me to a seated position, are all part of my acrobatic show.
As I become dizzy with these maneuvers, my doctor intently observes my eye movements for certain patterns that reveal more specific cases of vertigo. While these exams last about five minutes, the lingering effects are usually with me for up to 48 hours.
Not to get too technical with my diagnosis (because, truthfully, it all seems like pretty complicated terminology to me), but the failure of my test confirms I still have benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). The root cause is unknown. Genetics (my mother and maternal grandmother suffer from vertigo), positioning due to my scoliosis, a mild concussion from over a year ago, and even my BiPAP machine can all play a role. There is no concrete cure for BPPV other than to do the maneuvers as directed and hope the crystals in your ears will eventually settle.
Despite not being an expert at taking exams, I did still manage to pass my college courses. So, maybe someday I’ll pass my vertigo test, too? Regardless of the answer, I’m sticking to this logic every time the room starts to spin.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.