Tuesday, July 26, 2016


The last time I had an attack of vertigo, it was a few years ago, and I was in my buddy Mike's house. I don't think Mike or the rest of his family even noticed that I was spacing out; I tried to maintain a stoic mien. Tonight, for the first time in years, it happened again—not once, but several times, and truth be told, my head is still spinning a bit even as I type this.

This evening, I was standing in the subway, on my way to Itaewon to buy some ingredients for the Middle Eastern chicken that I'll be making again and serving at the office on Thursday. I was busy rereading A Song of Ice and Fire on my cell phone (I'm currently halfway through the series, according to my Kindle) when the world began to tilt, and my mind started to unmoor itself. It was a weird-but-familiar feeling, given that I'd experienced the same phenomenon back in Virginia. This time around, however, the vertigo was accompanied by a wee bit of nausea—nothing I couldn't manage, but I did start thinking wild thoughts along the the lines of Do I have a brain tumor? I performed neuro checks on myself, flexing my fingers individually and in tandem; closing one eye, then the other; shifting my weight from foot to foot; shuffling my feet to make sure I still had some level of coordination. If this was a brain tumor, it wasn't depriving me of any functionality.

It goes without saying that, with vertigo in the picture, balance goes partly or wholly out the window. I had a couple wild moments during which I wondered whether I would keel over and slam meatily into the floor. That didn't happen; the world spun, but I kept my grip on the subway's cold metal railing and rode through each wave of dizziness as it hit. My next worry was whether I'd be able to walk upright and in a straight line once I left the subway. I did somehow manage not to make a spectacle of myself, but I also walked much more slowly and carefully than usual. I was dizzy as I headed down Itaewon's main street (and I'm dizzy again now, as I'm typing these words), but I made it to High Street Market, found everything I needed to buy, and managed to get to a cab. I closed my eyes for much of the ride back.

So instead of prepping my Middle Eastern chicken tonight, I think I'm going to call it a day, slip into bed, try to read A Song of Ice and Fire, and hope that a few hours' sleep will be enough to get rid of the last traces of vertigo by morning. This is more annoying than anything, especially when the cause isn't obvious. I've never suffered from motion sickness; I used to read in moving cars all the time, so I'm not quite ready to say that reading on the subway was what triggered the vertigo. And when I had the attack at Mike's house, I was talking with Mike and his family while seated; I wasn't reading anything.

A mystery. One I hope I won't have to solve.

MORNING UPDATE: All better. No symptoms at all. For now. And on top of that, I now have, thanks to commenters, several theories I can bring to the doc when I see him next week.

From Henry: a drop in blood pressure.
From John Williamson: Ménière's Disease.
From Bill Keezer (via email): "...a middle-ear infection, it could be the onset of a neurological disease that does not show up on the usual stroke/tumor quick tests. It could also be a problem with the otoliths in your middle ear."

We'll see what the doc comes up with.

Oh, before I forget: it got bad last night, right before I flopped into bed. I did discover, however, that shutting one eye greatly lessened the whirling effect. I gather that binocular vision makes it worse. Walking very slowly also kept me from doing something silly like stubbing a toe or overshooting a handhold.


TheBigHenry said...


It might be useful to check your blood pressure. A sudden drop in pressure could trigger such a reaction I think.

Best, Henry

John said...

Welcome to the club. I have suffered from Meniere's disease for about three years. I get "dizzy spells" about once a month. They can happen anywhere any time. I recently had a grommet implanted in my effected ear and that has helped quite a bit. It is a real pain in the arse but one can live with it.

Kevin Kim said...


Interesting observation. I'll be sure to offer it as a hypothesis when I see the doc next week.


Ah, but did you get a WALLACE implanted in your other ear?

Charles said...

Have you been captured and interrogated by superhumans recently? Because one of the side effects of Ceti eels is vertigo. You also might not remember this happening to you. Make sure you get the doctor to check your ear for parasitic brain worms.

Kevin Kim said...


Khan: "You see, their young enter through the ears and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex. This has the effect of rendering the victim extremely susceptible to, ah, suggestion. Later, as they... grow... follows madness. And death."

I never got how you "wrap around" the cerebral cortex, which is an entire layer of the human brain. Maybe Khan meant "commissures."

TheBigHenry said...


If your doctor corroborates a blood-pressure drop connection, be sure to ask whether a cup of coffee (which works for me) or some other caffeine-laden drink could be an antidote. Also, I recommend buying an electronic blood pressure kit for home use. They are cheap and available at most drug stores.

Kevin Kim said...


re: doc and caffeine

Will do.

re: BP monitor

Hard to find one that'll fit around my meaty arm here in Korea, despite the fact that more and more people are my size these days. I may have to order from Amazon or something. All the same, I'll check. There are medical-supply (euiryogi, medical devices/equipment) stores all over the place in Seoul.

Kevin Kim said...

Kiwi John,

So I got paranoid and looked up Ménière's Disease, which is apparently progressive and has no cure. I'm sorry to hear the news, man. My own symptoms don't seem to line up, however: Ménière's also involves, along with vertigo, (1) tinnitus, (2) temporary hearing loss, and (3) a feeling of fullness in the ear. I didn't experience any of those things.

At least... I think I didn't.

(cue evil cackling)

Charles said...

In all seriousness, I wonder if you had a bout of very mild vestibular neuritis. This happened to me once and lasted for a few weeks (although the worst of the symptoms only lasted a few days). I don't know if it's possible to have a single-day case of it, though. Usually it lasts a lot longer than that.

Anyway, having vestibular neuritis sucked immensely. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Kevin Kim said...


I'll put VN on the list of things to ask the doc about. What weirds me out is how the vertigo came back with a vengeance after a few years' absence. The first time around, in Virginia, it was utterly random. This time around, it seemed like a flareup that built upon that first time.

Still no symptoms today, luckily.

BTW, I read your trip writeup at Liminality. You've planned well, and if you're doing 150 km in about 10 days, then I'd say averaging 15 km/day might even save you the need to bring along a lot of water: even as much as I sweat, I can't imagine getting thirsty when each leg of the hike is bite-sized. Walking at a rate of 5 km/h (unless it's super-hilly/mountainous, in which case it'll be 3-4 km/h) means about 3 hours' hike per day, and I'm betting you and HJ naturally walk faster than I do. Happy trails!

Charles said...

Well, some of the days are longer, some of the days are shorter, in terms of walks. But thankfully the terrain is not hilly or mountainous. We are planning on a rate of slightly less than 5 kph, simply because we plan on stopping and smelling the roses along the way (and I'm not lugging along that heavy camera for nothing!).

Back to packing. See you on the other side of this, and good luck with figuring out the vertigo!