James Vchulek doesn’t mince words when he talks about dealing with Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes of severe dizziness.
“Life was terrible.”
When vertigo suddenly struck, standing was impossible. James had to crawl on the floor to move around his house. For four long years, that’s where the retiree spent most of his time. He could no longer volunteer at his church or at a local pre-school, where he was one of the “grandpas” who helped repair broken toys and furniture. Life ceased being something to be enjoyed. It was to be endured.
The violent spinning had appeared out of the blue in 2011. James was eating at a restaurant when music began to play nearby; he got so dizzy he ended up in the hospital.
A doctor soon identified the culprit: Meniere’s disease, a balance disorder that affects roughly 600,000 people a year in the United States. Researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes the disorder. What they do know is that it affects the inner ear’s “vestibular” system, which helps us maintain our sense of balance.
James appreciated the doctor’s analysis, but his advice was less direct. “He told me to go live my life, that it would just clear up,” James said.
It didn’t. James was referred to Dr. Alan Langman, a neurotologist who treats disorders of the ear at the Northwest Hearing & Balance clinic. Dr. Langman prescribed pills and shots that would temporarily keep the episodes at bay, but the dizziness always returned even more fiercely than before.
Most people with Meniere’s can be treated with medicine, Dr. Langman explained. But in extreme cases such as James’, the only solution is surgery. James had a transmastoid labyrinthectomy, a procedure to remove the balance portion of the inner ear that takes about an hour.
Some people need days to recover in the hospital, Dr. Langman said. “You tell patients they’ll feel wobbly for a while and probably walk around like a drunk. James recovered overnight. I saw him in the morning and he said, ‘I feel great. Can I leave?’”
Although the procedure cost James his hearing in one ear, he says it was a fair tradeoff to cure his dizziness.
“What Dr. Langman did was remarkable,” he said. “I can’t say enough good stuff about him and his staff at Northwest Hospital. Everyone else told me there was no cure for Meniere’s disease. But he sure cured it.”
Now he’s slowly returning to the activities he loves most – namely, “goofing off” with Joy, his wife of 55 years. They love to eat out, visit with friends and admire the flowers near their home in Edmonds.
“When you’re dizzy constantly, you don’t see much of a future,” James said. “Now I have one.”
To learn more about Northwest Hearing & Balance, visit nwhospital.org/hearing.Facebook Share TwitterTweet