top of page

On the Way to the Earthquake

March 2018

Do you know what direction your world turns? Do you know how to stop it from running around you in a blur of color? Here’s how to stop that feeling.

After a year of writing about how we can get ready for an earthquake, I created my own personal earthquake a year and a half ago, and now I am recovered. I created a perfect earthquake by ignoring stuff in order to do something I love.

Don’t do this at your house!

My son and daughter-in-law know me well, and asked me to help as they constructed a new yard in what once was a swamp in Northeast Portland. I dig this kind of day, so with plans, pruners and shovels in hand, I went off (well before the election) to drain the swamp.

Mistake number one: Working alongside my son as he used a noisy machine to dig the planned trench for irrigation and lighting.

Framing the deck with the supervision of Rowlf, the hound.
The ugly early stages of renovation. Puppy likes dirt best. Photo, Rae Richen

Second big mistake: Bending over frequently to toss aside the thousand rocks that he might run into with that machine.

Mistake three: Enjoying dirt and company so much I ignored early warning signs that my head was not working right.

By day’s end, I was in the hospital with the worst case of vertigo anyone should ever endure. Friends, don’t ignore symptoms. Take care of yourselves.

I know the world turns, but for the next several days, it whirled. If I were an abstract painter, I’d show you a picture of many shades of blues, greens and yellows all swirling and converging from left to right. The accompanying photo is a hint, but not fast enough and not enough colors. Still, close to the feeling.

After a few days, I still lay flat, and all else still seemed to be in constant motion. I had plenty of time to wonder if right-handed vertiginous people endure a world that moves right to left. As a left-hander, mine always moved left to right. What does your vertigo show you?

I also had enough time to wonder why I rarely saw purple or red in this world.

None of the doctors I asked these questions had ever made a study of the vertigo world and its visual effects. They were too busy trying to get my world to slow down. I appreciate them very much. However, my curiosity about these effects remains. I just can’t figure a way to create a study without enduring again.

If you have any data on the vertigo world, please let me know what it looked like to you. And if you have data on vertigo to share, please do share here. I’m sorry for what you have gone through. May it never happen to either of us again.

And may you find the people I have found who helped me recover. Thank goodness for Kaiser Permanente. From the doctors to the physical therapists, they stuck with me for the many months it took to be able to play in my own garden again. (And no, the Epley maneuver wasn’t the cure. We worked it a lot. Often, I understand, it is the cure, so try it if needed.)

The cure was to get my ears and eyes to work together more closely. It turns out that if I turned my head toward a sound, my eyes were way behind in making the turn. My eyes could follow fingers, but not as quickly as my head turned.

Exercises for focusing on a point while turning my head from side to side began the cure. That was followed by focusing on a point in a confusing pattern of black and white tile while turning my head.

a pattern of rectangles, not squares. Black and white with a letter in the middle white square to focus upon.
Focus on the R in the middle while walking. Now do the same while moving your head back and forth. Now... you get the idea.

I still have that black and white pattern hanging in my hall so I continue to use it. Sometimes I do my exercises instead of washing the dishes (ever heard of a better excuse?)  The next part of the cure was to focus while walking and turning my head (no banging into walls). If you have access to a tread mill, that would be next.

It amazed me, how, after months of dizziness, this one series of graduated exercises made me human again.

Meanwhile, my son and daughter-in-law have created a wonderful garden, mostly free of swampy effects. Here’s the ugly early process. More on the final product another time. Woody, my husband, became their electrical and plumbing guy, but I had to  watch from the sidelines.

And all my kids are good enough to take me shopping for plants with them, and then they plant where I point from a lawn chair. The family is a major part of the recovery process.

A white and pink rose in the garden.
I can enjoy the garden again. Thank you doctors, physical therapists and family. Photo Rae Richen

So, I’m back to writing. I can see the keyboard and the screen again, and am getting a next suspenseful novel ready to go. And now that I can do that, I hope also to share writing adventures and non-fiction adventures with you all again.

Stay tuned. Stay upright and stay well.


bottom of page