Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Vertigo

I know, I know. It's been one month since I last wrote a post and considering that September was the month of the WCOOP it's rather strange that I gave you guys no news. But I have a good excuse this time.

It all started around three weeks ago, on September 12th. The WCOOP had been going awesome until that point, much better than I could have hoped for. I wouldn't be playing until the end of the WCOOP because I had a trip planned to Greece on the 13th, but I was very satisfied with my progress that far.

I woke up that Wednesday having everything planned. I had to run some errands and make some final preparations before my trip, write a blog post about my progress at the WCOOP and then I'd be ready to leave the next day! Greece, here I come!

Lisbon view from above!

However, sometimes things go in a different way than what we had planned. As soon as I got my feet on the floor to get off the bed, I realized that the whole room around me was spinning. I don't know if you guys have ever experienced vertigo, but for me that was definitely a first. Unlike what some people think, vertigo is not the same as being dizzy. Dizziness is something very common and I'm pretty sure all of us know what it feels like. My best description would be the feeling you have after being on a merry-go-round. You feel a bit disoriented, but that's it and it goes away fast. Vertigo has nothing to do with that. Later on I found out that there are different kinds of vertigo, but the one I was experiencing was the one where you feel like your body is perfectly still and everything else is moving fast around you. You try to look straight ahead and focus on something but it's impossible. Naturally, you lose your balance and walking or standing suddenly gets hard.

To help stop the vertigo I closed my eyes (they could not focus on a single object anyway), and then put both of my hands over them. Complete darkness seemed to be making things better and after some seconds the vertigo went away. Unfortunately, my adventures were far from being over. Simple things like going to the kitchen or sitting on a chair would trigger a vertigo. André, who woke up the same time as me told me to just lay down until I felt a bit better. Even that was no easy task, because when I switched from one side to the other, the whole room came spinning after me. André has had some similar issues in the past (only a couple of times though), and it always seemed to go away after a day. I cancelled everything I had to do that day and decided that I'd stay in bed in order to get better.

The next day I woke up really early. André was still asleep. Momentarily, and since I wasn't fully awake, I forgot about my condition and tried to get out of bed. Vertigo again. When I realized that it was the second day that was happening and there was no improvement whatsoever, I started panicking. I slowly got out of bed and went to the guest room. I found some books to keep myself busy, laid on the sofa being perfectly still and waited for André to wake up. When I heard him going to the kitchen, I stood up to go meet him but I lost my balance and had to hold on to the wall to not fall on the floor. I remember that moment very vividly and I was very very scared cause I had no idea what was wrong with me.

André took me to the nearest hospital. There after seeing a general doctor, I was sent to an otolaryngologist (ENT for short). He barely examined me and then decided that the problem was with my inner ear, which is the part of our bodies that controls balance and hearing. He said it was nothing to worry about and it's not anything serious (as in life-threatening), it only has impact on the everyday life of the person. What was that supposed to mean? That I would have to put up with vertigo forever? Apart from all the rest, I was worried about getting on a plane. What if it triggered the vertigo and I had no control over it since it wouldn't be up to me to stay still? The doctor assured me that there was no problem and gave me two pills to take before going on board. He also gave me another set of pills to control the vertigo, that I was supposed to take every 8 hours during my entire stay in Greece. And last, but not least, he gave me a list of exams that I was supposed to do immediately after coming back.

Needless to say, I left the hospital feeling more confused than when I went in. I took all the pills like I was told to, and eventually I got on the plane even though I was scared sh**less of what might happen. Fortunately all went well and I arrived in Athens without any more episodes. By that time, I was more familiar with my condition so I was moving more slowly and avoiding any abrupt moves of the head that could cause vertigo.

I was supposed to stay in Athens for little over a week. More than half of that time I spent visiting doctors, doing medical exams or staying in my house cause I couldn't really go out. Apart from the vertigo that was very persistent and still there a week after it first appeared, my psychology was, uum, let's just say not great.

If there's one thing I can't complain about, that's lack of medication.

To cut a long story short, the ENT (the new one I visited in Greece), the ophthalmologist, the orthopedist, and all my exams were pointing to the same direction: my problem was my neck! What caused it? The simplest thing you can imagine: bad position when sitting on a chair for many hours. Basically, if your spine is not at the optimal position for a long time, things start going bad. What happened to me specifically was that the muscles located at the back of my neck and my upper back started being sore and developed an inflammation. Somewhere among all that, the blood vessels could not transfer blood to the brain the same way they do under normal conditions, so my inner ear was not getting enough oxygen, started malfunctioning and caused the vertigo. At least that's the explanation that doctors gave me. 

My medication got changed to muscle relaxants and I slowly (but steadily) started improving. The orthopedist also gave me stretching exercises that I need to do 1-2 minutes per day or when I sit in front of a computer and feel like I need to move. I extended my stay in Greece for one more week. I had barely spent any quality time with my family and I was not going to get back to work if I went back to Portugal anyway. The follow-up visit to my ENT went well and when I finally got that plane to come back last Saturday I was almost completely cured. I think Sunday was my first day without a vertigo episode. Overall, it lasted 2,5 weeks. Now I'm feeling great. I only get slightly dizzy when I tilt my head back, but I'm pretty sure that will also go away until the end of the week. My doctor said that I can go back to doing physical exercise after October 10th, so things are finally going back to normal.

What is most interesting about this story is that I never felt any pain. My neck and muscles (that were the source of the problem) felt completely normal and did not hurt at all. I had no headaches of any kind, no dizziness, nothing that would indicate that something was wrong. I went to bed feeling perfectly fine on one day and woke up a mess on the next. I never saw it coming.

This experience was a wake up call. Working hard is fine as long as it does not endanger our health. I know for a fact that lately I have been working so much on improving at poker, that 8-10 hours in front of the computer seemed like a natural thing to me. It's not. I had to learn the hard way that even if your brain is resting when you stop opening tables and go to facebook or send some mails, your body is not. And now it's time for changes.

The first thing to change is my chair. The one I was using was not cheap and André got into a lot of trouble to get it for me. I had been using it at my previous job that involved a lot of typing and found it comfortable. Turns out, if you are playing poker and mostly use the mouse you tend to get a more relaxed position on the chair and the one I had is simply not good for that. After all that happened, I'm never going to place my butt on that chair again. I'm currently trying out one of André's old chairs, but I'm also on the hunt for a new one. If you have any suggestions, I'll be very happy to hear them.

As you can see, we take chair-testing very seriously... Let me introduce you from left to right: Chair I'm currently testing, chair that caused the vertigo, ok-ish chair, André's current chair.


Secondly, I need to change my schedule. According to the doctors, more than one or two consecutive hours in front of the computer is not acceptable. End of story. There's no excuse for anyone, not MTT players who get a 5 minute break every hour, let alone for SNG grinders who can stop opening tables whenever they feel like it. The ideal thing is to have 2-hour sessions with 30 minutes break in between. Half an hour may sound like a lot to some of you, but considering what happened, I'd rather be generous with time for my breaks. Also, I need to include exercise in my life. Last year, I was going to the gym. Guess what, I hate the gym. I find it extremely boring, which is why I ended up not going most of the time. I cancelled my subscription last month. Last Easter I found a nice dancing school to which I registered, but with poker and all I never really had time to go even though it's something I enjoy doing. When you spend 8-10 hours playing poker, you don't really have the strength to go dancing on top of it, right? Well, I obviously need a change of attitude. André made a schedule for me where I work 6 hours per day and then have time for some physical activity. That sounds nice, but the catch is that I work 6 days per week and only get 1 free day. I'm trying to figure out a way to change that, so that I have 2 free days like most people do, while including physical exercise in my everyday routine. Once I have it figured out, I'll make a post about it.

And lastly, I will start including massages in my weekly schedule. If you think the same way I was a month ago, you probably find this a luxury. I assure you it's not. I had a massage yesterday and unlike what you might imagine, there was little relaxing and a lot of shouting involved. Today though, I woke up feeling a lot better! I also have an appointment with my nutritionist tomorrow. It's been months since the last time I paid her a visit, and since I started getting my health back on track I might as well go all the way, right?

That's all for now... I'll be back soon to let you know about my progress in September and how October is going.

Good luck at the tables!


4 comments:

  1. I hope you're feeling well now. I had very serious vertigo issues 4 years ago, also caused by cervival problems due to long hours sitted at a desk. I cured that with chiropractic which is exactly back bone and neck manupulation. I'm having a session once a month and never had problems again. It's the best 5 monthly minutes I have. Not cheap (35€) but worth every cent.

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  2. Hi Ricardo! I'm ok now, thanks! Sounds like your issues were more serious than mine, but I'm glad they're gone! This kind of thing can be really annoying and from what I hear it's far more common than I'd imagined. Massages/chiropractic and the like are definitely not cheap, but the first thing we need to invest on is our health, right?

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  3. i guess a chair with head rest rest would be the best: a much more specific chair than the ones being pictured here.

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    1. Actually chairs with a head rest are not necessarily the best. Most of them have a default height for the head pillow and don't allow you to adjust it which is bad to begin with. Also, while you're resting on it you are tilting your head slightly backwards which is not the optimal position to be in and reduces the blood flow in the neck area.

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