December 2007

The Epley Manoeuvre

by Suw on December 24, 2007

Sounds like it should be the name of a band, but the Epley Manoeuvre is a treatment for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which I’ve had now for the last four months or so. This type of vertigo is caused by little otoconia – bits of debris, made of calcium carbonate crystals – floating about loose in the ear’s semicircular canals. These bump against the hairs in your semicircular canals and send additional messages through the nerves to the brain, confusing it horribly and making you feel dizzy.

My doctor mentioned the Epley Manoeuvre, so I did a bit of a look online and from what I saw, I thought that it would probably be best to get a professional to do it. Friday, I went to see my chiropractor and we went through the manoeuvre, both of us for the first time. It turns out to be pretty simple, really. It’s basically a series of movements that are designed to move the otoconia from the semicircular canals to the vestibule (another bit of the ear) where they can do no harm.

Sitting up straight with your legs in front of you, you turn your head 45 degrees to the affected side, lay down flat, and hold the position for 30 – 60 seconds whilst the vertigo it induces goes away and the otoconia settle down. Then turn your head through 90 degrees towards the other side, holding it at 45 degrees again until the second bout of vertigo goes away. Then continue turning the head, and also the body, until your noise is almost pointing at the floor, and hold. Then in one movement, turn the head straight and sit up, tipping the head forward so your chin’s on your chest. Hold for a few minutes.

We did this three times, and each time the vertigo got slightly less, but it didn’t seem to go away all together. Well, it doesn’t always work straight away, so that wasn’t a surprise, but there was definite and immediate improvement.

Friday night, I went to bed, and for the first time in months, when I laid down I didn’t feel dizzy. When turned over in the middle of the night, I didn’t feel vertigo at all, but there was a teensy bit when I got up in the morning. So Saturday night, before going to bed, I got Kevin to do the manoeuvre again, three times over. By Sunday morning, the vertigo had completely cleared up! All my otoconia must now be safely in my vestibule, where they will hopefully stay.

To be honest, though, I rather wish I’d had the Epley Manoeuvre done months ago, but well, I’ll know what to do if there’s ever a next time.

UPDATE 30 Dec 07: Well, turns out that the Epley Manoeuvre didn’t really cure the vertigo completely, as a few days later it came back. I’ve had Kevin help me do it a couple more times, and that’s helped a little bit, but it has not been as effective as the first time.

Last night, in conversation with my uncle, though, I discovered that vertigo is a bit of a family thing. I didn’t know this, but he’s suffered from vertigo that sounds suspiciously like mine (there are different types, with different causes) for years, and he also told me that my Nan also suffered very badly from vertigo at times. I had no idea. I really hope that this doesn’t mean I’m going to have vertigo for the rest of my life.

A phase, apparently

by Suw on December 17, 2007

OK, so confessional time. I’m going through that phase of wedding planning that involves the gut-wrenching fear that everything is, in fact, not going to be ok. It doesn’t really matter how often Kevin reassures me that things are going to be just fine, in my head and in my gut, the terror is a cold hard knot that refuses to go away.

The dress is not done. The bridesmaids dresses are no only not done, I don’t have the fabric for them yet. No one has shoes. The veil is not done, nor is the tiara. There are still day invitations to go out. None of the evening invitations have gone yet. I still need to talk to our friend who’s doing the photos about what we want. We need to write the wedding vows and order of ceremony. There’s a half billion things that need confirming. The wedding list need to be written. And my sanity needs to be found – it ran off a few weeks ago and hasn’t been seen since. I know it’s not hiding behind the sofa with a cushion over its head, because I’ve checked.

Friends kindly tell me that I’m more organised than most brides, but I don’t feel organised. I have a huge list of things to do and a Gantt chart, yes, but Christmas is looming, and the list only ever gets bigger, nothing ever gets ticked off, and it all has to be balanced against all the work I have to do.

The most frustrating thing is that all the lessons I’ve learnt have been learnt too late. I wish now that I’d taken a week of in February of this year and made the decisions that I’ve put off til now. I wish I hadn’t assumed that we’d have “plenty of time”. I wish I’d spent more time organising the dresses, and bought all the fabric for everything up front, and had Kevin’s waistcoat made regardless of whether he wanted one or not because now it’s too late. I’ve done things in such a piecemeal way and it’s made life that much harder.

I keep trying to unravel the knot of fear that settled in my gut for the last couple of weeks, but it just won’t go away. So I am focusing this week on getting the really important stuff done – shoes, fabric for bridesmaids, etc. Hopefully that will help.

This is, I think, the phase I’ve been told all brides go through. So if I’m late with the Christmas cards, or antisocial over the next month, forgive me.

Then again, I’m always late with Christmas cards, so you may not actually notice any difference.

Vertigo

by Suw on December 14, 2007

No, not the film, or the song, but the swimmy, dizzy feeling I get when I lie down, turn over, or tip my head back. I’ve had it for the last three months, ever since I turned over in the middle of the night and suddenly felt all gooey. I had been hoping it was my wisdom tooth at fault, but that’s long gone and the vertigo is still here, so I finally went to the doctors to see what they had to say about it.

It turns out that I have Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (that’s the exact info sheet that the doctor printed out for me). Apparently, it’s caused bit little bits of debris floating about in my semicircular canals which bump into the hairs that line the canals and thus send more signals to my brain than strictly required. These messages confuse my brain, (easily done), as they conflict with signals from my other ear, eyes, and the rest of my body (which provides positional information through proprioception), and that makes me feel dizzy. Luckily, I don’t get nausea with it, nor have I passed out at any point. Indeed, when I’m upright, the sense of vertigo is very faint, and it only becomes a problem when I sit or stand up from lying down, at which point I wobble like a drunk on a tightrope.

I have some exercises to do, which should apparently shift the debris back to the vestibule (which connects the semicircular canals in a sort of sump-like way). The exercise I’m attempting to emulate is called the Epley Manoeuvre, but from what I’ve seen online that’s something that should be done by a proper doctor or physio, rather than by me in my bedroom. I’m not sure that there’s much chance of me having a proper Epley Manoeuvre done any time soon, so I’m left with attempting something similar myself in the hope that it might do the trick. Even if it doesn’t, it seems that waiting is pretty much the usual treatment of choice, as in some cases at least, vertigo just clears up:

BPPV is a condition that often goes away on its own after several weeks or months without any treatment. One study said the condition had resolved in an average of 10 weeks. The otoconia [debris] are thought to either ‘dissolve’ or move to a place in the labyrinth where they cause no symptoms.

I do have drugs to combat the wooziness and nausea, but I can’t drink if I take them, so I’m going to at least wait til after the New Year before I give them a try, as the vertigo isn’t debilitating, just annoying.

The worst thing is the fact that vertigo is common in “older people”. Oh dear. Do I count as “older” now?

A milestone, of sorts

by Suw on December 10, 2007

With a little over two months to go, last night I had my first wedding nightmare. I dreamt that the wedding was tomorrow, but we didn’t have Kevin’s suit sorted out (we don’t), we didn’t have the wedding bands (we don’t), and I didn’t have the skirt part of my dress (I don’t), but the guests were arriving anyway.

I then dreamt about beading my corset, eventually waking up, only to lie there for ages, thinking about how I was going to bead my corset. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve lain away thinking about beading – it’s been playing on my mind lately. Rather than go through all that again tonight, I decided that the best thing to do was to test the beading method I had worked out in my head, to make sure it works. I’m basically doing a bit of a belt-and-braces approach: stringing all the beads together on a doubled thread attached at one end, then using cotton to sew the beads on to the fabric in a sort of back stitch, going through two beads, then back round through the second bead and a new one, and so on in a straight line. When I get to the other end, I’ll secure the thread. That way, if either the thread or the cotton breaks, there’ll be something else to hold the beads on.

I wanted to try the corset on again, just to make sure that it looked ok, but it’s a real bugger to get the damn thing on with no one to help. The little busks (a cross between a button and a hook and eye) on the front are a pain to line up properly, even with the laces down the back loosened as much as possible. I swear I’ve pulled muscles trying to do the damn things up. Once they’re hooked, pulling the laces tight is a piece of cake, but good grief, it’s hard to get the eyes positions properly over the busks.

Anyway, I locked Kevin in the lounge, did battle with the corset, and yes, the beading does look lovely. I can now relax, and will finish off the rest when Kev’s not around and I can sit on the sofa and bead in comfort.

I hope that, at least, goes some way towards calming my subconscious and postponing any further wedding-related stress dreams. Still, makes a change from the “OMG, I’ve got an exam and I haven’t studied for 14 years!” dream.

I’ve just got off the phone with Garlands Debt Collection and Credit Management Services, and am pretty much spitting feathers with anger.

The story goes like this. Unbeknownst to me, the card from which Virgin Media are taking monthly payments runs out. It wasn’t my card – my Mum is my Company Secretary, and we used her card for this – so I didn’t notice. I am later told that Virgin emailed me, on a seven year old address (even though it is – or should be – fed through to my Gmail account), on 1 October and 30 October, to ask for payment. I get neither of these emails. I’ve done an exhaustive search through spam and trash, but I can’t find hide nor hair of them.

On 29 November, then finally send me a letter which arrives on 30 November and says:

“… we have recently been advised that the payment details you have provided us have been cancelled.

“As we have no valid payment details, your Virgin Media ADSL account has now been suspended. If you do not provide payment details within the next 5 days your account may be cancelled.”

I am, as Kevin can attest, livid, and I call up the first opportunity, the next day. I speak to Ashley, who takes payment for the £35.98 arrears by debit card, and sets up a direct debit so we’re not put in this position again. This is all annoying, but it’s not a big deal.

On the Sunday, our connection dies. I call Virgin Media again, and speak to Wayne, who tells me that whilst Ashley set up the direct debit, he forgot to unflag our account for disconnection. He reconnects us, and tells us that everything is fine.

Today, I get a letter from Garlands, threatening me with legal action over the arrears, dated 3 December. I am, as you can imagine, not happy. I ring up, and decide to record the call. For the sake of fairness, I tell them I am recording the call. The guy I speak to says that he has to check with a supervisor about that, so he puts me on hold. He comes back and says that they don’t accept calls being recorded. I tell him I’m going to record it anyway and can we just get on with it.

The hypocrisy here is that the very first thing you hear when you ring Virgin is that they might record the call, and I see no reason why a corporation should be able to refuse to have a call recorded. If they have the right to record me, I have the right to record them. But more importantly than that, they are threatening me with legal action. The fastest way to resolve this is by phone, and there is no way I’m going to have a phone call about a legal matter and not record it in some manner, especially given that Virgin Media’s customer service procedures are so deeply flawed. That’s just basic self-protection.

Anyway, I tell the chap from Garlands exactly what’s happened and he goes off to get his supervisor again, who’s called Julie. Julie gets off on the wrong foot entirely, forcing me to repeat my story. I am not happy. Julie’s attitude stinks: She refuses to listen to me, interrupts me continually, and then gets haughty when I get cross. She then checks the account and says that everything is in order. I ask her if she’s going to send me a letter confirming that fact. She says she won’t until the first direct debit has gone through, which will also be the point at which my arrears are paid off, despite me trying to pay them off last week by debit card. She says they don’t normally send letters out, but if I’m “demanding one” then they will. I tell them that yes, I am asking them to send me a letter. I may not get it until January, as it takes them that long to get their act together.

So all’s well that ends well. Except it’s not. There are so many things wrong with this whole affair.

I’ve been a Virgin customer for seven years, and I’ve never defaulted on a single payment, but that counts for nothing with them. Whilst the Virgin Customer Services guys, Ashley and Wayne were polite and friendly, even when I was cross, Julie was probably one of the rudest, most arrogant and obnoxious people I’ve had to deal with in a long time. She needs to learn to be quiet whilst people are talking, to stop interrupting and stop being an arse.

But really the problems here are at a fundamental, procedural level. Virgin Media simply should not be sending emails out to years-old email addresses about something like a missed payment. Email just isn’t that reliable, and unless you have an ongoing email relationship with someone – which they don’t – you simply can’t tell if they are getting your message. The first thing they should have done was send me a letter when the first payment was missed which politely explained the situation and told me how to remedy it, including giving me Customer Services number and instructions on how to set up a direct debit or add a new debit/credit card to my account.

One the second missed payment, they should send another letter, mentioning the first, and politely explaining that this is rather important that it’s all fixed before the next payment due date, which should be included. After that deadline passes then yes, escalate to the “We’ll cut you off if you don’t respond” type of letter.

But the first I know of this problem is a stroppy letter from Virgin. Not good.

Further more, sending out a letter threatening legal action just a few days after the first letter telling me I might get cut off is ludicrous. Virgin should give me a chance to act upon the first letter before giving my details to Garlands, and should ensure that they do not put people into the legal willy-waving system who have actually paid off the arrears and made everything right.

Julie took great pains to tell me that Garlands are not responsible for any of this, that they just do as Virgin tell them, but I don’t buy that at all. If they are getting confused and angry phonecalls from people like me who have taken the appropriate action and made good, then they need to be telling Virgin that the procedure is flawed, that they are being asked to act on accounts that are no longer in arrears. Julie’s attempt to abdicate responsibility for this does not wash at all, although it does fit with her shitty attitude.

The absurd thing about this is that Virgin are wasting money by not thinking through this through more thoroughly. Yes, an early letter costs more than an email, but I would have sorted the problem out there and then, and all would have been well. Even if I hadn’t sorted it out and they’d still sent the Nov 29th letter, they should have given me more time to act before forwarding me on to Garlands. They pay Garlands for every account chased, I would imagine, and they just wasted money having me chased when I’d already fixed the problem.

Garlands clearly don’t give a shit – they’re getting paid and that’s all that matter to them. But even they could be saving money by not acting like pompous pricks on the phone. I’m not sure why I had to speak to Julie instead of the first – and more polite – chap who answered the phone. Perhaps it’s because I said I was recording the call. (But frankly, what goes around, comes around. Suck it up, Garlands.) But whatever the reason, if Julie learnt to keep quiet, let the customer talk, and then politely explain what’s going on, she could have cut that call time in more than half. Instead of a 12 minute call, it should have been a 2 minute call – me explaining, and them saying “It’s all fine, sorry for the inconvenience.”

You can get through a lot more calls a lot quicker if you’re just nice to the person who’s calling, no matter how cross they are. Start off by apologising, and stay pleasant the whole way through the call, and by the end of it the caller will be calm and may even apologise to you for being cross. (I’ve done that myself – ring up feeling livid, then end up apologising for being a bit cross because the person on the other end of the phone was so nice.)

But the bottom line is that Kevin and I are now going to look for another ISP. Virgin Media have done worse than waste money, they’ve pissed me off, and maybe even irreparably damaged a previously good relationship. Collection agencies almost by default are a bunch of assholes. They often deal with people who lie, cheat and/or are broke, and so they return shitty behaviour with more shitty behaviour. Virgin need to understand that when they escalate a situation to a collection agency that they most likely will lose that customer. No one likes to have financial attack dogs loosed on them and legal threats made.
I have Twittered liberally about my thoughts regarding Virgin Media, and I shall not hesitate to tell anyone who asks just how incompetent they are. Their accounts escalation procedure is broken, and if they go from zero to legal action in less than seven days, they can expect to lose a lot more customers. I’m not an “A-list” blogger, but who knows how many people will read this and decide against using them as an ISP. And all for what? A bit of common sense and politeness.

Wisdom of crowds, part 2: Hen nights

by Suw on December 1, 2007

So Kate, my Oh Matron! of Honour, and I have so far failed to come up with any ideas for what to do for my Hen Party. I’m quite clear on the fact that I do not wish to go on a pub crawl, or go out for a meal, as those are, for the first part, really rather dull and uninspiring and, for the second part, something I do all the time. I shall not be trailing round London’s seedier districts with a blow-up ball and chain attached to my ankle, devil horns perched upon my head or a fake veil entangled in my hair. Nor shall I be getting blindingly drunk, snogging a male stripper or any of the other rather rubbish things that seem to be de rigeur for Hens on their Nights.

Were it summer, I would have simply bought a couple of cases of champagne, several dozen punnets strawberries and a vat of Rhodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream, and had a civilised afternoon on a well manicured lawn playing what I believe to be the most vicious and ruthless game known to man: Croquet. As it will be early February, (that’s another thing I’m not doing – I’m not having the Hen Do the night before we wed. Oh no. Not on your nelly), it will be cold, wet and miserable, and croquet is a game not really suited to mud puddles. Before you suggest it, eXtreme Croquet is not really a variation suitable for a young lady betrothed.

I’m really not sure what to do. I had thought about doing something like a chocolate making course, or wine tasting, or having a spa day, but I don’t want to do anything too expensive. There’s nothing worse than the bride-to-be who says “Hey, I’m blowing 500 quid on a tacky Hen Weekend in some poor unsuspecting city on the Continent and I’d love it if you could blow both your holiday allowance and your savings to be there!” It’s entirely unreasonable to expect one’s friends to fork out a small fortune for one’s own entertainment, and generally speaking, spa days and the like do not come cheap.

I had thought about having it down in Dorset, but realistically speaking, I’m not sure if that’s a goer. Many of my friends are in or near London, and they’d have to either have a long journey home at the end of the day or have to spend money on a hotel. So I’m open to suggestions. It mustn’t be expensive, predictable, or involve sex toys. Other than that, I’m game.

Wisdom of crowds, part 1: Honeymoons

by Suw on December 1, 2007

Traditionally, deciding on the honeymoon destination is a choice that the Groom is responsible for making, but Kevin and I aren’t really the traditional sort and we like to make decisions together. But with everything else that’s going on at the moment, figuring out where to go has been a bit harder than expected.

Originally, we had thought that going wine tasting somewhere nice and warm would be a lot of fun, but the last two weeks in February aren’t wine season in Europe. We thought about South Africa for a bit, but then decided maybe not. Chile or Argentina would be a possibility, or even Australia, but I would prefer not to suffer jetlag on my honeymoon – it takes days to get over jetlag properly, and I get enough of that when travelling for work.

Since we started to think about our honeymoon destination, though, our priorities have changed a bit. Both of us are in a semi-permanent state of knackeredness, not just because we’re both very busy at work at the moment, but also because every spare minute is full of something, frequently wedding planning. The emphasis has moved towards spending two weeks somehwere very quiet, where we can crash out and do nothing. We’re just not sure where we want to go, so I thought I’d use the wisdom of crowds, and ask you lot.

Here are our criteria:

- It must be warm. I’ve had it with cold, wet and miserable, and I’m sure I’ll be even more fed up with the British climate by February, so I’d like a bit of winter sun. Doesn’t have to be hot; temperatures in the mid-20s C would be perfect.

- It must be quiet. I want to do a lot of sitting about, maybe a bit of reading, and really very little else. Maybe some leisurely walking, possibly some swimming (pool or sea). But I won’t want to hear traffic noise, crowds or thumping bass. Somewhere where the only other human beings we see are the ones pampering us would not go amiss.

- Countryside or seaside, but no cities. I want to hear nature at its finests: birds singing, insects chirruping, kittens purring. Oh, if only one could hire kittens. *sigh*

- Close to GMT. I really don’t want to have to deal with jetlag, so I’d prefer it if we didn’t have to cross more than two or three time zones.

- Not too expensive. We’ve got a wedding to pay for too, so destinations beloved by the rich and famous are out, as we’re neither.

- Maiden-name friendly. This is a tricky one. Due to having to send my passport away to the Home Office in order to get a Certificate of Approval so that I can marry one of them furriners, and then due to possible work in Italy in Dec, I can’t send my passport away in enough time to get it changed to my married name. (In fact, I haven’t even decided if I’m going to change my name yet – that’s a whole nother post.) But some countries apparently do not let you in if your passport still bears your maiden name. Not sure which ones, need to find out.

I think that about covers it. So, where would you go?