They grew up in the Okanogan and were sweethearts in high school. But after graduation, Muriel and Larry Douglass went their separate ways.
She spent a year at Western Washington University, then moved to southern California where she found work, fell in love and married. He married someone else and forged a career with the Department of Natural Resources.
Then, Cupid got a second chance.
By 1981, Muriel’s marriage was over and she was preparing to come home to the Okanogan. By then, Larry was widowed. One day he ran into Muriel’s sister, inquired about her and asked if he could contact her.
His first letter arrived before she left California. She was touched. “He was a nice boy,” she says. “I always liked him.” Correspondence renewed their friendship; romance blossomed anew. Married in 1982, the couple made their home in Ellensburg.
Larry died a decade later. Not long after his death, Muriel began experiencing unexplained bouts of upset stomach. Suspecting Meniere’s Disease, an inner ear disorder that can cause vertigo and nausea, her primary care physician Dr. Don Solberg referred her to a specialist in Seattle.
“They strapped me into this special chair and turned me one way and then the other, trying to make me dizzy, but I didn’t get dizzy,” Muriel says. “The doctor said he thought I had Meniere’s but couldn’t be sure.”
Over time, symptoms worsened. Rolling over onto her left side in bed triggered vertigo so severe she had trouble focusing her eyes. The room would spin. The vertigo, which occurred only when she was sleeping, sometimes forced her to crawl to the bathroom, sick to her stomach but too dizzy to stand.
“They call it a vertigo episode,” she says. “It’s worse than that. They should call it an attack. When it happens I am so sick. I feel like I’ve been thrust into space.” The only thing that helped control the attack was focusing on something vertical like a door jam.
By last summer, Muriel was sick and tired of being sick and dizzy.
She’d heard of a non-surgical procedure, called the Epley Maneuver, that helps some patients and contacted Dr. Solberg who referred her to KVH Physical Therapy.
What came next was life-changing.
Four years ago, staff at KVH Physical Therapy received specialized training in recognizing and treating vertigo-related conditions. “It’s still not a routine or ordinary part of most physical therapy training,” Dr. Solberg says.
Physical therapist Anne Merrill-Steskal advised Muriel that the technique only works on patients with Benign Proxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), a condition, like Meniere’s, that causes vertigo. BPPV occurs when a tiny crystal forms in the movement-sensing part of the brain and breaks loose. As it moves around, it stimulates tiny nerves in the inner ear, tricking the brain into thinking the person is moving when they’re not.
The Epley Maneuver, popularized in the last ten to fifteen years, repositions the crystal. “I already knew there was a solution,” Muriel says. “It amazed me there was someone in Ellensburg who could do it.”
Merrill-Steskal “put me on the table, held my head and moved it in a certain direction,” Muriel says. “She taught me how to position my head the same way so I could do it myself if an attack occurred at home. It took me four days before I didn’t worry that I was going to get sick if I rolled over in bed.”
Muriel calls learning how to manage those attacks “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” As for Merrill-Steskal, “she’s fabulous,” Muriel says. “I love her to pieces.”