James Cochran


Dizzy old man perches on edge of exam table: “I was so afraid I’d fall” he says.
The doctor asks questions, looks and listens, begins to spin a fantastic tale…
“You know you have a bag of tiny rocks inside your ears. If these get knocked 
out of place you lose your sense of balance.” Further explanations, preparations, 
grasping old man’s head gently but firmly in his hands, leading him in a dance, 
a series of peculiar movements known as The Epley Maneuver…First turning thusly, 
then reclining suddenly, another quick turn, and so forth. With any luck, these 
movements will shift the pebbles back in place, and all will be well.

I am the Spanish interpreter for the old man, so my own ears hear each of their words…
Malleus mallet beating on Tympanum drum…it strikes a nerve. I’ve been caught in my own 
emotional dizzy spell for months, a creeping depression brought on by pandemic year, father’s 
cancer, wife’s broken leg, children struggling with pre-teen and teen problems, and myself not in 
a fit state to help any of them as much as I’d like. Later that afternoon, the doctor’s words 
are still echoing in my mind.

Turns out these rocks, more truly crystals, are called Otoconia, and reside in a small pouch 
called the Utricle, a part of the labyrinth of the inner ear. There may be around 1,000 of these 
tiny pebbles. They shift subtly as we move, touch tiny hairs which stimulate nerves to signal 
the brain and give us a sense of where we are in relation to the world.

Right now, my thoughts are the thousand rocks inside my head, which a series of unfortunate 
events has dislodged. I search for my own Epley Maneuver, trying yoga, meditation, exercise, 
hypnosis, acupuncture, time in nature, therapy…with little success. I wonder what can put my 
mental otoconia back in place and free me from this disorientation?

I take comfort in reading that these rocks are found in all vertebrates, reminding me of 
connection and kinship with not only mammals but birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. 
I imagine myself swimming effortlessly in the saltwater we were all born from, or flying 
and swooping through the sky that is our very same breath. 

These rocks are made of calcium carbonate, the same stuff as limestone and eggshells, seashells 
and pearls, chalk and oyster. I know then, that I carry with me always a bedrock, a fragile but 
miraculous container, an infinite variety of shapes and ways of being, a precious beauty that is 
born of some small seed and the attempt to protect against suffering…an ability to teach, and to 
learn, an innate capacity to nourish and feed in the murky waters of life.

James Cochran is a proudly Appalachian writer, transplanted from the soil of Southeastern Ohio to the hilly streets of Charleston, West Virginia. He embraces the practice of mindfulness through writing, and writing through mindfulness, and enjoys listening to the neighbor’s wind chimes.
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