JUST the thought of it got me hot under the colour and pale of face. "Would you like to go to the hospital and go on a machine that helps doctors better treat people with vertigo?" asked my colleague.
Wrongly of course, like many people, I thought vertigo was a terrible fear of heights, an affliction I have in abundance.
Being the office new boy I could hardly say no, and the next nights were spent sleepless, wondering what on earth this machine was going to do to me. Would it replicate falling from a cliff? Being dangled off the end of a skyscraper? And, if so, how could those two tortures possibly be used to aid my condition?
I felt slightly stupid on my arrival when, not only did I discover the 'machine' was actually a rotating chair, but also that vertigo isn't defined by a fear of heights at all. In fact, the condition is punctuated by sudden, uncontrollable spurts of dizziness, which in the most extreme cases, as we shall learn later, can destroy lives. Being at great height just happens to be one scenario that can trigger an attack.
The chair, which, at first glance, looks like it belongs in a medieval torture chamber, has been designed borrowing technological principles from aerospace applications and is used to study disorientation in pilots.
It has been introduced to the hospital by Imperial College London's professor of clinical neuro-otology, Adolfo Bronstein, as part of a clinical trial to discover the most suitable treatment available for sufferers of Meniere's disease, a particular type of vertigo that effects the inner ear and is which is endured by one in 1,000 people.
Traditionally sufferers have been injected with gentamicin, an antibiotic, which can impair hearing, and Professor Bronstein is seeking to discover whether an injection of steroids into the middle ear is more effective and, crucially, doesn't cause deafness.
After being strapped in, patients are tilted to one side and rotated at 400 degrees per second – seriously fast – in pitch black for about six minutes, and are told to focus on a small, red dot which is lasered onto a board in front of them. The dot then turns into a five inch tilted laser line which the patient, using a knob, has to turn as straight as they can, a process repeated several times.
What with all the levers, straps and protruding bits of metal, I was slightly worried I was about to attacked with cattle prods or lined up in front of axe-throwers, but I was just told told to relax and enjoy the six-minute ride.
The professor told me most are thrilled with the experience – "One said it was like going to the pub but without spending any money" – and that many liken it to a day at the funfair.
I can report they are not wrong. The sensations are extraordinary. Your arms and legs turn lead due to the G-forces and it's fair to say being strapped down is essential. As the head is quite tightly clamped, surprisingly you don't feel dizzy and, presumably because I don't actually suffer from vertigo at all, lining up the laser was relatively straightforward.
I imagined getting up and then walking after the experience would be akin to a standard Friday night stagger home but I was as steady as Eddie.
My results were normal, but sufferers of Menieres, which affects receptors in the inner ear responsible for controlling their sense of gravity and movement, are quite a few degrees off getting the line straight because they cannot cope with the imbalances caused by the chair.
The device may be comparable to a new ride at Thorpe Park but there is a deadly seriousness to its employment, as explained by the professor.
"The condition can seriously affect their quality of life. It can strike at any time. They can be at the theatre, for example, and suddenly they'll get this appalling feeling of nausea and a sense of falling into a black hole, and many people think they are going to die. It is very unpredictable.
"The ear is a very complicated part of the body and, as a patient, you often don't know who to go to because the sypmtoms fall between different medical specialities.
"This machine can really help us to isolate the problem and diagnose the correct disease straight away."
As well as giving an exhilarating six minutes of fairground-style fun.