Monday, October 3, 2011

In the beginning...

This story begins many years ago, maybe as many as fifteen or twenty.

It started to get interesting on March 17th, 2011.

I had just returned home from visiting my parents after work, the time approximately 6PM.  I was tired, as was common for that time of day, and as I climbed the steps to my front door I felt a minor headache coming on.  It wasn't severe, but was enough that I decided to take an ibuprofen to stifle it entirely, which it did.  Minutes later, however, I noticed an odd dark spot in my vision.  I didn't know what to make of it at the time as it wasn't quite like a retinal burn from staring at a bright light but was similar enough that I wasn't terribly concerned.  Except it didn't fade.  Rather it persisted and spread, becoming something else entirely, grey streaks through which I could not see, filled with white zig-zagging lines that seemed to move with a fluctuating speed.  I sat down at my computer to Google these symptoms - at the time the internet was my primary care physician - when I discovered the lines were preventing me from reading.  At that point I called my father, an EMT, and told him I was having trouble seeing.  He ran me through a few brief questions, then told me to call 911.

I waited for the ambulance in the parking lot, the disturbances having spread over much of my visual field.  The peripheral vision in my left eye was gone entirely.  On the ride to the hospital I was repeatedly subjected to what I now know are called "neuros," a series of basic tests meant to gauge the symmetry and capacity of my neurological state.  It consisted mainly of my pushing and resisting the EMT's hands.  I also had to remind the EMT of my age a great many times.  In the coming months I would become acutely familiar with all of these practices.  The EMT determined that I was suffering from an atypical optical migraine - atypical due to the lack of a severe headache - that was likely caused by stress.  The ER doctor later concurred.  Over time the visual disturbances faded.  Patients to my left and right were offered additional scans, at which my parents smirked and muttered about "running up the bill."  When I was offered one I declined; I'd been told what was wrong with me, after all, and hadn't planned on spending my entire evening in the hospital.  Besides, I felt fine at that point.

Of course I wasn't fine.  The migraine wasn't caused by stress.  And it was only through a rare instance of logic and humility that I would come to learn that.  I decided maybe I ought to follow up with my opthamologist, a man I'd been seeing for about twenty years due to my strabismus.  He'd operated on my eyes, and knew them better than I did.  Let's call him Dr. Eyeballs.

Dr. Eyeballs agreed with the initial diagnosis, that I had suffered an optical migraine.  By the time I saw him I had suffered several more attacks, though none of them as severe as the first.  As they weren't painful and didn't really bother me very much, I wasn't concerned and so neither was he.  He did find that I had a convergence problem with my vision, something normal and expected of someone with strabismus, and so he prescribed a series of exercises to strengthen my eyes.  I had been experiencing a great deal of eyestrain lately and so I readily agreed.  The exercises helped with my convergence and reduced that eyestrain significantly.

Then the blind spots appeared.

Over the months I worked on my convergence issues, I began to suffer from other optical problems.  I started to see dark rings in my vision, something I'd seen in the past but only when very tired.  They had become constant.  Dark and light flashes had become so common I no longer trusted my peripheral vision.  In the morning, when the sun shone on my face, through my eyelids I could see strange stationary "star burst" patterns, with wavy lines radiating from a pink center.  I couldn't find anything of the sort described on the internet.  Then one day I noticed that the very centers of those star bursts had become blurry patches even when my eyes were open.  I suffered from other symptoms, too: ripples and waves in my vision if I put any pressure on my eyes, and fields of sparkling blue lights that would abruptly vanish.  I felt like I was looking through a camera rather than through my own eyes.  My research told me that these were early symptoms of retinal detachment.

In addition, I had started to suffer from other maladies unrelated to my vision.  Whenever I stood up I would get very dizzy, and feel an intense pressure in my right ear, accompanied by the sound of my own heartbeat.  Very often, an optical migraine would follow shortly.  I discovered at these were symptoms of TMJ and noticed that I did grind my teeth a lot, and while my effort to stop did improve my symptoms dramatically, it did not eliminate them.

When I brought these symptoms to Dr. Eyeballs' attention, he examined my retinas closely and told me he saw no problem with them whatsoever.  That they were perfectly healthy.  Note that he was wrong, as a neurologist later discovered through the exact same sort of examination.  My blurry spots were caused by irritation to the same, normal blind spot that we all have, which in turn was caused by growing pressure in my head.  At that point, he ordered a cranial MRI.  Given my optical migraine, he suspected a blood vessel pressing against my optic nerves.

That is not what we found.


  1. As a matter of fact, I did get one around the time that we scheduled the MRI, which was in mid-May (more on that in the next post). It was pretty big and rather startling as I'd never had one before. I was told that it was permanent, that I'd learn to ignore it and that the only way to be rid of it would be to stick a needle in my eye and suck it up. After my resection it (and many of the other problems I've noted) resolved completely.

    Thanks for the reminder. I thought I was forgetting something.