Friday, February 03, 2012

A long post about my eyeballs

Twice in the last month, I’ve had the weirdest thing happen. I got a blind spot in my vision that gradually expanded, and as it expanded the edges turned wavy, and eventually the blind spot went away but the wavy circle remained, and it got bigger and bigger until it eventually got outside the range of my peripheral vision, and I swear I’m not making this up.

I’ve never had a migraine, but I know that blurred or spotted vision is often a warning sign that one is imminent, so the first time it happened I laid down in a dark room with a pillow over my head in case a piercing headache came next. I fell asleep and woke up an hour later feeling just fine, my vision completely back to normal.

The second time it happened was four days ago. Unfortunately this time I was at work, so I couldn’t just go lay down and sleep it off. The upside, though, was that I was able to track how long it lasted (about twenty minutes, start to end). Jon the med student had his own ideas about what had caused it, all of which ended in painful death or paralysis. My health and vision benefits just having taken effect that same day, I decided to set up a regular exam and mention this weird eye thing sometime during the appointment.

When I called the optometrist nearest my office, however, I was told there were no openings for a regular exam until TWO WEEKS later. I said something along the lines of, “Okay, I think I’ll try to find another office, because I’ve had recent episodes of blurriness that I’d like checked out sooner rather than later” and immediately I had an appointment scheduled for Thursday. I thought it had more to do with my unwillingness to wait for an appointment and their need for new patients, but it turns out that wasn’t the case.

As soon as I arrived, I heard the staff throwing around words like “triage” and “emergency”. When the doctor came in to see me, I politely asked her to put on the brakes. I just wanted a regular exam, had casually mentioned to the scheduler this issue I wanted checked out, and never indicated that it was urgent in any way. I made the appointment on a Tuesday for a Thursday, for crying out loud. No medical emergency here. (My fear was that they would charge me some exorbitant ER-type fee through my medical insurance instead of just checking out the issue during my free yearly eye exam. She was great and assured me that she’d do what she could to make sure my visit was covered under my regular vision benefits.)

She ran a couple of tests just to be sure of her diagnosis. Turns out what I’d experienced was an “ocular migraine” – basically a harmless migraine with no pain. Um, yes please. I’ll take it. (Read about ocular migraines here – I about fell out of my chair when I first read the description of symptoms, then saw the illustration. I had drawn a little doodle for a coworker two days before that was a spitting image of the one on that website. Tree and everything!!)

Anyway. Then the awful part happened. As I was preparing to leave, the doctor decided to do one last test, “so we can both sleep tonight”. [deep breath] …She was going to dilate my pupils. I know that this is a thing that eye doctors do, but I’ve been having regular exams since I was in middle school and have never had it done before. I'm super squeamish; I started panicking, and the questions spewed out.

“How long do they take to dilate after you put the drops in?”
“About ten minutes.”
“How long will it last??”
“Usually three to four hours.”
“What does it feel like?”
“Your eyes will be sensitive to the light. We’ll give you some shades to wear.”

-- By this point I’m sweating all over her office, wiping my palms on my jeans--

“But I have to go back to work after this. Will I have to wear them there?”
“You’ll probably want to.”
“Want to? I don’t want to. Wait! Do you mean it’s going to hurt???”
“I don’t want to say it’ll HURT…it’s different for everyone…but your eyes WILL be very sensitive.”
“Oh gosh, it sounds like this is going to hurt.”
“Well, your pupils expand in darkness to let in more light. When they’re forcefully dilated in daytime, it can be a little uncomfortable.”
“What will you do once they’re dilated?”
“I’ll shine a light in and have a look.”
[my voice goes up two octaves] “LIGHT????”
Safe light.”

--now my stomach is turning, thinking about my pupil stretching like a birth canal and someone shining a light into them when they’re so vulnerable--

“Do people ever get nauseated from it?”
[reluctantly] “…………sometimes.”

--now I’m SUPER panicked, like a caged animal--

“Do people throw up???????”
[even more reluctantly] “They usually don’t throw up unless I’m testing for ______, which requires me to push on the eyeball after dilation. But I won’t be doing that to you.”
“I’m feeling sick just thinking about this.”
[genuinely concerned for my mental health] “Really? I’m sure it won’t be as bad as you’re expecting.”

It wasn’t. She put the drops in, I sat in the waiting room by the trash can until fully dilated, then she completed the flashlight part of the exam more quickly than I’m sure she would have if I’d been different. All in all, not the nightmare scenario I’d gotten so worked up about. The worst part was driving back to my office with my glasses OVER the shield-like plastic shades they gave me.

THANK THE STARS I had my own sunglasses in the car that day. I hardly ever wear them and had just tossed them into the Mazda the week before. They obviously wouldn’t work with my glasses over top (necessary for driving), but once I got to the office I ditched the cheap plastic shield and donned my own shades.

I was sorta hoping most people wouldn’t notice. I mean, is it really that weird to wear sunglasses indoors?? Apparently, yes. Every single person that walked past did an extreme double-take. Some then nodded sympathetically and said something along the lines of, “Eye appointment, huh?” Most everyone else just asked the obvious question, “Uhh…why are you wearing sunglasses?” One guy said, “You must have just had your pupils dilated, because I can think of no other circumstance where a normal person would be wearing sunglasses indoors” and I was glad he gave me the benefit of the doubt. The entire thing was hilarious, but next time I book an eye appointment I’ll make it for 4:30 so I can go straight home.

If nothing else, this whole scenario gave me the opportunity to send Jon the following text:

…and for that I am grateful.


  1. I'm glad it wasn't anything more serious!

  2. Ew, I hate having that done. I had no idea you were so squeamish! I'm also glad it wasn't a painful migraine, because they suck.

  3. Ha thats hilarious. I just had that done the other day, my palms were sweating just reading this. Tho my dr. sensed my terror and gave me freezing drops, the effects were probably much worse than the actual drops.