Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Is the Room Being Projected Through a Hexahedral Kaleidoscope or is it Just Me?

Reference to: Oliver Sacks
External link: Patterns - Migraines
NY Times Migraine blog

Unfortunately, Dr. Oliver Sacks, author and neurologist, is a migraine sufferer but fortunately for us, he's also a talented writer and has written about his own and other people's experiences. Recently, an article of his described a "visual migraine" (also called an "aura") when someone sees distinct patterns or loses some vision or even brief periods of blindness, during a migraine. This article was a posting on the times site which hosts a blog just about migraines (claiming 28 million Americans suffer from migraines).

I've had migraines since I was about thirteen. For years, I thought they were just bad headaches but at times they've been much more. That's when the headache is not just intense, but well, feels like what I imagine a hot axe blade lodged in your skull might feel like. Other common symptoms I've had include sensitivity to light, nausea, ringing in my ears, dizziness, seeing spots and crystalline patterns. That last one, is strangely very frightening. At times the visual patterns appear to be projected in front of me, while at other times it's as though I'm looking through textured glass. Patterns, in general, fascinate me and there are some wall paper patterns that have triggered migraines. For some reason, I'm particularly susceptible to fine hounds-tooth which I find oscillates uncomfortably. When I see these patterns during a migraine I also have alarming vertigo. I'm not sure why it scares me, but it usually makes me ask, "is this IT, is this how it ends?"

Last November I had an even stranger moment. I was working on the computer when I noticed that the cursor kept disappearing, but only on the left hand side of the screen. Then I noticed that a part of the file I was looking at was simply not there. I saved the file, restarted the application and then noticed the same thing happening in every application. I was pissed. I restarted the computer. That's when I noticed it wasn't just on the screen. A poster on the wall appeared to have a hole in it where the wall was showing through but only in my left eye. Now I'm not pissed, I'm scared. As a test, I close my right eye and hold my left hand in front of me. Sure enough, I could see my palm, but not my fingers. Moving my hand to the right, I could now clearly see my palm and my finger tips but not my fingers. It was as if my fingertips were floating there (to be more accurate, it looked as if someone had run the erase tool in Photoshop over my hand).

My thoughts? WTF! That was my thought! While I was trying to decide if I was nuts or having a stroke, I was struck (and I mean suddenly struck) by one of the most depilating headache I'd had in years. My knees buckled and I actually crawled to the sofa, covered my head and passed out. By some miracle, when I awoke about two hours later, I had only a mild headache. The next day I made a doctor's appointment and was reassured that I had suffered a migraine and the symptoms I had were typical.

Despite medical dismissal or perhaps because of it, I found the whole thing disquieting and it wasn't until I read Dr. Sacks piece in the New York Times that I discovered many people suffer this. As a someone who depends on his vision for every facet of life and work, losing sight or having difficulties recognizing colour and patterns is disturbing. Yet, knowing that others go through this and worse is much better therapy than my physician casually saying it was nothing. If you've ever had anything like this, you should know you're not alone.



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