My character Judah of Toledo, not quite forgotten in the rage of NaNoWriMo composition this month, has visions. You donʼt really know that, beyond a small hint of something awry at the end of the the opening scene (in “Mistakes by Moonlight”) in which Søren rescues the black-bearded Kabbalist from a quintet of attackers in a very dark alley. Judah, seemingly beserk, starts to attack his savior, momentarily, until his wits return and he realizes who this extremely tall newcomer is and what he has done. The incident doesnʼt tell a reader much, not yet, not at that very early point. But I can tell you, privately, here, now: the poor man sees things — bright angels, perhaps even God Himself. Not being Glenn Beck or Pat Robertson, the poor fellow is deluded (after all, he heeds only one of those other fellowsʼ two — or three, if we include the uproarious Book of Mormon — Testaments) and suffers from some kind of ailment. I had originally guessed at some kind of bipolar condition (and that may be a factor yet), but now I realize that Judahʼs enthusiastic exaltations (oh, yes, very carefully chosen words, those two — check your etymologies at the door, my eye) have an even more mundane cause.
I made an idle status update (something I do not do very often) on Facebook, Thursday, following my physician-cum-optometrist experiences followed by a bit of quick online investigation (mostly consequent upon locating some pix for Saturdayʼs post) about “ocular migraines” and stirred up quite a bit of commentary — nearly as much as my political validities used to arouse. Unfortunately, in this case, the expandable comments section was a minor flood of sympathetic fellow sufferers, for whom I feel quite sorry indeed. My own case, so far, is really minor. I have only had maybe six incidents (although I am now coming to question many earlier experiences in my life, all the way back, in fact, to childhood disorientations — alas, now so insignificantly, unimportantly ordinary).
I first experienced “glittering eye” back in late April (possibly early in May), when Janet and I were working outdoors on spring yard work. My vision began to go as I endured an enlarging spot of brightness that swelled to fill perhaps half of my field of vision. I felt bad (weak, headachey, a little confused and discombobulated), and I thought the bright afternoon sun had caused some kind of reaction in my eye(s), so I sought to lie down in our basement family room, in dimness and quiet. This one came the closest to an actual headache, but mostly I was scared, not knowing or understanding what was happening to me. We were both pretty upset and concerned (Janet, I think wondering as well if I wasnʼt just ducking out on my fair share of the work), so I donʼt really know how long this spell lasted (it seemed like eternity, to me), maybe somewhat more than an hour. Afterward, my vision felt uncertain, what I have repeatedly called “fragile,” in the months since.
Having now learned something about migraines, I can in hindsight, analyze lots of predictable and normal (for migraine-sufferers) symptoms and behavior there. The brightness (as my only major symptom, the “ocular migraine” itself) that grows and then dissipates, however it manifests, is the “aura.” I was exhibiting the well established photophobia and phonophobia reported in too many migraines, or as the Wikipedia “Migraine” article says, “Many patients experience sensory hyperexcitability manifested by photophobia, phonophobia, and osmophobia and seek a dark and quiet room.” Exactly as I did.
The next two or three incidents followed in fairly rapid order, within just a few more weeks. Once I was working in the kitchen, washing some dishes, and glanced outdoors through the window directly over the sink. Immediately the disorientation and visual disturbance commenced, this time also mostly just a pulsating brightness in an extending curve, with some dark spastic bits, like animated optical “floaters” in an electric field (thus my choice of image above and to the right). I again sought relaxation in a calm environment until it passed. Another occurred as I was mowing outside (you can see the brightness connection that I originally ascribed as causative), but I kept working through it, realizing I was seeing a “tiger-striped” white-yellow and black jagged image, gemlike but fractured and animated (still brokenly curved along the right side of my visual field, expanding and growing somehow more intense and vivid) that appeared in a mindbending way within or behind the actual images of reality, but able to wash out, blind what I was actually seeing*.
The fourth vision (or fifth, because I believe there was another incident I have forgotten or blended into one or more of the others in my memory now) happened in July as I was driving back from Dubuque, having had lunch with Janet (who reminded me on Thursday evening that she, too, had once had such an experience while home alone, me being as usual at a play practice, that led her to finally call our then-optometrist in a near-panic. He guessed it was an ocular migraine — it was me using that term that caused her to recall the incident — and told her to lie down and call him in a half hour or so when it had passed or else he was coming over to check on her if it was something worse; it wasnʼt worse). Just as I left the first traffic light on the south side of town, on 61, I realized I saw a blurred spot in the center of my field of vision, which happened to be the back end of a van not far in front of me. Once again the sun was bright — very, very bright it seemed to me. This time I knew what would happen, and it did. The glittering spot began to form from the formerly just blurred area, shifting and jittery, expanding into a broad, jagged arc, hurting me to look through/at. Being a witless fool, I kept driving as the hallucination got ever more complex with more and more sub-areas glittering and vibrating with dark and light sections and bands. I think I saw coloration in some areas, too (but mostly I was trying to ignore the auraʼs shimmering, shaky, kaleidoscopic brilliance and look away toward my left to see what needed to be seen, so I could drive). The experience endured the entire drive home, and I again had the feeling of fragile vision and a fuzzy head afterward.
At that point I was ready to see a doctor, thinking I was somehow going slowly blind or something. However, then nothing further occurred. For months. Until the sixth incident (maybe it was just the fifth) about a month ago, as I was driving home from my Uncle Billʼs funeral (yep, I was driving, and I kept driving through the whole thing once again — dumb dumb and dumber). October 24th, to be exact, about 4:40 in the afternoon. This time, the day was gray, pretty dark, and rainy. Highway 20 going east was just about deserted, so I just enjoyed the light show, feeling only slightly uneasy physically, mostly just removed from actual life and Janet in the car. And this time the final phase of the scintillating scotoma was breathtakingly beautiful, randomly but clearly colored, shimmering and jittery, like nearly living stained glass windows conjoined in an evanescent, phantasmagoric bejeweled scythe through the right hemisphere of the external world (making me wonder if migraine auras might have inspired the origin of those windows back in medieval Europe**). Very clearly, the image seemed to arise blindingly from, rather than being superimposed upon, what I should actually have been seeing*. Once again, about an hour in duration, as the lovely, searing image gradually became less intense and kind of revolved upward and backward, dissolving into and behind my head. With no real ill effects that time, I drove us on into Dubuque, and we ate dinner at L May, enjoying pizza (even though I had very fragile and overly sensitive vision all night).
However, the problem hadnʼt just gone away as I had hoped earlier, so I brought it up at my physical, and the rest has been, well, to be polite, a learning experience — a ha!
And, of course, I now comprehend the foundation for my conception of Judah. (Remember Judah? Heʼs where/with whom this whole extravagant excursion into my private set of experiences began.) Unlike me****, Judah also hears things, too…
* The images seem somehow within or behind reality (not, as most pictures indicate, imposed on the actual perceptions).
** I wonder if more than just that art form (which features jagged interconnected vibrant bits of color, mind) owes its origin to misunderstood migraine…
*** …and I most highly recommend Henry Jamesʼs Mont-Saint Michel and Chartres! (But the regularity of the sections in the image I chose to include are just wrong for a migraine aura.)
**** I guess “unlike me” in that he hears words. I just have supernatural, hideous phantom scratchy squealing constantly (and weʼve got another doctor to see about that soon).
Enjoy some more renditions of this otherwise incomprehensible experience here and here and here and… (My “curves” are the mirror of the ones in most pictures and videos, though, right-handed rather than left). Except here (I havenʼt had the complete circle effect. Yet.)