Glow worm in your eye

Yesterday I experienced my first scintillating scotoma, and it was more than a little freaky.

It came out of nowhere. I’d clocked out to make myself some lunch, and as I sat back down in front of the computer I noticed a flickering splotch of color and light in my vision. It was relatively small and just a little to the right of the center of my vision. I thought at first it was the afterimage of a light burned onto my eye, but I looked around and realized there wasn’t any light source that matched the shape. And it wasn’t behaving like a normal afterimage.

I clocked in and realized that the shape wasn’t going away, and it was hanging out right in the middle of my vision, making it difficult to read text on the screen. This made me think remember the term “scotoma”, which I knew was some sort of malfunction in the brain causing an abnormality in the field of vision. I’d read about scotomas in the book “Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind” by V.S. Ramachandran. It had been a fascinating book, but it had dealt almost exclusively with findings observed in patients with brain injury, ie. stroke.

So I got scared, checked wikipedia for info on scotomas. I scrolled down on the page until I saw scintillating scotoma, clicked the appropriate link, and I was delivered to a picture that depicted pretty much exactly what I was seeing. So I began taking notes.

11:58am scintillating scotoma appears; both eyes but a little brighter in right eye; expanding;

By this time the abnormality had expanded from the size of a cheerio to something like a decent sand dollar. I found it very difficult to read things on the screen and more than a little difficult to think properly. I felt alarmed by the experience but also curious, hence the note-taking.

According to wikipedia, this was the precursor to a migraine. I’ve experienced a grand variety of migraines over the past 12 years that I’ve been having them, but I’ve never seen a light show like this. I felt slightly altered, but otherwise relatively cheery about it, and there was no pain, so I attempted to get back to work.

12:14pm expanded from small slightly off center to peripheral right, less bright in left eye;

12:18pm no longer in left eye

12:22pm no more scotoma but right eye feels “veiled”

The sense of bemused bewilderment increased, and even though I still didn’t feel a headache coming on, I could tell all was not well with my head. I let a coworker know via chat that something very weird was going on with my eyes and that I thought a migraine was on the way. And even as I was saying that, a part of me was doubting. It was kind of like an eerie calm, a haunted feeling that I was trying to talk myself out of. The confusion was actually so profound I didn’t even think to take one of the Maxalt tablets until 12:45pm when a weird stuffy head feeling began to set in.

1:00pm pain getting bad; nauseous; going to lie down;

I took a good bit of aspirin and tylenol on top of the Maxalt and went to lie down, but I was still feeling agitated and didn’t want to sleep, so I attempted to read more about the scintillating scotoma.

So the lights aren’t in the eye, of course. They’re caused by a malfunction in the occipital cortex at the back of the brain, in my case seems like the right occipital cortex since significant pain began to manifest in my left temple.

1:10pm left eye aching;

1:17pm spreading up left side of face above eyebrow to hairline

1:33pm second Maxalt tablet

I went to sleep for a while and had typical struggling migraine dreams, woke in terrible aching pain and sank into a weird depressive malaise for a good ten or fifteen minutes, lost in sad thoughts. When you’re in the throes of a major migraine and your eye feels too big for your face, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself you have a brain tumor. Just sayin.

3:03pm crying

And then I got restless again, and washing dishes seemed to help for whatever reason. I watched the aquarium for a long while and that seemed to center me a bit more emotionally. My eye still hurt and I felt heavy.

5:03pm third Maxalt tablet

I laid back down for another 45 minutes and then, feeling restless again, decided to sweep the floors and boil eggs. After taking the trash out, my blood sugar tanked, and I sat in front of the aquarium eating almond butter out of the jar.

By the time T got home I was starting to thaw out of that intensely fuzzed sick place. What a roller coaster of a day! Who knew a squiggly glow worm in your eye could be the harbinger of such destruction!

Oh, and T brought me a cookie from work, how funny. In my migraine hallucinations earlier in the afternoon I’d actually semi-dreamed about one of those cookies, the big sugar cookie kind that’s dipped half in white chocolate. And in that moment of dreaming I told myself that was ridiculous: he wouldn’t buy a cookie now when he’s on post- oral surgery soft food diet. But he did!

Awh <3


5 thoughts on “Glow worm in your eye

  1. I thought I was losing my eye to a parasite or something. Until I read your blog and realized it was a scintillating scotoma. I guess that’s better than a parasite, but man oh man can a migraine send a body over the edge. So, thank you so much for posting your painful experience. It really helped me.

    • I’m so glad you found this helpful! Scintillating scotoma is pretty freaky even when you know what it is. I just had my third experience with one and still didn’t want to believe it was a migraine coming on. Good luck to you!

  2. Pingback: Revenge of the Scotoma | Kaffee mit Krähen

  3. I am now 71 and still experience a scintillating scotoma now and then, but luckily never
    with a headache. I believe the first one I had was triggered by some coffee I made. I had tried a new method of brewing using an entire one pound can of coffee (pre-espresso days in Seattle in the early 1970’s) soaked in warm water for a length of time.

    The coffee was quite strong but not at all bitter so it was easy to guzzle down two or more cups fairly quickly. My episode occurred about 4 hours later during takeoff on a flight to California. It was intense vivid banded zig-zaged multi colored segments slowley increasing in an arc on the upper right of my vision field. While disturbing and somewhat scary it was also very beautiful (for a time).

    I came upon your blog while searching “scintillating scotoma”. I have had a few in the last year and was wondering what is known about them. If you are interested in the
    research I found here is a link to a pdf file from a clinical journal:

    By the way we have had several crow families as our close neighbors over the years. A lot of amusing behavior – they can be nosey – tapping on the skylight and peering in with one eye. Usually an attempt to get treats…

    Your writing is really very beautiful. A word over used I know – but to the point.

    • Joe, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment and the migraine information! I’m still mystified by the scintillating scotoma. It’s only happened to me three times in my long history of migraines, and in all three experiences I’m still not sure the trigger for the scotoma! The last one was almost a year and a half ago, and I wrote about it here if you’re interested:

      Thank you for sharing your crow story with me. I miss my Seattle crow friends too :) You are very kind, and I wish you all the best.

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