It all started in late January. I had what felt like sinus pressure above my right eye. I thought I’d give it a few days and avoid antibiotics. It was bearable enough. I did notice periodically that I would see these weird effects in my vision. Shapes like jellyfish tentacles would waver in the middle of my field of view and then fade away. Somehow I managed to attribute this to what was probably a sinus infection. I was in the beginning of a tough spring semester in my second year of pharmacy school. No time to be sick. Nose to the grindstone.
My vision would get blurry occasionally throughout that week. By Saturday morning, February 5th, I was having constant blurred vision in that eye and difficulty focusing on anything even with the help of my so-called good eye. Maybe conjunctivitis? I went to an urgent care.
The PA at the urgent care washed my eye with saline and said my vision should clear. It didn’t. I read an eye chart. 70/10 in my right eye. She disappeared for several minutes. I could hear mumbling next door where she was speaking with the physician. Finally, she came back. She said, “you either need to go see this optometrist or go to an ER, right now” and handed me an address. I, already nervous, began freaking out inside. I said, “did I have a stroke or something?” She said she didn’t think so and told me to get going. I left and called home.
I decided to visit the optometrist next. She, after examining my eyes and stating they looked perfectly healthy, told me I needed to go to the ER for further testing with either a brain MRI or a CT scan. She said I could have optic neuritis and mentioned something about that being a first symptom of MS in some cases. At this point, the nervousness I’m feeling inside is turning into a sick feeling.
I went home. I explained everything and packed a bag. My husband dropped me off at the door of the ER and went back home with our son. He called my parents to fill them in. They ended up coming to our house.
Fortunately there wasn’t any wait at the ER that day. I got to an exam room quickly. This wonderful nurse practitioner was in charge of me. A bedside manner to admire. She got the on-call ophthalmologist to come in. He examined my eyes 50 different ways. My retina looked perfect. He tested my color vision. It was mostly gone. He ordered a brain MRI.
By this time, my father and husband had arrived to sit with me at the hospital. Before too long, an orderly came to escort me to the MRI area, and my family went along with me. That was a long, plodding, green mile kind of a walk. The MRI area is in the basement at the end of the hospital by the loading dock. It didn’t look like a hospital anymore. It looked like a dingy warehouse with big industrial-sized sliding doors. Kind of creepy really.
The MRI technician was awesome. An older gentleman full of kindness and compassion. He got me hooked up with an IV access for the contrast dye. We left my family in a little seating area, and he walked me into the room with the machine. He helped me get into position on the rolling bench. There was a special encasing for my head to lie in. I would go deep into the tunnel head first he explained. I would also have a cage over my face to keep me still. He said that about 2/3 of the way into the scan, he would stop the machine, come back in, and inject the contrast dye. He covered me with a blanket, made sure I was comfortable, told me he’d be talking to me off and on, and put some plugs in my ears. He gave me a ball to squeeze, in case I panicked and wanted out. Then he slid me into the machine all the way and left the room.
Sliding into that tube was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. I’m a tad claustrophobic after all. The cage across my face didn’t help. I made a mistake. I didn’t close my eyes. I saw the ceiling of the tube sliding over me inches away. I squeezed my eyes shut and struggled for the next 45 minutes not to open them again. I felt my hand holding the panic ball getting sweaty. The technician’s gentle voice came through and told me it was time to begin.
I’ve always heard about the noise in an MRI. It’s not been exaggerated. The strangest thing to me was I felt my organs moving. I mean pulsing rhythmically with the pulses of the machine. It was a long 45 minutes.
My thoughts were difficult to control. Is it a brain tumor? Did I have a stroke? Do I have some terminal illness? My son needs me. There are still things I want to do… I tried to reel it in and think about something that brings me peace. The ocean. The sound of the waves. The smell of the air. Holding my son in the surf the summer before. But then worrywart that I am, back to fear.
Apparently I managed to hold still, and the technician praised me for it.
We made our way back to the ER to wait for the results. About an hour later, the NP came in and said that the MRI was “unremarkable” for optic neuritis. What a wash of relief. I left the hospital with a prescription for antibiotics and a follow up appointment with the ophthalmologist on Tuesday, February 8th. I was still half blind, but happy.
Winding our way out of the hospital hallways, my father and I shared some jokes about how it came as no surprise that my brain was found to be unremarkable.