“Oh no!” The silver ball flew through the air and rolled into obscurity on the grey speckled carpet. The nurse quickly dropped to her knees and combed the floor with her blue rubber gloves. I leaned forwards, woozily sat back up, then told her not to worry. I was secretly relieved. That piercing had been popping out my right headphone for over a decade.
The blanket snagged. A pause. I jolted backwards further into the machine. I opened my eyes. Did this thing have lasers? I shut them quickly. I didn’t get a briefing before being rolled in. The area was so small that my eyes were only a hand’s width from the top. It felt like a pristine marble tomb. The droning began. A chorus of higher beeps, then sudden silence. I tried to control my breathing, but panic was settling into the soft hollows of my knees and elbows, creeping to my knuckles. A shrill metallic tapping outside, followed by dull loud ‘Dvvvvv’ tones that shook my jaw. I swallowed and hoped it didn’t interfere with the image. The soft spongy ear plugs I had been given began to expand slowly and exit my ears.
It was as cold as a mortuary in here. I was wearing a brown smock with an orange trim. My clothes were left in a locker by the room where people were letting blood. It was long but my ankles were peeking out. I couldn’t risk moving so I tried to focus on being still. The sound of electric razors clicked on temporarily, before the soothing noise of the first long beeps filled my head again. Was the air getting hotter around my head? I was moved suddenly, deeper into the machine. A Super Mario soundtrack played, much higher in pitch with a faster variations of notes, building to an ear-splitting crescendo. I regretted only asking one question beforehand. “How long will this last?” The technician had said forty five minutes, or perhaps thirty if I was lucky. I willed it to over soon, but I had lost all sense of time in this capsule.
I was jigged again and seemed to keep moving. I risked opening my eyes and saw that I was emerging at last. The technician asked if I had managed to sleep. I said “No,” thinking that anyone who could sleep through that noise probably did need their head examined. “It was terrifying. Nothing like the MRI’s that I’ve had before.” The technician raised her eyebrows momentarily in surprise, before saying that I’d sat very still and the images were clear.
“As you can see, we are scrolling through each layer. There’s your left eye socket, and you can see the optic nerve there. It’s a beautiful brain. Oh! And there is your nose. Not like our Asian ones!” The neurologist pointed to his nose and winked. Despite the snub, I was overjoyed. “And here are the arteries. Perfectly formed, nice and wide. No aneurysms there.”
It had been a nerve-wracking week. Since the initial fear of a detached retina, I had undergone hours of tests at the eye clinic and the neurology department. From the fear of having eye surgery, to discovering that it may indeed be a problem with my optic nerve, my imagination had been difficult to control. I experienced chest pains at work, lost my appetite and felt as though I’d just stepped off the waltzers. My right eye felt as though it would pop out any second given the pressure around it. At the weekend, Tom took me to A&E after experiencing my Picasso-vision again, where I saw every face as lopsided. In Suffolk, we would say that my sight was ‘on the hur.’ I lost peripheral vision and had a blind spot where my eyes could not agree on the image before them. It had been a humbling experience. As much as I tried to calmly wait for a diagnosis, I had convinced myself not to think about the future. As melodramatic as it sounds, I did not feel as though I still had one. Instead, I began to think what I would leave behind.
I returned to work still feeling as though my temples were clamped in a vice. However, the dizzying migraine I had felt for over two weeks had eased. I was on medication, one course of beta blockers to keep the blood vessels open and ease the pounding sensation, and the other was anti-depressants. I’ve not suffered from depression, but one useful side effect of these drugs is that they ease neurological pain such as migraines. My colleagues suggested I seek a second opinion as the doctors were not able to pinpoint the cause, but as far as I was concerned, my symptoms had finally become manageable. I am still experiencing white flashes and seeing black dots dancing around, but I can work through these. In addition, I was $2,000 down with no hope of being reimbursed by my insurers. If thorough eye scans and a brain MRI showed no serious problem, that was enough for me.
My name was called. I had spent the best part of two days in this waiting room at the Mount Elizabeth hospital. I approached the desk, handed over my card and tried to focus on the receptionist’s face despite my cockeyed expression. “This was one expensive headache.” I joked. She smiled wanly at me in return.