I’ve mentioned plenty of times that I try to stay fit. But, let’s be honest, fitness is tough. Sure, I exercise a lot. I run at least 5 times each week and try to do some strength training as well. We eat pretty well, avoiding prepared foods and eating meals centered around vegetables and whole grains. We’ve even started drinking smoothies as a way to get more greens into our diets without having to trudge through salads the size of mountains every meal.
And if that was the end of the story, I’d be a lean picture of fitness. But there’s a level of give and take in the fitness realm of my life.
When we go out to eat, I am always prepared to order a refreshing salad. Then we sit down and I order a double cheeseburger with a milkshake and 3 pounds of fries. Then laugh when the waiter can’t believe I ate it all in one sitting.
Yeah, I’m exaggerating, but just barely.
If I didn’t stick to my daily runs and massive quantities of vegetables, I’d never be able to balance out the 2 pints of Ben & Jerry’s that I will totally eat in one sitting.
Balancing out those random (but not unexpected) bursts of gluttony isn’t the only reason I’ve applied myself to (mostly) healthy decisions. However fit I look, historically, I haven’t been the healthiest. That’s something I was reminded of in May.
The Blind Spot
So, we bought the house, moved in the boxes and had just become citizens of Connecticut. Mom was visiting to help us get settled and when she left, Ivan left with her so he could spend a few days back in Pennsylvania, visiting with his family before beginning work in July.
I was left alone at home, which was just perfect. I accomplish the most when I’m alone.
I got right to work, unpacking the towers of boxes stacked in our living room. I carried huge Tupperware containers with holiday decorations upstairs and stuffed them in the hot attic. It was tiring work. But satisfying.
Then, as I was pulling a box upstairs, I looked down to see Babe. Her right eye had vanished from my view, blending into a blur of fur. It looked like a little area on the right side of her face had gotten caught in my blind spot, except my blind spot should have been much farther to the left.
I decided to ignore it, hoping it would go away, despite knowing better.
A moment or two later, I finished stacking the final Tupperware bin in our attic. I was sweating, tired and ready to call it a day. I closed the attic door and reached out with my left hand to hit the light switch. Except the light switch wasn’t there and as my hand extended, it too vanished from my narrowing field of vision.
I had a sudden sense of déjà vu.
It Happened Before
Just over 10 years ago, while I was sitting in the entryway of my parents’ house, slipping on my boots, I noticed the outlet (cover and all) would vanish from my view if I turned my head just a little. At the time I thought it was my blind spot also. But as I waved my fingers along the left edge of my sight, I realized that my vision was tunneling.
The slight vision loss was accompanied with jagged streaks of light and starburst patterns across my eyes. Then, the vision problems inexplicably disappeared and were replaced with a throbbing headache.
The next day my neurologist told me, in the annoyed tone he adopted at our appointments, that it was just a migraine. And I was certain he was wrong, because how could a headache cause me to go partially blind?
Dr. Flamini was many things — arrogant, condescending, apathetic — and he was also right.
The Second Blinding Migraine
When my hand vanished into the blurring edge of my tunnel vision to flip a light switch that wasn’t there, I was certain of what was going on. Ten years isn’t a long enough time for me to forget 20 minutes of raw confusion and fear.
A decade ago, I thought I was relapsing and losing my vision for good. This time, I knew I was having a blinding migraine.
The problem is, the tunneling didn’t slow down. Within minutes, I’d almost completely lost my left eye and a glassy emptiness was starting to creep across the left plane of my right eye.
Despite my best efforts to stay calm — breathing evenly, taking slow laps around the house, reassuring myself this is very temporary — I was gradually panicking. I was all alone in a new state. I hadn’t even met our neighbors. Ivan was over 8 hours away. And, perhaps the worst of all, I didn’t have health insurance since moving out of New York. Our new plan wouldn’t begin until July 1st.
Meanwhile, massive sections of my house were vanishing. Babe’s eye wasn’t just missing anymore; I couldn’t even lock onto her face at all.
Every time I tried to call Ivan, I was sent straight to voicemail. He was at his grandparents’ house — a Verizon dead zone — and I didn’t have the number to their landline. I tried sending texts, tipping my head around to catch the letters on the keyboard in the periphery of my right eye, but it was like trying to chase an eye floater. Everywhere I looked, the words were chopped and incomplete.
I got through eventually. Ivan called from his cell phone while standing at the end of his grandparents’ driveway. We talked for about 5 minutes. I told him about the growing blindness and the strange lights, so similar to my last experience, like light caught on a water’s surface.
And then it all stopped. While I was on the phone, my vision returned suddenly. A few minutes later the headache arrived. Throbbing and horrible as it was, it was nowhere near as bad as the blindness.
The Unpredictability of Health
Ocular migraines aren’t really that uncommon. Knowing that so many other people have experienced ocular migraines makes me feel like I’ve overreacted to my own experience. In the end I’m uninjured and just have the lasting impression of a truly uncomfortable sensation to manage.
But, if you can imagine the shock of one day waking up deaf or blind or mute, then you can understand the depth of fear that comes with that loss. Even when I knew that the blindness was temporary, there was still a little piece of me wondering if it wasn’t.
That is the separation of health and fitness in my mind. I can drink all of the kale/chia seed/acai berry smoothies I want, while climbing a mountain, but improving my fitness can only affect my overall health so much.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not using the unpredictability of health to write off fitness. Abstaining from exercise and healthy eating habits is absolutely going to have a negative impact on your health. (Think diabetes, back injuries, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.) But health is capricious.
Some days it forgives your late-night Cheetos indulgence; sometimes it helps you break that 8-minute mile; and some days it blinds you for 30 minutes, then cripples you with pain.