Scintillating

I’ve only been knocked out once in my life. I was maybe 19 or 20 and was playing tackle football with some friends. I’m no athlete but I’m really hard to knock over so, with three guys hanging off of me already, a fourth gets his arm around my neck and brings me down. I remember falling, but I don’t remember the impact.

The next thing I do remember is looking up at the sky with my friends standing over me in a circle. Nothing hurt, I didn’t feel dizzy, and I felt fine the rest of the weekend. But something weird happened with my vision for the first time.


Mikael Häggström.When using this image in external works, it may be cited as:Häggström, Mikael (2014). “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain.orBy Mikael Häggström, used with permission. [CC0]

Imagine, for a moment, that you start seeing a bright spot in your vision—like what you’d see if you stared too long at an intense light source. But it doesn’t fade over time; rather, it persists and grows, tracing an arc around your field of view. And then you realize that it’s not just a bright spot, but you can’t even see anything behind it. It looks the same whether you have either one or both eyes open. You wave your hands in front of you and it’s as if they disappear as they pass behind a sparkly obstruction floating in the air. Then after about twenty minutes it just kinda fades away.

The first time I experienced this vision impairment was the very day I was knocked out. Later in the day I was talking to somebody when it started and, as it progressed, I became a little alarmed. I tried to make sense of what I was…partially…seeing, but I was able to piece together all the details in the short time it lasted. Of course as a stupid college kid I didn’t think about it after it went away, and I never visited a doctor for a consultation. I connected the experience to my injury, but otherwise had no clue what was going on.


You know those wacky, spider-like head massager thingies? They look kinda like those Maman sculptures by Louise Bourgeois but with thin copper wires that spread open as you push the massager over somebody’s (or your own) head.

 Cropped from a photo by Kevin Cho, licensed under  CC BY-SA 4.0
Cropped from a photo by Kevin Cho, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
 You know this fella give that dingus a five-star review on  Amazon …
You know this fella give that dingus a five-star review on Amazon …

I was at the mall in my mid-20s with my wife and some friends, and as we passed by a kiosk one of the friends stopped and grabbed a massager dingus.

“You ever see one of these things? They’re scalp massagers, and they make your head tingle.”

And without missing a beat she plopped it down over that back of my skull. I kind of shivered and felt goosebumps from head to toe, like my whole body convulsed at once. On the way back to the car, I noticed that strange visual anomaly creeping in, and I was glad my wife was driving instead of me.


Six? Maybe seven times all together in the past 17-18 years. This visual weirdness doesn’t happen too often. The frequency hasn’t increased, the severity hasn’t increased, and I’ve never experienced any pain, nausea, or other discomfort/impairment when it happens. The most recent occurrence was just last week at the coffee shop. On the drive over, some intense reflections of the sun off of some windows caught me in the eyes. As I was sitting down to enjoy my espresso, what I thought were merely persistent bright spots spread out into my old surreal, annoying friend.

I’m not one to self-diagnose, but since I’ve historically been lazy about visiting physicians, I have done some research about this condition. It’s called a scintillating scotoma, or migraine aura. It happens when electrical impulses start to spread over the surface of the visual cortex of the brain, which is at the back of the skull. Most folks experience this condition preceding a migraine headache, and while there may be pain, dizziness, nausea, or speech trouble before the headache takes over, it’s possible for people to simply experience the vision problem. Some folks, like me, never get a headache afterward. I’m given to understand that common optical migraine triggers can also trigger the scotoma.

I’ve never had a migraine headache in my life (to date…knock on wood), but I’ve had these visual migraine precursors. I’m fairly certain that head injury in college is the root cause since I landed on the back of my head. The scalp massager seems like a clear trigger based on the overstimulating input at the back of my skull. And the most recent incident involved a common migraine trigger: intense light.

These days I do have a primary care physician. Migraine aura doesn’t worry me all that much, but since this all seems to stem from a head injury back in the day, I might as well tell my doctor about it at my next visit.

Unexpected Guest

Today, while helping my mother-in-law with a word processor problem, she just casually drops some anecdote about her childhood friend’s older sister Judy. “You know, the woman who wrote Ordinary People?”

Oh, just ol’ Judy? Just the author of one of the best novels I read in high school that was adapted to cinema four years after publication for a Best Picture Oscar? I’ve heard most of my mother-in-law’s stories dozens of times, but this was the first time I found out she spent part of her childhood playing with Judith Guest’s younger sister…that she attended the author’s wedding as a kid.

Her stories from Ripon College about young “Harry Ford” are practically on a loop, but this was a new one.

Notes from a mostly sleepless night camping with my kid

10:30 PM – contemplated how lovely the weather was for sleeping outside

10:35 PM – realized that no spot on the ground is ever as flat as I think it is

10:45 PM – wondered how long I would be awake before my body gave up and fell asleep

11:05 PM – realized that the periodic thwacking sounds in the distance were dads in another campsite playing cornhole a few campsites over

11:58 PM – wondered if I could, undetected, slash the tires on the trucks belonging to the inconsiderate dads still playing cornhole and cheering loudly late into the night

01:30 AM – my body, wondering why I’m still awake, decides this is when I need to leave the tent to use the bathroom

03:00 AM – got to see/hear my daughter laugh in her sleep

04:00 AM – realized my bet against needing the rain fly on my tent was wrong

04:05 AM – realized I could put the rain fly on the tent by myself in about 60 seconds

04:07 AM – rain intensifies, making the early morning interruption worthwhile

06:40 AM – woke up stiff and bleary-eyed to a beautiful, cool morning that made up for most of the night

Wishlist

  1. Bosch PS31-2A cordless power drill
  2. Vivian Maier: The Color Work by Colin Westerbeck
  3. Tank, regulator, tubing and other parts necessary to make my own beverage carbonator
  4. A week of somebody else watching my kids so my wife and I can get a real vacation
  5. Time to walk around and make photographs during the day, in the middle of the week, when the weather is actually pleasant
  6. A little less conversation, a little more action, please
  7. A guarantee. No more attempts on my father’s life.
  8. Zigzag ha
  9. A french fry robot
  10. A tactical string trimmer
  11. No regrets
  12. Something like a superpower that lets me know, intuitively, how to cook anything
  13. Maybe also the ability to find rest in a nap
  14. And no more allergies emerging during middle-age
  15. My own private Idaho
  16. 200 school buses
  17. An easy way out

I Did a Stupid

Back in January, having seen ads in my Instagram feed for a while, I caved in and ordered one of these totally sweet (okay, totally tacky) jackets in gray:

“Ice Cold Lemonade”, it turns out, is probably some shell company reselling cheap goods from China at a profitable markup. No big deal, I guess. I didn’t pay much for this jacket at the time. I got my tracking number and waited a few weeks for the jacket to make its way through China’s postal service and into the USA.

When the USPS tracking system told me it was delivered to my front door, I was pretty upset to discover that it wasn’t actually there. I don’t have a history of package theft in my neighborhood, but in recent months, I’ve had some occasionally crummy mail delivery service. Judging by the number of mail pieces delivered to my house for an address with a similar number or one block over with the same number, I assumed the same may have happened with my package. The best USPS could do was to “open up a case”, which was effectively a dead end. By late February I’d written it off as a loss.

But I still occasionally saw marketing emails from the seller advertising the jacket, and I still really liked it. So this past week I did the unthinkable—something I never do—and bought it a second time. Order confirmed on Thursday, tracking number from China’s mail system on Friday morning. I even remarked to a coworker on Friday about how unlike me it was to repurchase a lost item.

SO OF COURSE I get home on Friday to find that, nearly four months after the original order (and the day the new order has already shipped and can therefore no longer be cancelled), a weathered package from China has been left on one of my porch chairs. This thing looked like it had sat on an unknown neighbor’s porch the entire time it was missing, but the contents inside were unsullied. So yeah, I felt pretty stupid right away, but I was also excited to finally receive the original order.

I tore open the package and things got weird before hitting me squarely with the stupid stick once more. I’m a big dude, so I ordered this jacked in the largest available size: 3XL. A puffy-cut windbreaker-style jacket of that size should have been just fine. Why, then, did the tag inside this garment say 5XL? I wrote it off as a difference in sizing between countries. I tried it on, and I’ll tell you that this jacket may not have fit me when I was wearing XL garments in my youth.

I felt bad enough when the missing package showed up the very day my replacement order shipped. I felt extra stupid when I realized the redundant jacket won’t even fit me when it gets here.

This whole experience has been deeply humiliating, but I figure I might as well share the story publicly so that I can move past it. I think I’ll eventually laugh about it; not so much the wasted money and poor decision making as the crazy timing—the when and how I discovered my folly.

Sometimes the Old Ways

I’m a “come here” in Richmond, Virginia, even though I’ve now lived in this city for over half my life. And so I have an outsider’s perspective on some of the Old Richmond traditions in a way that outsiders to any community do. I don’t think most folks outside of my birth state of New Jersey know what a proper hard roll is, and they probably wouldn’t understand why I care so much if they ate one. They don’t have years of life experience, family memories, and community nostalgia to support what might be an otherwise unremarkable thing.


Sidebar: the “hard roll” (not to be confused with the similar kaiser roll) seems to be so intimately linked to the pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich that I find it nearly impossible to find a useful link to explain them. Nearly everything I see from the past few years are worthless Pinterest lists or forum postings about Jersey natives lamenting the disappearance of our favorite breakfast bread. Some things can’t even be preserved on the Internet, it would seem!


I similarly don’t see much to celebrate around The Dairy Bar or Legendary Santa. I mean, I get why they’re special for people who have shared milkshakes with grandparents for generations or whose family has visited with Legendary Santa back to the days of Miller & Rhoads on Broad Street. But the rest of appeal is lost on me. This weekend, however, my wife and I shared a little bit of Old Richmond with our kids that carries as much wonder and joy for outsiders as those who grew up in the region: a movie screening at The Byrd Theater.

A friend of ours invited us at the last minute to catch a showing of The Lego Movie 2 late in the afternoon, and we were game for it. Both of our children were completely awestruck by the interior as their eyes adjusted to the low light, and my daughter kept asking whether it was a “play movie theater” (comparing it, I imagine, to the Carpenter Theater where she saw The Nutcracker this past December). Even better, and unexpected for the afternoon showing, was the performance from Bob Gulledge on the Wurlitzer organ coming out of the floor.

 Adapted  from Flickr  under the  CC BY-SA 2.0 license .
Adapted from Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license .

Valerie and I are no strangers to the organ or the theater—we’ve even participated in the pre-It’s a Wonderful Life sing-along. But it was a new kind of joy to share a little bit of this old town with my kids. I even forgot the terrible seats for most of the movie 🙂