There’s something about air travel that turns me into a zombie. It starts as soon as I’ve sat down after checking in for the flight ; and even once I’ve retrieved my baggage it’s difficult to shake off the sleepiness. This time, not even the usual tension-points of take-off and landing roused me from the state of torpor. The night was dark, the flight short – just twenty minutes or so ; and I was the only person on board – other than the captain, first officer – and the paramedic. I was aboard an air ambulance, on my way to Stornoway for a brain scan.
It was a couple of nights ago. I’d been getting ready for bed when I was struck by an excruciating pain in the head, both above the right eyebrow and a somewhat lesser pain on the right side at the back. Plus nauseousness and a swollen neck and throat. A bit like a migraine, but different. And far worse.
I’ve suffered with migraines since my early teens, though thankfully far less over the past 15 years ago – since we moved to Uist, in fact. I can recognize three distinct types: stress-induced ; food/drink-related ; lights+cold. I’ve developed strategies – by now almost subconscious – to avoid migraine getting started, or at least nipping them in the bud. To bed – asap. Warm body, cool head. Light and noise smothered out with a pillow. Empty head of thought. [D > That last doesn’t sound too difficult!] Hopefully I’ll fall into a deep sleep. How long until I wake – well that varies enormously ; but even if it’s just ten minutes later it feels like ten hours has passed, and I feel simultaneously both weakened and refreshed. If I’m disturbed, I’ll be in a zombie state.
So in some ways this was like a light-and-cold migraine, especially as I found myself acutely sensitive to light – even that of a torch. And yet it came on far too quickly, and the pain was atypical in terms of both locations and severity. And above all I couldn’t think there had been any of the usual triggers – there was just the symptoms. Unusually – and worryingly, I couldn’t find any relief with the usual sleep therapy: lying down made the pain and nauseousness intolerable, and sitting was scarcely less aggravating … so I just paced about the house, crying out with pain. After 15-20 mins or so there was no sign of it lessening, and for the first time I called the NHS24 helpline. After describing the symptoms, they ordered an ambulance …
Denise packed up some things, and I settled myself into zombie mode – a tactic for coping with migraine when I can’t get to bed or go to sleep. Eyes closed, stand or sit motionless, blanking out all inputs, responding only as absolutely necessary – my speech becomes very slow and slightly slurred.
Two single-crew ambulances arrived. The two paramedics checked me for life signs, and then … and a half-hour later I was in a bed at Balivanich hospital. Hours of repeated questioning, medical ‘obs’ and samples. Later, the duty doctor announced that an air ambulance had been sent to take me to Stornoway.
A&E at Stornoway plied me with more questions, and there were tests and yet more tests. And then the scan. A CT scanner. A first for me. All I knew of them is the images of scans shown on TV programmes. Not sure whether they use X-rays or … what?
I lay on the bed-cum-carriage of the machine, body held motionless by the head-rest, and thoughts stilled in submission to whatever must come next. The radiographer told me to keep my eyes closed, and I’d not feel or see anything – nothing to worry about. I let go. I sensed the slow motion of the carriage, felt a bump against the stop, and then the return. And then the same again. These were ‘reconnaissance scans’, used to plan the main scan, which would come third and last. So far, I’d experienced nothing more than the movement of the carriage, the whir of the machine, and a cooling blast from a fan.
The machine powered up for the third scan. Suddenly, though my eyes were closed (eyelids lowered, but not pressed tight), I saw waves of light, in shades of blue radiating out from some point behind my head – as if from the focal point of the machine. Brilliant colours, from the pale blue of a winter mid-day, to the deep indigo of a twilight at mid-summer. The waves rippled as they radiated out across my body, towards my feet. But as scanner powered down, the last waves of blue dispersed and dissipated.
The radiographer had never known anyone experience those blue waves. Or waves or any other colour. Or waves. Or anything at all. Nor the consultant. He stopped by to tell me that the scan had not shown any abnormality … and specifically no hemorrhage: I could go home.
Arrangements were made. Home by scheduled flight. Denise met me at BEB – Balivanich airport.
The head pain? As yet, unexplained. The lights? Also unexplained.
Or are they? The only reference I could find on the internet, searching for anything remotely connected, concerned those who claim to ‘see energy’. Which is interesting, because what a CT Scanner does is to project a narrow spectrum of electro-magnetic energy, a range known as X-Rays.
Researching the subject further, I’ve found this on Wikipedia
While generally considered invisible to the human eye, in special circumstances X-rays can be visible. Brandes, in an experiment a short time after Röntgen’s landmark 1895 paper, reported after dark adaptation and placing his eye close to an X-ray tube, seeing a faint “blue-gray” glow which seemed to originate within the eye itself. Upon hearing this, Röntgen reviewed his record books and found he too had seen the effect. When placing an X-ray tube on the opposite side of a wooden door Röntgen had noted the same blue glow, seeming to emanate from the eye itself, but thought his observations to be spurious because he only saw the effect when he used one type of tube. Later he realized that the tube which had created the effect was the only one powerful enough to make the glow plainly visible and the experiment was thereafter readily repeatable. The knowledge that X-rays are actually faintly visible to the dark-adapted naked eye has largely been forgotten today; this is probably due to the desire not to repeat what would now be seen as a recklessly dangerous and potentially harmful experiment with ionizing radiation. It is not known what exact mechanism in the eye produces the visibility: it could be due to conventional detection (excitation of rhodopsin molecules in the retina), direct excitation of retinal nerve cells, or secondary detection via, for instance, X-ray induction of phosphorescence in the eyeball with conventional retinal detection of the secondarily produced visible light. Though X-rays are otherwise invisible, it is possible to see the ionization of the air molecules if the intensity of the X-ray beam is high enough.
Note the bit about dark-adaptation. One of the symptoms of this episode had been what the medics referred to as ‘photophobia’ – extreme sensitivity to light. I’d kept my eyes shut for most of the night, even though awake – to protect myself from any stray light. I’d become accustomed to darkness – that’s what’s meant by dark-adaptation. In short, my eyes had become so sensitive that I could see even the glow of molecules irradiated with x-rays.
Well, that’s the only explanation I can offer. What do you think? I’d be particularly interested to hear from anyone who has experienced something similar.
I did wonder whether to entitle this post ‘The man with X-Ray eyes’, but I dont like to be sensationalist. Or misleading! So I made do with Night Flight – Blue Light.