Thursday February 9 started out as a pretty normal day. Our team gathered for our daily video call to compare notes on current work and then I began catching up on my overnight email. So far so good, but then I suddenly found that I couldn’t see properly.
I wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong, so I closed both eyes in turn, and discovered that I had lost 99% of the vision in my left eye. It was like there was a thick gray cloud blocking my sight, with a few thin strands of light sneaking in here and there.
This was definitely not normal. I took a quick reality check. Any pain? No. Can I move okay? Yes. Any other signs of a problem? No. Hmm…
And then over the course of about a minute, the problem went away. The gray cloud gradually faded, and I could see again.
Did I imagine it? No, it definitely happened. But why? What does it mean? Am I about to die for some reason? But if it was important, wouldn’t there have been some pain? So maybe I should just shrug it off and get back to work?
I spent the next few hours trying to figure out answers to these questions. I found a page about amaurosis fugax on the internet, which seemed to very closely describe what had happened – but unhelpfully it listed 16 possible causes, of various severities. I talked to an eye doctor, who said I should get a carotid ultrasound in the next day or two – but I couldn’t figure out how to do that. Maybe make an appointment with a neurologist, which wasn’t possible until the following week? It was all very confusing.
Eventually I talked to a friend who’s a doctor, who said that it was hard to know for sure, but if it had happened to someone in her family, she’d take them to the ER – because it could be really bad, and they would be able to do all the tests to find out.
Experts in the ER
So around 4.30pm, my wife and I decided we’d better go to the ER to get this all checked out. As soon as I described my symptoms to the triage nurse I obviously triggered her “signs of a stroke” warning list, and so they quickly admitted me and got me seen by the ER doctor and a neurologist, and started taking vials of blood for testing and monitoring my heart rate and blood pressure.
Over the course of the next 24 hours I had a CAT scan, an MRI, multiple ultrasounds, an EKG and was seen by multiple nurses, doctors and two neurologists. It was all very exciting, and throughout the whole thing I kind of felt like a fraud. I felt no pain or discomfort whatsoever – and yet all these people were trying to figure out what had happened, and why, and what to do about it.
In the end, they determined that I’d experienced a transient ischemic attack – a blood clot that blocked the artery in my left eye – but with seemingly no ongoing damage. Apparently I had COVID with no symptoms (without realizing it), and COVID makes this more likely to happen. And so I have to take some medication to avoid it (or anything worse) happening again.
What struck me most about the whole experience was the contrast between those first few hours – where I couldn’t figure out what to do, or how to do it – and the experience in the hospital where I had prompt attention from the experts and where they had access to all the tools to be able to diagnose what was going on.
It was incredibly frustrating in those first few hours. I knew something significant had happened, I even had a good idea what it was, but I wasn’t able to talk to an expert about it to find out what to do next. I managed to make an appointment with a neurologist for 6 days later, but I couldn’t risk waiting that long. I wanted to talk to an expert today and get some immediate advice.
In the end it all feels like much ado about nothing. I never felt any pain, there doesn’t appear to be any damage, and as soon as I got back home I was able to start running again and felt great! Except that I have to take three different pills with my lunch every day.
My goal is always to provide you some useful insight for the world of telecoms, and I think there are two lessons we can draw from this experience.
- Make sure you investigate small problems. They might be nothing, or they could be an early warning of something much worse. So investigate that intermittent alarm – understand what’s causing it, and take proactive steps to prevent it turning into an outage.
- Make sure you can easily contact an expert when you need it. One of our core values is “Pick up the phone” – precisely because we know how important it is to be able to talk to someone when you need help. You can learn more about our support retainers here.