Eye Litter

Do You See What I See?

Here’s a little experiment for those of you interested in learning a bit of useless information.  Gaze into the distance at a blank wall or sheet of paper, even at a cloudless sky.  Now change focus to just the surface of your eyeball.  It sounds weird, but try it anyway; you can do it.

Notice anything?  Little filmy objects floating around, for instance?  They look like something you’d see on a slide under a microscope–tissue cells or viruses perhaps.  They may resemble spider webs or clouds.   Often they’re translucent rectangles.  Some may appear as spots or dots of varying size; others look like tiny bits of string contorted or moderately straight.

Occasionally you may even see dots with strings or tails attached, resembling little sperm cells.  I’m not sure what that says about women who see them.  It might have something to do with woman having been created from the rib of a man but, who knows?  I wouldn’t attach too much significance to it, though.


I See Dead Bits

Anyway, all those odd little objects you see actually have a name.  They are called “flying flies” or, scientifically, muscae volitantes.  It turns out these dots and spots, etc., are fragments of blood cells or other kinds of cells produced when the vitreous humor* within the eye ages.  The vitreous humor (also known as eyeball stuffing) is the clear gel-like substance through which light passes between the lens at the front of the eye and the retina at the back.  Over time this substance dries, thins, and changes in structure which, of course, is just another way of saying that the eyeball gets old just like the rest of the body when one reaches geezer status.  As these muscae volitantes float around in their vitreous swimming pool they pass by the retina, giving the owner a close-up view of life literally passing him by.

These ocular flotsam and jetsam are also known as eye floaters.  A few years ago during an eye exam my ophthalmologist informed me she had detected some floaters in my eyes.  “Great!” I thought.  “As if I needed proof of dead brain cells.”  They weren’t brain cells, however; just break-away cells from within my eyes.  While this is often a symptom of (Sigh!) aging, it also occurs in part of the younger population as well.  My doctor said I’d probably need cataract surgery in about five years.  Just one more gilded moment in my “Golden Years.”

I’ve tried experimenting with my floaters.  One day while waiting with my cat in the lobby of the veterinarian’s office I was feeling kind of bored and got to thinking about my “flies.”  First I rolled my eyes from side to side and watched as the little critters raced back and forth like tiny bugs swimming laps.  Next I tried adding a bit of flourish by rolling my eyes upward and then to the sides.  This was pretty neat–kind of like watching a tennis game with the balls being lobbed back and forth.  I’d have tried something else but the vet tech came for us just then.  Besides, the receptionists were starting to give me funny looks.


Bugging Out

I can’t say much for the person who named these objects “flying flies”–isn’t that what flies do?  Besides, they don’t look like flies.  Thank goodness for that.  Those critters have compound eyes way too big for their heads.  They’re ugly enough from a distance; they’d be downright terrifying eyeball to compound eyeball.   (Think Jeff Goldblum in the 1986 sci-fi thriller “The Fly.”  How gruesome was that?!!)  But then, they might make for another good horror film:  “My Eyes Have Flies”, “Invasion of the Eye Flies”, “(Fl)eyeball Terror.”

It’s been about three years since that eye exam.  Funny how I never really noticed my floaters before then, but I probably should schedule another appointment.  Those floaters are getting more prevalent.  Sometimes I try to swat at what seem to be gnats flying by.  At other times I’ve been startled by what I took to be a mouse or large insect scurrying across the floor in the next room.

When you start reaching for the bug spray or a rolled up newspaper to go after your “fliers flies” you need to get control.  Other people can’t see what you see and if you start running around screaming and swatting at invisible bugs and rodents, they may think you’re a little buggy yourself.  And what kind of doctor do you think they’re going to call?


© 2011 The Wit’s End Scribbler


*The name comes from the ancient designation for the bodily fluids (the “humors”) believed to determine temperament.  The fluids are blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm (the stuff that comes up from your lungs).  Vitreous humor is comparable to phlegm, a kind of eye snot, if you will.

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