Miles Kington: The self-inflicted blow that made me see red

I could have learned how to blow out candles through my eyes and gone into a career in variety
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The Independent Online

If I had ever become a scientist, it would have been because of my nosebleeds.

If I had ever become a scientist, it would have been because of my nosebleeds.

When I was quite young, about eleven or twelve, I used to get lots of nosebleeds. I never knew why. But they were quite dramatic, especially when I got blood all over a shirt. It made it look as if I had been in an interesting fight. I was not the sort of boy that did get into fights, actually. Maybe it was because of the blood on my shirts, and my handkerchieves.

Maybe other boys looked at my blood-spattered clothes and thought to themselves: "Phew, better keep clear of him - he's obviously a bit of a fighter."

After a while I stopped getting nosebleeds but not before they had briefly opened up an entrée into science for me.

It came about like this.

I had a nosebleed one day which was worse than usual, and I was skilled enough in nosebleeds by now to know that the one thing you do not do when you have a nose bleed is give your nose a hard blow, no matter how blocked up it is, because it will only start the nosebleed going again.

A nosebleed stops because the blood has coagulated and it doesn't take much of a nose-blow to remove the coagulation.

So I waited as long as I possibly could, until I thought it must all have started to heal up inside my nose again, and I finally gave way to the temptation to blow my blocked up nose. But it was so blocked up that I couldn't budge it. It was like blowing into a bag of concrete. And then I noticed something quite unexpected and weird. I found that I was suddenly seeing the world through a film of red. My eyes were actually telling my mind that the world was coloured red.

Now, my mind knew from long experience that the world wasn't red, so my mind had to come up with another theory pretty quick - and the theory it came up with (which turned out to be the correct one) was that the blood from my nose was somehow getting into my eyes.

Only, this didn't make sense. Everyone knows that there is no connection between the nose and the eyes. Between the nose and the ears, yes. We know that if our ears get blocked up on an aeroplane you can hold your nose and blow, and mysteriously this will clear the pressure in your ears. But the nose and the eyes? A connection?

Yet this thin red film was the proof that there was.

At this point in time I had a choice between two courses of action. I could panic and run around convinced that I was bleeding to death through my eyes. Or I could find it all terribly interesting. I am happy to say that, momentarily, I chose the latter.

There was some primitive scientific instinct in me which wanted objectively to know why this had happened - why that is, just for a moment, I had been granted the literal ability to see the world through rose-tinted spectacles. I wasn't disgusted or horrified, but fascinated.

And there is indeed an ancient small passage between the nose and the eyes, which - according to a medical text book I later consulted - is usually closed up. But the combination of nose bleeding and nose blowing must have opened it in my case, because although I do not remember ever again getting blood in my eye, I could for a while feel a small draught in my eye every time I blew my nose too hard. I mean that literally. I would blow my nose and feel my eye go cold as a small breeze passed out of the top of my nose into my eye.

I was very proud of this. I felt I was a freak proof of something that only existed in medical textbooks. Perhaps If I had trained hard, I could have learned how to blow out candles through my eyes and gone into a career in variety - though, admittedly, it would have been a very short act.

And if I had cultivated my curiosity, I could have laid the foundations of a career in science, or at least in medicine.

As it was, the nose-eye passage closed up again, and I forgot all about it and slid sideways and downwards into the study of language and literature, that is to say, the exchange of second-hand knowledge and experience.

I dare say science should be grateful for my absence.

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