Find your blind spots

What everyone nose is snot enough

“Classic deviated septum. Can you even breathe out of that side of your nose?”

I could still taste the lidocaine dripping down my face and in the back of my throat, as the Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) doctor reeled back the several-inch-long cotton strips he’d just shoved into my nasal passages. I was in the fourth quarter of a four-hour ER visit. 

I’d woken up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, unable to breathe, unable to swallow. My throat was constricted, hurt, and so I’d driven myself to the ER where a series of tests showed no obvious culprit (I hadn’t swallowed any razor blades). It was “idiopathic,” doctor-speak for “we don’t really know what that was all about.” 

But in the course of numbing my nasal passages to send a probe in, the ENT noticed just how collapsed one side was.

He found my blind spot.

Blind spots are everywhere you look and can’t see. The term first appears in 1864 (“spot within one’s range of vision but where one cannot see”). It’s then applied to the physical limitations of the retina in 1872, and then in 1907 it gets extended to other figurative senses (like moral, intellectual).

The most common use case nowadays is, of course, the car and side-mirror. Not being able to see certain angles. 

It strikes me that we’re a bit over-confident in using the term today. We often use “blind spot” to talk about something specific we cannot see, but really, blind spots are more the norm than some small exception. I think we’ve got it backward—clear-sightedness is the exception. 

Take that common-use example with respect to cars. A blind spot is typically considered the rear part of the vehicle’s passenger side (due to its positional relationship to the driver). But that’s just one side. What about beneath? The driver cannot see underneath the car, or above the car, and as any parent knows full well the most dangerous blind spot in any car is the car-seated-kid directly behind the driver (makes me shiver just thinking about it). 

When you really tally up what you can see versus what’s beyond sight, we have a lot more blind spots than we recognize. In cars, we likely only have clear sight over a small select percentage of the area around the vehicle, which may be why we humans will soon likely lose to the oncoming onslaught of self-driving cars.

I’ve had allergies my whole life. I can remember carrying around huge stockpiles of tissues in my backpack to classes, hoping to have enough anti-snot ammo to make through a one-hour class without embarrassing myself. Cats, dust, trees, you name it, I’m allergic. 

I went through everything to mitigate this. Pills, nasal spray, eye drops. In my twenties and thirties, collectively, I spent four years getting weekly allergy shots to develop a tolerance to some of those allergens (it took longer than normal because I’d have to switch from one shot-clinic to another over time). 

Of course, the shots were in part to relieve discomfort and embarrassment. But overall, they were really about clear breathing. Easier breath, better sleep, both of which were/are a big deal to a longtime runner.

In all those years and years and years of shots, so focused on relieving the allergy problem to improve my breathing - did I ever once wonder about the structural airway itself?

No!

That’s my blind spot.

What’s yours?

It gets worse. Mine’s my nose. How bad is that? I mean, there’s no better/worse metaphor than that. For getting so focused on a problem you can’t see a better way staring you right in the face in the mirror. 

If I could miss something so important to my day-to-day existence, what else am I missing? 

I think this exercise should produce a low-grade anxiety, a worry, a dread about the finding the next blind spot, that should keep me on my toes. To be on the lookout for the sight that doesn’t see, where I’m habitually missing useful knowledge. 

Or I guess I could just wait around for the universe to send me a friendly ENT doc who points out a schnoz-infrastructure-upgrade.

*Editor’s Note: What do you think? Really, what do you think? Comments and critiques are welcome here. If you enjoyed this, please flick it on to anyone you think might find it of interest. Your word-of-mouth mention matters!

All the very best & see you next week, Matt