In the past few months I started noticing occasional double vision late at night, usually while playing Words on the phone while in bed preparing to sleep. I'd gotten a new, stronger prescription for my glasses last fall and I put it down to that, because I could shift the glasses around and the double vision would minimize or disappear.

I'd also noticed my right eyelid felt a bit puffy in the morning sometimes. This eventually turned into a drooping eyelid (ptosis) on one side -- and the double vision was getting more frequent, seeming exacerbated by the droop. WTF?

Wondering if it might just be eyestrain (too much screen time), I scheduled a checkup. I also started Googling my symptoms, and yikes! Was I having a stroke? Some kind of palsy? Going blind? Pretty quickly I narrowed it down to "ocular myasthenia gravis" -- an immune-system disorder in which antibodies block the ability of muscles to receive neural signals, resulting in muscle weakness. The effects of OMG frequently show up first in the eyelid muscle because it's one of the body's weakest muscles. The more I read about the full-blown form of myasthenia gravis (which you can do here and here), I was both reassured and worried. The cause is unclear and there is no cure, only symptomatic treatment, though it sometimes spontaneously goes on remission, often for long periods of time. In many patients, it never goes past the ocular form (which can have associated head and neck issues, as described below).

The eye doc said my eyes checked out fine and she suspected OMG. She referred me to an eye specialist in town at Eye Associates (I have to say I was not impressed with the manner of Dr. Warner there) who also said it looked like OMG. I was in turn referred to a neuro-opthalmologist, Dr. Maitland, who runs a "balance disorders clinic" and also teaches at FSU College of Medicine.

The week I had to wait for that appointment was the worst: ignorance and scary/frustrating symptoms. Maitland and his staff were professional and thorough, basically checking me for rapid muscle fatigue in the eye muscles as well as arms and legs. He confirmed OMG and scheduled me for a CT scan and blood work to be sure. The followup was almost 4 weeks later, though!

At its worst (so far), the double vision made it nearly impossible to drive more than an hour at a time, and reading was also difficult. The double vision causes depth perception problems, which gave me mild vertigo a few times.

Then I started learning several coping mechanisms:

Squinting one eye shut, covering it with one hand, or wearing a piratey eye patch eliminates the double vision. Tilting my head also does so when it's minor. A square of scotch tape over one lens of the glasses eliminates the second image while permitting peripheral vision, which makes it a lot more pleasant walking around. Strong sunlight exacerbated the problem so I was careful to wear shades all the time outdoors. Sometimes just going without glasses altogether was a relief because it minimized the apparent double vision. All of these can make a huge difference in comfort, though some nights I was so happy to get in bed and close my eyes. There's no pain or discomfort besides occasional irritated eyes or stress headaches.

I've had some very minor issues with difficulty swallowing and slurred speech, which are common symptoms. I've heard the phrase "difficulty swallowing" before and it always sounded ominous, but in my case it's just that I may need an extra sip of water to wash things down. I have noticed very slight slurring/lisping (sibilants lose their edge) but no one else has. It gave me a scare last Thursday when I was delivering a workshop and found my articulatory speech mechanism felt like it was gumming up, but I got through fine. Knowing this is a possibility, I'm better prepared.

And actually in the past two to three weeks the symptoms have abated significantly. Driving is not a problem (I drove to Opelika and back three weeks ago with very little discomfort, whereas two weeks prior to that I could only do about an hour -- squinting and tilting my head the whole time -- during a drive to Tampa). The double vision is much less dramatic and happens much less often.

I finally had the followup with Maitland and he said the tests ruled out a tumor on the thymus, a gland under your breastbone that can sometimes be the culprit. That's good news in that I won't need surgery, but it rules out a simple solution. (And of course the CT scan revealed gallstones and a kidney cyst that I'll need to follow up on, but nothing urgent.) He prescribed meds I can take before things like workshops or long drives that should reduce the symptoms -- we'll see how that goes.

I'm cautiously optimistic. He wants me back in 6 months for another scan. Meanwhile I've developed a full repertoire of Popeye jokes, thought the "squinky eye" is much less of an issue than it was. Either my symptoms have at least temporarily eased up or I'm learning better how to cope. Or both. I recorded some videos at work today and got through multiple takes of some long scripts with no probs.

This was pretty scary at first, especially not knowing what was going on. I'm sharing this despite the TMI factor because you may know someone with similar symptoms or might get them one day yourself, and I hope this will reduce the anxiety if that ever happens. The online forums for OMG sufferers are a godsend, by the way.

So, I yam what I yam and that's all for now. Life goes on!


It's ....

And of course:

At the end it was simple enough: a couple of hours on the charger and a 2-second squirt of ether into the carb, et voila.

Yesterday I replaced the bad fuel hose and sure enough, there is a fracture in the rubber about halfway along. (While I was under there I noticed the clutch return spring looks like it may have slipped or something, which might partly explain why the clutch pedal is such a light touch. Another time.)

Then I got to work on the ignition. The tests in Muir's book pointed to the points, which were burnt -- thus no current signal to trigger the coil four times per revolution. I pulled them out and filed them last night.

This morning, I reinstalled and gapped the points, and put about a half gallon of gas in the tank. No immediate leaks, but it still wasn't firing up, and since I'd left the charger off when gas was dripping everywhere, the battery quickly depleted itself.

So I busied myself checking other systems while the charger was doing its thing. Got the tail, license, and city lights (parking lights) working. Confirmed all the turn signal bulbs are working, though not yet blinking. Went to lunch.

Came back home and pulled a fuel line off the fuel pump and cranked over the engine enough to verify there was gas coming to the carb.

OK: fuel, spark, and enough juice to run the starter motor. The ether was just a final boost.

It runs very nicely, that clackety sewing-machine idle of an aircooled Reimspiess engine. I need to check the timing and idle speed. Alas, the generator light is on and the brushes look good, so I may be in for something more serious. But it starts and runs! Woot!


Ooh, that smell.

Last night I picked up a couple of gallons of gas and poured about half of it into the dry gas tank. Fortunately, as it turns out -- for I have done this before -- I didn't just dump it all in there, just in case there was a gas leak. Previous owner's son mentioned a "pinhole leak" in the tank that they had had repaired, so I played it safe.

Sat in the driver's seat and proceeded to crank away to see if I could suck some gas into the carb and get it going. Did this several times with no luck. My neighbor Jim -- no slouch in the gearhead department -- ambles over to watch the fun. I go around back and look for gas. I can smell it, but the see-thru fuel filter is still dry. Hmm.

Jim suggests we try starting fluid, an excellent suggestion. If you aren't familiar with this magical and highly dangerous material, it's basically ether in a spray can. Yes, the medical anesthetic. It has a low ignition temperature and will usually start any motor that has spark. The smell recalls faint memories of childhood hospital visits.

It also recalls my brief stint renting a house in Pennsylvania in the 80s, when my joy at movin' on up to a single house with a driveway was tempered by the realization I'd have to keep it clear of snow in the winter. I managed to find a used snowblower (I think I paid $5 for it) that would only start with ether. Brief silent pause here for memories of dark snowy nights and a Briggs & Stratton shuddering into a dull roar.

So -- back to last night -- Jim volunteers to spray some in the carb throat while I crank it over. I pull off the air cleaner and head around front to crank away some more. Unfortunately, that wasn't the trick. To confirm spark Jim turned the engine over while I grounded a plug wire. Nothing. It was getting late so we let it go for the evening, and I pulled out the trusty Idiot Manual to refresh my memory on ignition system testing.

Fast forward to this evening. I notice a gassy smell when I pull into the driveway where the car is sitting. My first thought is the gas tank, but it's dry underneath the front. But alas, a big wet area in back under the transaxle and I can see it actively dripping there. I raise the left side with the jack so the swing axle scissors underneath it like a prop -- a handy trick with Beetles up through 1967 -- and wriggle underneath. Sure enough, gas is leaking from the short bit of flexible hose between where the steel line exits the frame and the engine. Never seen a leak there before. Steady 1-2 second drip. Double-plus uncool.

Well, I'd already been planning to replace the flexible fuel lines as a matter of course, and even have some fairly recent stock on hand. Not sure what the white foamy stuff is in the gas, though. Will need to check further.

So tonight's adventure ended with me siphoning out what remaining gas I could, putting a catch bowl under the transaxle for any remaining drops, and letting it dry out. Next I'll replace that hose and confirm fuel delivery to the engine before continuing my ignition tests. I'm aiming for having it running before the weekend's over.


Finally got the long-flat battery up to a full charge but the starter wasn't even clicking, so more inquiry was needed.

I like to think that when I'm muttering and occasionally cursing to myself while troubleshooting a system like an old car, I'm actually in diachronic communication with the original engineers and various owners and tinkerers who have kludged the system since it rolled off the assembly line. "Ah!" I'll remark, discovering the beauty in a solution that was initially baffling, "you sly dogs!" Or hunds. Es macht nichts.*

With a one-owner car, there are fewer imagined parties to the conversation, but tonight I was saying WTF? a lot -- across time and space -- to one of the previous owner's mechanics (probably the guy at Furrin Motors) who, at some time in the past, bypassed the ignition/starter switch with a big push-button switch, like a giant's doorbell, mounted under the dash to the left of the steering column. Old-school kludge for increasing starter solenoid pull-in juice, though it's more like a Dog Island hack than something people with access to spare parts or Ford solenoids would do. So WTF, previous mechanic?

At any rate, this explains why turning the key was not actuating the starter: it isn't connected to it. Sho nuff, it cranks away just fine now when the proper button is mashed. OK, got it. Bonus: helps prevent theft if I ever leave the keys in it.

So it cranks over merrily but still wouldn't fire up. See-thru fuel filter was still bone dry after cranking for nearly a minute. Line blocked? Bad fuel pump?

Nope. Empty gas tank. The mechanical fuel gauge is a baldfaced liar.

Reducing the information in this system, one byte at a time....

*Edit: I now realize I went into this whole thing far more eloquently in a post from almost two years ago, with a different Beetle.


Sleuthing out what's needed to get the 65 Beetle running - charging the battery, turning the engine over by hand to check compression, verifying the ignition primary, wondering why the turn signals don't flash... Chasing down gremlins on an old VW is one of my favorite meditations. 6V electrics are extremely simple, but very unforgiving when it comes to corrosion. My nostrils are redolent of horsehair padding and old motor oil. I have dirty fingernails.


40 horses. 6 volts. One owner -- until today.

Oops, I did it again.
Seat covers are not original but much of the rest of the interior is. Currently not running, but we'll fix that, my little pretty.

You can't tell from the pic, but that's a Kennebrew license plate frame. Lower edge of the decklid is mangled and doesn't clear the bumper without some origami action, but it's typical and minor.
This is a Maaco paint job that looks pretty good for the price. Windshield gasket has rotted and there's rust in the corners -- nothing I haven't handled before.

A little backstory on the 1965 Beetle that I brought home today (with the able assistance of brother Paul): When I was a kid, we had a 62 VW, and my first car was a 65 sedan that looked a lot like this one (more beige). When Nancy and I moved to this neighborhood in the 90s, I learned pretty quickly that the house on the corner was still owned by the parents of a third-grade classmate. In fact, I recall a sleepover there circa 1965, the year Mr. Myers bought this car. It has the original window sticker. In the 90s and 00s I loved seeing Mr. and Mrs. Myers heading off on errands in it -- that distinctive fweem that all VW nuts can hear two blocks away -- and I'm sure I said more than once, "If you ever contemplate selling it...." I was flattered that the family remembered when time came to pass it along.

It's not a cherry showcar or a total time capsule, though it looks pretty sharp for a 50+ year old. Part of the beauty of this car is that, up until just a few years ago, it was just someone's wheels; a well-made appliance that held up and accumulated affection as it received regular use. Other than making the necessary repairs, I'm planning to leave it as untouched as possible, dings and patina and warts and all. And drive it.

Now I just have to find someplace to hide it from Nancy.