Saturday, February 25, 2012

Now You See It, Now You Don't

I have always thought of myself as an independent person. Being a military brat and an only child I just assumed this was an inherent trait. Having spent the past two years moving from state to state, however, I do find myself question just how independent I really am. I am independent enough to entertain myself when I have to and although I do not enjoy being more or less "on my own" I do adapt to it and find a few upsides. Where I am beginning to learn I am not so independent is in my general well-being. Does that make sense? Let's take cooking for instance: yes, I can cook, but I do not like to cook. This means that my meals primarily consist of sauteed vegetables and pasta although lately the vegetables have fallen by the wayside and my dinners have been pasta and cheese. I almost never buy milk because I do not drink it fast enough and the primary staple of my diet is Special K cereal. Sometimes in the morning I will have an egg. When I really sit down and look at this I think: how do I live? Shouldn't there at least be a salad in there? Maybe more protein than just an egg on the odd morning? This is the type of bland diet I used to chide friends for in college. My roommates and I used to tell one of our friends (turkey, pita, ranch dressing, and Pops cereal) that he was going to get scurvy. Now I wonder: am I going to get scurvy? Or more importantly: will I even know if I get scurvy?

About two weeks ago my contacts began hurting my eyes. I would put the lenses in my eyes and would immediately begin tearing up and sniffling. Of course, this is just one of the downsides to being a contact-wearer so I chalked it up to a scratch in my contacts. I continued to wear my contacts everyday. My glasses have not been updated since I was in high school so they are pretty much useless to me.

As the week progressed I became mildly sensitive to light. If I was looking at someone who was sitting with a light behind them I found it hard to look at the person. My bedside lamp became a nuisance as well and there were times when I had to stare at the floor on the CTA because the sun was too bright. My eyes looked and felt puffy and tired even if I didn't feel all that fatigued. There were also times when the veins in my eyes were so prominent that it almost looked like my eyes were bloodshot.

At first I blamed all of these symptoms on my lack of rest. I say "rest" and not "sleep" because I was getting as much sleep as I always have (in bed by 12:30 or 1am and up somewhere between 7:30 and 10am). My schedule, however, had become somewhat chaotic over the past month and I had very little downtime. I thus figured that my body was just exhausted and was expressing this through my eyes (and the noticeable veins were a result of dehydration). I iced my eyes, dabbed them with anti-wrinkle cream and soldiered on. It wasn't until my sensitivity to light increased twofold that I really thought of my eyes as being anything other than tired.

I finally admitted I might have an eye problem when the fluorescent light at work caused me to look away. A meeting with my manager forced me to look at a dark corner of the room because she sat with a large window behind her and the dim bar lighting at our Bingo Benefit caused me to constantly rub my teary eyes. The morning after Bingo I called an optometrist. My eyes had greatly worsened overnight and were now glazed over, in excruciating pain, and puffy to the point where it looked like I had been sobbing all night. To top it off, I had recently developed a severe cold and sounded akin to Minnie Mouse (not even an exaggeration unfortunately). I called the optometrist and attempted to make an appointment for the next day (I still had to go to the theatre after all!):

"We have an opening at 3:30 today and 2pm tomorrow," the chipper receptionist said.

"I'll go with 2pm tomorrow," I squeaked.

"Okay. Be sure to bring your health insurance card and a photo ID tomorrow."


"Do you wear contacts?"



"I have them, but they don't really work so I just wear glasses."

"Are you having a problem with your contacts?"

"You know, I'm not really sure. For about the past two weeks I've just been growing more and more sensitive to light and it's finally gotten to the point where I can't have any lights on around me."

"Oh...are you sure you want to come in tomorrow?"

"Yeah. I haven't decided if I'm going to call in sick today or not."

"Do your eyes hurt, ma'am?"

"Like my actual eyeballs?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Yeah. Quite excruciating really."

"How long have they been hurting?"

"About two weeks."


"Ma'am, we can squeeze you in at 10:30 this morning. Do you think you could make that?"

Now I know things were serious. I made the 10:30am appointment and called in sick to work. When I got to the doctor's office they found that I did not have health insurance to cover an optometrist. My insurance covers medical doctors only. The optometrist was a very nice man, however, and took pity on how I was almost having to close my eyes under his lights. "Let me just take you in the back and take one quick peak," he said.

I sat down in the examination chair and Dr. Eyes swiveled the phoropter at me (I thought phoropter would sound better than 'eye examination thingy'). I placed my chin in the chin-rest, Dr. Eyes turned the beam of light on and I immediately whipped my head back in pain. Apparently even in that mila-second Dr. Eyes saw all that he needed to and exclaimed, "Whoa that's bad!" He coaxed me into letting him looking into my other eye for the same length of time and then swiveled the phoropter away.

"Can you be without your contacts?" he asked.

"I mean, I can, but I prefer not to. As long as I don't drive -"

He stopped me. "It actually wasn't a question. You will have to go without your contacts."


"Come with me," he said. We went back to the reception area where Dr. Eyes immediately picked up the phone and began dialing. He rifled through a rolodex and handed me a business card. "Do you know where that is?" he asked. I had just assumed he had given me his business card. I looked down and saw the address for an eye surgeon. Before I could respond, Dr. Eyes began speaking to someone on the phone.

"Hi, this is Dr. Eyes, is Dr. Surgeon in? No? Well I have a patient here who needs to see him -" he turned to me, "what's your schedule like today?"


"When is your first available appointment?" he asked into the phone. "2pm? Great. And have Dr. Surgeon calls me when he gets in. I want to explain the situation to him." He hung up then phone and gave me detailed directions to Dr. Surgeon's office.

"Is this bad?" I asked as loudly as I could.

"You have a cold, right?" I nodded. Thank you, Mr. Obvious. "This can often happen with a cold," he said.

"This only happened two days ago," I said, pointing to my throat.

"Oh." Dr. Eyes looked at my answers on the What is Wrong With You Today sheet. "Well Dr. Surgeon can help you out and then when you need new contacts I can prescribe those to you."

I left not sure if I should be feeling just a little bit panicked. I immediately called my mother so I could wonder aloud to someone what would happen if I needed eye surgery. It suddenly hit me how alone I was in case of an emergency.

At 2pm sharp I was sitting in Dr. Surgeon's office, filling out another What is Wrong With You Today form. A nurse called my name and led me into an examination room. My voice was fading rapidly and the young girl seemed miffed that she had to keep leaning over to hear me. Finally, Dr. Surgeon entered and asked me a few basic questions about my symptoms. He then brought his phoropter to my face and, like a case of déjà vu, he shined the light into my eye and immediately exclaimed, "Whoa that's bad!" Had I had the voice I would have said, "WHAT is so bad?? Will somebody tell me?" Instead I waited while he checked the other eye. "Yep, it's in both eyes," he said. "That is very inflamed." He wrote me a prescription for steroid drops, told me to stop wearing my contacts indefinitely and to come back in one week.

I went home and spent the rest of the day under my covers. Luckily the maintenance man had been by that morning to replace my blinds which had collapsed the week before so my room with nice and dark.

While lying in my Bed of Pain, it struck me how I really do not take care of myself when living on my own. When I was back in my original apartment in Evanston I was chided for only having eggs, almond milk, Special K cereal and soy sauce. Aware that I am slightly iron deficient, I never took my iron pills until my boyfriend came and stayed with me and literally put one in my hand every morning. I also never fixed the broken blinds in that apartment until he showed up and let's not even get started on my current lack of fresh fruit and vegetables (although I do have a mango!).

Basically, what this experience has taught me is: health-wise, I am not as independent as I hoped. I apparently need someone else there to remind me to eat more than just Special K and almond milk and that maybe light sensitivity is not a symptom of being tired. Without other people -- I fall apart!

Then again, I haven't even come close to dying yet so I must be doing something right. And thanks to steroids, my eyes are whiter than they've ever been!

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you took care of this at least. You are not alone in the eating well department. Many of us single folks don't eat well. I remember when I first moved to NY, I used to cook a little meal every night when I got home from work. I piece of chicken, a veggie, like that. I shopped every day on my way home. Somewhere along the line, I quit doing that. I do have to focus on that even now. Now, I just end up throwing away food that goes bad in the fridge. Alas.