I May Have “Pink Eye,” But I’m No Commie

In the aftermath of the tornadoes in Alabama, armies of Good Samaritans have rushed to our aid with a million good deeds. Taking up their various instruments of mercy, they have come to attention as the Master Conductor has waved his wand, and the resultant symphony of compassion has been sweet, soothing music to our ears.

But they say “no good deed goes unpunished.” “They” are right.

When cell phone service returned to near normal two days after the storm struck, I downloaded my email and saw that a local church was offering an 8:00 AM communion service followed by an opportunity to go into the tornado-stricken areas around Harvest north of town and help out. I’ve been saying for years that we should spend less time in our mega-million dollar church buildings on Sunday mornings, talk much, much less and get out into the community and do much, much more. This sounded like our cup o’ sweet tea, so we made plans to join up.

I knew there would be a lot of chainsaw action, so Saturday I ambled by my local Sam’s Club, which was lit up like Christmas with a large generator mounted on a tractor trailer out back, and purchased some safety glasses in bulk–because that’s just the way I roll. The next day, after driving past once soaring, high voltage line transmission towers which were now bent to the ground, like men touching their toes, we found the work site. Eyegal spied a woman who was overwhelmed by the task of sorting damaged goods from “keepers,” so she latched on to her and spent the day making conversation and helping lighten the somber triage. She eased her pain a bit, and made a good friend along the way.

I walked a short piece down the road and found the church crew, already busy sawing and hauling. I have never operated a chainsaw, despite my rural roots. To those who knew me growing up, that’s no surprise, considering the “bookish” lad I was, and they will be relived to hear that I have not taken it up.

So I became a “hauler” rather than a “sawer.” And there was something good and right and pure about being an anonymous drone, simply another worker bee in the hive of help which surrounded the poor family who lost most everything and was now reduced to sorting through piles of soaked belongings, trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away, and who eyed their hastily-constructed plywood lean-to, whose sole accessory thus far was a recently-salvaged framed plaque celebrating an Alabama football national championship (Roll Tide), with a mix of thankfulness and dread.

I was glad I brought the safety glasses. Not only were many sawers without them, but some were without shirts and shoes. I made my rounds, passing them out, explaining that I was an eye doctor and that I insisted. I told them they could keep them since they would be sawing for some time to come, and they were grateful. There would be no “planks in the eye” on my watch–no siree, Billy Bob!–no scriptural object lessons–at least not from Matthew 7:3-5.

Safety glasses do a reasonably good job of protecting you from flying wood chips, but they offer little defense against the million and one microscopic viruses which ride in on great winds from far distant places and settle on wet, exposed debri, thriving in the warm, unsanitary, Petri dish-like conditions in which we worked that day.

I was reminded of this a couple of days later when my right eye began to swell up like a red balloon. “Physician heal thyself” sounds really catchy and profound, but in reality is a terrible idea. We can’t even diagnose ourselves correctly, much less treat appropriately. I thought it was allergic conjunctivitis, popped an antihistamine and used some allergy drops.

A day passed, then two, and the left eye began to swell too. Hmmm, I thought (If you hear a doctor say, “Hmmm,” you may be in deep do-do). Neither eye was responding to anti-allergy measures–time to move on to another diagnosis.

A word or two about “pink eye” (cue the ominous, “Dum, dum, dum  dum” music). In John Q. Public’s mind, it represents some type of alien germ warfare from a distant galaxy which will first turn your eyes into red weapons which shoot laser beams of infection at unaffected family and friends, and then once you’ve served your purpose of helping spread the epidemic that will rid the earth of humanity so the aliens can suck up all the resources, eat your brains out.

In reality, it’s a little less dramatic than that. Usually viral, sometimes bacterial, most “pink eye” results in mild to moderate discomfort and redness which will resolve without treatment within 7-14 days–most of the time.

But I didn’t have that kind. I had the kind that can spread like wildfire, blind you, and turn your brain into melted Jello. By Thursday night, when I spotted the little dot hemorrhages forming on the inside of my right lower lid, I realized this, and I immediately quarantined myself. “Unclean, Unclean!” I cried, sending family members scurrying into far corners of the house, despite my carrying a large container of sanitary wipes around and swabbing everything I touched.

And I started whining, of course. Because that’s what everybody, including eye doctors, does when they get “pink eye.” To top it off, Number Three Son was experiencing a bout of “pink” himself, as in the undercooked meat variety, and was headed toward the hospital with a severe case of gastroenteritis and dehydration. Eyegal spent Mother’s Day by his bedside. Good times for all!

Friday morning, I sent out a mass text message, complete with the above self portrait, to my area optometrist homies, many of whom I’ve taught over the years as interns rotating through my clinic, and explained the situation in cold, clinical terms followed by “Oh. My. God. It HURTS, please HELP ME!”

They responded en masse, all in one accord: Betadine lavage! Yes, I had heard about that too, in a meeting somewhere, but had never tried it on a patient. Betadine, as one colleague recently put it, is the “Chuck Norris” of antimicrobials, delivering a roundhouse, knockout kick to all manner of creepy crawlers and critters.

But using it as an eyewash is considered an “off label” use. If you actually read the label, it says “DO NOT GET IN EYES!” and for good reason–it burns like fire, stings like a wasp, and produces a nice little chemical keratoconjunctivitis (don’t you love it when I use big words?).

It’s a little like “scorched earth” warfare–you go in and torch everything and in the process deny the enemy access and use. Two steps forward, one step backwards, that kind of thing. And when you’re as miserable as I was, you get desperate and suddenly “off label” sounds exciting and exotic, like traveling to Juarez and dodging bullets in order to get a wonder drug that the FDA deems “experimental” and therefore unfit for delicate U.S. constitutions.

I even found a colleague who agreed to do it. It didn’t even hurt that bad, and moreover, it seemed to work! I felt better almost immediately. May God bless her and her household and all her descendants for generations to come!

But sometimes, as I learned, viruses are not so easily annihilated. Viruses are hardy little suckers that often survive in extreme conditions,  such as a post-apocalyptic, Betadine-nuked ocular wasteland. They often do what viruses do best–replicate. And two days later, I climbed into the octagon with “Ol’ Chuck” again for a second round of treatment, this one administered by my technician, who kept asking over and over again, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” This time, it felt more like a face full of mace.

Despite the resulting dry eye from the chemical keratoconjunctivitis and the red, puffy eyes that make me look like I’m coming off a 5 day bender, I’m pleased to report I’m on the mend. I’m sure I’ll eventually get used to the fact that my eyes make a sound like two ball bearings with no grease.

And Number Three Son is doing a little better, too. He’s still training his digestive system that not all that enters it is an enemy and needs to be expelled, but he’s slowly recovering and is home from the hospital. When he walked into the door the other night, he saw me with a cold compress on my eyes and said, “Ewww, stay away from me, I don’t want your cooties!” He proudly pointed toward his own eyes, bright red from burst blood vessels brought on by days of non-stop vomiting and diarrhea.

I was not impressed in the least. Yes, Irony rules our times.

To my many readers at my alma mater Harding University (Hail to Thee!) who still, despite the end of The Cold War and the fact that Walmart has made peace with China, get a little nervous when they hear the word “pink” in any context, rest assured that I’m no Commie. No need to rescind my bachelors degree awarded in 1984, or anything drastic like that.

But I did vote for Barack Obama in the last presidential election and will likely do so again next year. Talk about your roundhouse knockout kicks…

  1. Greg England

    Somebody should comment on this!

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    I think so too, Greg. Thanks for stepping up and doing the right thing!

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