Several months ago, both of my eyes decided that they hated me. I woke up on one summer Sunday and looked like I’d just gone 10 rounds with an entire MMA undercard, sporting two red, swollen slits in the places where my eyeballs used to be. It was the morning after Salute, downtown Winston-Salem’s annual wine celebration, so I assumed it was just payback for drinking my entry fee’s worth of berry wines. (I’m not saying that I was overserved, but by mid-afternoon I was facedown on the ground, wearing a regulation West Virginia University football helmet and shouting, “Only God can judge me.” It was quite a day.)
But even after I gave my endocrine system a peace offering of McDonald’s, Pedialyte and a generous handful of Ibuprofen, the problem hadn’t gone away. My next thought was that it had been caused by my new upstairs neighbors, who decided that the best way to make friends was to replace their hardwood floors at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. (The fact that I didn’t stomp up the stairs to strangle them with my own frayed nerve endings is what I’ll be writing on my Nobel Peace Prize application).
I wondered if maybe the construction had dislodged a colony of dust mites who decided to pack their disgusting belongings and move into my own HVAC system, so over the course of the next week, I had my ductwork cleaned (not a euphemism), had my apartment tested for mold and bought a vacuum cleaner that could suck the electrons out of an atom. Nothing helped, then or now.
Eight months later and it persists, the Elizabeth Warren of ophthalmic issues. I’ve been to two allergists, two ophthalmologists, a dermatologist, a general practitioner and a gynecologist — mostly because I thought you got a free Subway sandwich after you’d seen six Novant Health specialists. I’ve been tested for every possible autoimmune disorder and I’ve been on enough steroids to win this year’s Tour de France, but no one has any idea what caused it or how to make it stop. At my most recent appointment with the second eye doc, he slid his hands into the pockets of his crisp white coat, looked at the floor and quietly said, “I’m sorry, but I’m out of ideas.”
I still have a lot of frustrating bad days, but I try not to think about it, at least not until I’m fumbling for my eye drops or waiting for an allergy shot. I let Allergist No. 2 convince me that I needed twice-weekly injections, which don’t seem to be doing anything except helping me understand why he drives such a nice car.
Twice a week, I stand in front of one of the clinic’s identically surly nurses, who all seem to be using my upper arms as practice rounds for the World Darts Championship. At my last appointment, the nurse tapped the syringe with her fingernail and, just before she tried to see if she could touch my arm bones with the tip of the needle, she asked, “How was your last reaction? Was it bigger than a 50-cent piece?”
I had to think about it, not because I’d forgotten clawing at the angry red welt on my right arm, but because I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a 50-cent piece, let alone considered the size of it. That seems like one of the strangest, most outdated units of measurements she could’ve used, especially since the average age of allergy shot patients seems to be Still Licks the Chairs in the Waiting Room.
I have an appointment tomorrow and, for the first time since this low-key nightmare started, I’m finally looking forward to it, if only because I’m excited about what other references the nurses might dust off. I’m hoping for something like:
• Was your last reaction bigger than a Pet Rock?
• Was it bigger than the label on a Betamax tape?
• How many of Gorbachev’s birthmarks could you fit inside it?
• How many Book It! stars would you need to cover it?
• Was your arm redder than a can of Tab?
• Have you had any respiratory issues? How far could you run before your Discman started to skip?
• Were you out of breath after you blew into your Nintendo cartridge?
• Were you too sore to stir your Tang?
• Are you feeling okay today? Raise your hand, raise your haaaand if you’re sure.
• Did you build a raft or ford the river to get here? Have you died of dysentery today?
• On a scale from 1 to Greg Louganis at the Seoul Olympics, how bad is your headache?
I didn’t know what to tell her, so I just nodded. Yes, it was smaller than a 50-cent piece. On the way out, I swear I heard the faint screech of a dial-up modem coming from somewhere deep inside the office. I put my darkest sunglasses on and decided that yes, that’s exactly what it was.