Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Got something in my eye

On Saturday night at about 2am I woke up for some reason and tried to open my eyes but something had got into the right eye and it was painful to blink. The pain didn’t go away with my eyes closed because even when your lids are shut your eyes keep on moving in tandem. Tears were streaming down my cheek on the right-hand side of my face as I blinked furiously, and with a rising sense of panic I got up and went to the bathroom, where I tried splashing water on the eye to rid myself of the irritation. It was very difficult to open it because of the pain from whatever was in there and when the washing produced no results I felt the panic rising higher. I decided to call an ambulance and went to my phone, which was next to my bed on the right-hand side table instead of on the left-hand one, where the charger is located, because I had messaged someone after getting into bed.

I called triple-zero and got the ambulance operator. I told her my address, which took a few attempts because it was hard for her to grasp the suburb’s spelling from my delivery, and then the street name. I told her I would wait on the street for the ambulance and she said that it was up to me. She also asked me if the eyeball was cut open, and I said “No.” After hanging up, I dressed in a clean short-sleeved shirt and put on my trousers and a new pair of socks and went to the living room, where I loaded up my pockets with my wallet and keys. Then I went to the lift and descended to the ground floor of the building where the lobby is. In the lobby there is a navy blue couch and a matching lounge chair, which I sat in to wait, my eye giving me trouble all the while.

After about ten minutes of waiting with my eyes mostly closed in the deserted lobby of the building the ambulance turned up. I saw the light from its headlights illuminating the street before it came into view from the right, and I went outside through the front door to meet the paramedics. One of the men remained in the driver’s seat and the other man was already standing on the street in his uniform next to the vehicle, opening the side door as I walked up. He asked me my name and I told him, then he told me to sit inside on a seat that was there.

He asked me some questions including whether I had any medical problems, and I told him that I have a psychiatric illness and was taking medication for it. He asked me how long I had lived in the building and I said it was about two years. He asked the name of my mental illness and I told him. He asked the name of my medication and I told him. He asked when I usually took the medication, and I told him I take one wafer at night. He asked me if I had taken the medication that night and I said, “Yes.” He asked me if I take the medication in the morning as well and I said, “No.”

He squatted next to me on the floor and bustled round the cab while asking these questions and then he stood up as far as the cramped space at the back of the vehicle allowed and located a small plastic bottle of fluid. He put a towel across my lap and chest and told me to lean my head back. He asked me to open my eyes and then leaning over toward me he squirted water from the bottle onto the right eye, which was impossible to keep open because of the extreme discomfort. The water irrigated my eye and ran down my face onto my shirt where the towel was resting. He told me to keep the eye open and I said I was trying to.

He repeated this operation a number of times but the irritation in the eyeball didn’t go away. He asked me if I had tried to wash the eye myself and I said, “Yes.” He said my eyebrows were long and touched one of them with his fingers, saying that one of the hairs from there might have gotten into the eye. The driver, meanwhile, had found the name of my medication on his computer and he told the other paramedic that it was an antipsychotic. The paramedic next to me went around to sit at a table set in the floor and typed something on the keyboard of his computer, then looked intently at the screen, which he eventually closed shut. The driver started to spell out the name of the drug and the paramedic in the back with me made some remark. He came back to me and tried again with the water bottle to dislodge the irritant from the eyeball, which was a bit better but still painful, but it didn’t work. He asked me if I wanted to go to the eye hospital and I said, “Yes.”

I asked him for a tissue so that I could blow my nose – thinking that this might help to dislodge whatever was in my eye – but it didn’t make any difference. I adjusted my position slightly in the padded seat and shoved the used tissue into my left-hand trouser pocket with my left hand. The paramedic closed the door of the ambulance and put on my seatbelt, then we got on our way. During the trip, he sat in the back of the vehicle at the table near me. The driver at one point said, “244 has been sent to Carlingford” and the paramedic in the back made a noise with his throat to acknowledge the remark.

We had been going up hills and turning corners but I had no idea which route we were taking to get to the CBD, where the eye hospital is located. I asked the paramedic if it was Saturday night and he said, “Yes.” I asked if we were driving to the city and he said, “Yes, that’s where the eye hospital is.”

We arrived at the building and the driver put down the steps leading to the cab in the back of the vehicle where I was sitting strapped into the seat. The other paramedic undid the safety belt and told me to follow him, which I did, exiting the vehicle slowly and carefully down the fold-out steps attached to its side. My vision was still partial because it was almost impossible to comfortably open and use either eye. I blinked and swivelled my eyeballs frantically, catching periodic glimpses of the world through the veil of tears that coated my vision. I tried to keep up with the feet retreating in front of me, and we went through an automated door into the ward. The paramedic told me to sit down and pointed at a chair with a plastic frame and a padded seat that was covered with a different plastic material. I sat down to wait.

An Anglo nurse in her middle age who had a round body dressed in a blue tunic came up to me then and asked some questions, I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she went away and came back with a small plastic vial the tip of which she put right in front of my right eye resting her fingers on my cheek for support. She told me to open my eye and tried to put in some drops. I had a lot of difficulty opening the eye and she had to remonstrate with me, saying, “If you don’t open your eye I can’t get it in.” The paramedic was still standing in front of me while all this happened. I told her I was trying to open the eye and eventually after a few attempts she was successful in getting some of the anaesthetic from the vial into the eye. She said the procedure hadn’t fixed the problem but that the liquid in the vial would take away the pain. I looked at her and concurred that the pain had gone away.

A doctor appeared who was middle-aged and from an Asian background and was dressed in a green tunic that had the word ‘Doctor’ embroidered over the left-hand side where his heart was. He told me to sit in a large chair with arms that was draped with a clean white cloth a few steps away from where I was seated. He used a small, powerful torch with its lens set at a right angle to its grip and peered into my right eye for a fairly long time as he assessed the problem. He asked me where the pain was and I pointed to the bottom left of the eye, saying, “It’s here.”

He said that he had to lift up the top eyelid of the eye and I said nothing as he went ahead with the procedure. With my left eye closed I could see through my right eye the pink lid in the field of vision. There was some movement as the light swerved around but I couldn’t see clearly what was happening. The doctor said he had identified the source of the irritation under the upper eyelid. The torch continued to shine in my eye. He let the lid close again and went to the side, then came back and lifted the eyelid again as before, giving me once again a view of the pink membrane on the inside of it. I could see something white approach the eye and felt something moving across the surface of the eyeball as he applied a small implement shaped like a cotton bud to the eyeball underneath the upper lid. Then he said he had got it. I opened my eyes.

He held the implement in front of my face and I could see sitting on the end of it a small speck of black matter. It looked like grit or sand, and was quite visible to the unassisted eye. The doctor said that I might have had pepper for dinner and he laughed. “I didn’t have pepper with dinner,” I said then but on later reflection I probably had done. He stood facing sideways looking away from me, then he faced me again and I looked at him. I thanked him plainly and said that the pain had gone away.

I got up from the chair and he pointed me to the service desk at the front of the ward, where a large Anglo man aged in his thirties was seated. As I approached the desk with its Perspex shield separating the clerical staff from members of the public, a woman in her twenties wearing tight denim shorts and a red tube top came in the front door from the courtyard. She walked hesitantly and used her hand to motion me to precede her to the desk. I moved toward it and immediately afterward saw that she walked behind me to enter the ward following the doctor.

I asked the man at the desk if there was anything I needed to produce for him and he shrugged and said, “No.” I asked him if the ambulance that had brought me had left and he said that ambulances don’t take people home. I said “Ok” and thanked him and turned to put some distance between us, passing by the security guards’ enclosure as I walked outside. One of them, a large man in middle age seated on a stool, turned his head to look at me as I hurried past.

With my unimpeded vision I quickly oriented myself to my surroundings and headed up the slope toward Macquarie Street. It was about 3am by this time and the street was practically empty of cars. I waited a minute or two before an empty cab came down the street from the north, its roof light shining bright yellow in the darkness. I got in and told the name of my suburb to the driver, who was a middle-aged man of African descent. I told him why I was on the street at such an early hour and he sympathised with me. Eventually we moved on from talking about the healthcare system to talking about gun control in America. I voiced a note that Australia had changed the law in 1996 because of a massacre and he replied, “John Howard.” I directed him to my street and paid using my debit card, applied my access tab to the front-door proximity sensor, entered the lobby I had quit some 90 minutes before, and then went upstairs in the lift.

In bed, I had trouble getting to sleep because of all the drama and when I did my sleep was disturbed. It felt to me the next morning as though I tossed and turned all night. By morning, my right eye was still sensitive and somewhat sore and I could feel like a headache the remembered traces of the irritant where it had lodged for so long under the eyelid. Later, I went to Cabramatta and the movement of the train carriage as it lurched from side to side and up and down along the tracks, like a big drunken metal boat, mimicked the sick ache around my right eye. It dragged me down to street level and once there I endured the realisation that if things had not gone as they had done, I might have suffered in actual fact a good deal more. After lunch we visited three Buddhist temples in the rain.

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