Friday, June 28, 2013

Lessons I Learned From a Chalazion Cyst

I woke up the other day to discover a cluster of 4-5 tiny pimples underneath the lashes of my left eye.

I freaked out, but only mildly.  One would think I would have freaked out more, due to my inherent hypochondria and fear of eye maladies.  But I know something important: it's not the end of the world.

First off, my mother has a prosthetic eye.  She got an eye infection when I was around three years old, and over the course of my childhood she had three cornea transplants.  When her transplant rejected periodically, she'd have to get shots in her eye everyday until it improved.  She had cataract surgery. She had her lens replaced.  She had times where the pressure in her eye was too great and they had to remove some of the mystery eye goo, and time shown she didn't' have enough pressure and they had to put some mystery eye goo back in.  My senior year in high school she lost the eye entirely.

It was a relief for all of us when they removed her eye.  For as long as I could remember she had a red, swollen, half-closed left eye, and suddenly she didn't anymore.  She went to sittings with an artist to paint her prosthetic eye to match her other one, and both of her eyes reflect light and change color (they're hazel).  Her fake eye moves in sync and truly no one can tell by looking at her that she wasn't born with it.

However, it is fair to say that I developed a paranoia about my eyes, one that I think is justifiable.  I have never worn contacts, not because contacts had anything to do with the infection, but because they make me squirm.  In Jr. High, eye liner was applied onto the rim of the eyelid (I know you all remember that craze) and at first friends would have to hold me against a wall to put it on for me. Things touching my eyes fill me with terror.

So when I had something that felt like it might be a stye developing on my right eye I freaked out a little.  I did a lot of hot compresses, and when I removed the washcloth from my eye, I saw this:

I Feel Pretty! Oh so Pretty!
It's called a chalazion cyst, and it results from the perfect combination of dry eyes, oily skin, and pissing off Mother Nature somewhere in your recent past.

It lasted for months. By months I mean 10 long months -almost a year- with no improvement.  I felt like history was repeating itself.  Now the important thing to know about chalazion cysts  is that they aren't serious at all.  They rarely hurt, mostly they are just irritating. There is little risk of them turning into something horrible that results in cornea transplants, for example.  They just make you look and feel ugly and deformed.

Eventually the doctor tried to lance it.  That was the worst experience of my life.  Not only did I have to confront my biggest childhood fear - having needles/scalpels invade my eye- but I had a bad reaction to one of the drugs and they couldn't complete the procedure. At first I thought that I had had an emotional reaction to the procedure, until my mother and several other people had the same reaction (basically I almost passed out) within minutes of having the same drug intravenously. 

But after they injected all this fluid into my eyelid it reached a critical mass on its own and within 24 hours of the failed lancing it popped with a little help from me in my bathroom.  The procedure left my eye purple and more swollen, and now instead of looking like I had a deformed eye, I looked like someone had punched me.  Still, it eventually went away, leaving only some residual terror of a reoccurrence. 

During what amounted to nearly a full year of having this thing on my eye, I had to go to work every day.  I had to go to school functions and dinner dates and grocery stores.  Staying home and hiding until it went away wasn't an option. And I realized that I never considered it an option.  My mother had shown me that life goes on, even if you have a gross swollen goopy eye. And that was a pretty awesome job of role modeling. 

This is what I learned from my experience:

1. Very few people noticed until I took off my glasses and pointed it out, which I made sure I did often. Very few people look at you that closely, and it was on my eye, not the tip of my nose.  Mostly, I think people look at your mouth when you talk and your boobs when they are talking. (the other person, not the boobs.  I don't know about you, but my boobs never talk.)

2.  My kids could not have cared less. They did not find it interesting or appalling.  They only cared about how often they were dragged to doctor's appointments.

3. I wanted people to ask me about it.  I wanted to explain that I wasn't born like this and I wouldn't look like this forever.  I wanted to hang a sign around my neck saying:

4. Some of my friends talked about my heroism in leaving the house with a huge eye bump.  It wasn't heroic at all. I had to work and I had to eat and I wasn't going to be a hermit because some people might think my eye was gross.  If they didn't like it they could avert their gaze.

5. The hardest part was after the procedure, when I looked like a beaten woman and had to go to a school activity and no one commented on my eye. I really wanted a chance to explain, but I didn't bring it up.  I felt like perhaps I should sit with the feeling of discomfort in honor of those who had been beaten and didn't want to talk about it. I was proud and noble…until I went to a school concert that night and cracked, telling everyone who saw me that I really hadn't been beaten. I just couldn't do it, and that told me something about myself that I wasn't entirely  comfortable with.

6. Facial deformity, even minor and temporary, really teaches you something about other people's character more than your own.  How people react to you really is about them and not you.  My mother had said that to me while I was growing up, but I never really got it.  My boyfriend still thought I was beautiful. My friends would still go out in public with me.  People who were uncomfortable made bad jokes, but mostly people didn't notice or care. It wasn't really all about me after all. Who knew?

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