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My Eye & the Most Important 72 Hours of My Life, 3 Years Later

corneal ulcer eye condition

Dhërmi is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s this heaven-like beach in southern Albania that my mother and I feel deeply connected to. We reminisce about it during cold winter days, and we always have an amazing time when we’re there.

I’m here, but I’m unable to relax.

My eye hurts like crazy.

The discomfort started before we left, my eye was red and irritated, but I thought it was a simple allergy that would be gone in no time. I “blamed” my friend whose winged eyeliner looked so good that I had to recreate it, but I did so with an expired eyeliner.

Trying to speed up the recovery process, I relied on the most famous Albanian remedy for eye issues: cotton pads soaked in lukewarm chamomile tea. My eye was red, but I disliked heading to the doctor’s office or taking medication for “nothing.”

We were in a cute Dhërmi village, unfortunately, in this case, this meant that there were no doctors or pharmacies around, even if I wanted to go to one.

My Dhërmi heaven started to err on the side of hell

So I took some allergy pills and pain relievers, and hoped for the best. 

I was a bit uncomfortable, but I was also at my favorite beach, how uncomfortable could I claim to be?!

Me in Dhërmi, unable to smile through the pain, 2017. Me in the same exact spot, 3 years later.

I wore my sunglasses at all times and places. Soon, I became as easily irritable as my eye. Home alone the first night, unable to get any work done, or read, or write, my heaven started to err on the side of hell.

As the pain grew, I was restless. I couldn’t get any sleep and now I couldn’t see with my sick eye. I couldn’t look people in the face because of the fear of making them uncomfortable.

All our lovely breakfast feasts, enjoying wine and mojitos by the beach, playing Rrshek (a made-up card game people from Shkodra play), sunbathing for hours, had now become not-so-enjoyable activities.

All I could think of was the pain.

It became unbearable and we decided to leave.

My doctor’s appointment was the next day, but another doctor we spoke to said it was probably conjunctivitis. He recommended some medication that made the pain fade away for some hours. 

Using the power of the Internet, I learned that conjunctivitis was extremely common, curable, not a big deal at all.

That’s what I wanted to hear— one day this horrible feeling would go away. 

It didn’t matter when, just that one day it would.

With a racing heart, mind and optic nerves, I finally met the eye doctor. He said my eye was in a critical condition. My cornea was damaged and the infection had spread.

It turns out I had corneal ulcer.

“It’ll be a week tomorrow,” I answer his question about when the discomfort started.

I try to justify why it took me so long- I was on vacation, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, there were no doctors in Dhërmi. He looks at me in disbelief. 

I answer his next question about whether I was in pain with an absolute “Yes”. Now I’m sure he’s judging me. I don’t care what others think of me, but I don’t want him to think I’m irresponsible.

The medication should be taken every 15 minutes. Three eye drops from three different containers, meant to be intravenous, but the doctors mixed it so I could drop it directly in my eye. 

“We’re trying to be as aggressive as possible with it,” they say.

The doctor says the next 72 hours will be decisive, and he wishes me luck.

Using the power of the Internet again, I learned something my splendid doctor didn’t mention, maybe because of fear of scaring me. Corneal ulcer meant I could lose my eye.

The story that follows might surprise you even more.

Now, my mind wasn’t spinning. I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean for me as a writer to be in pain every time I had to use an electronic device for more than five minutes. I wasn’t even thinking about what it would be like to be forever stuck in the “horrible person mode” that I was currently in: unable to have a conversation, enjoy the sun, play Rrshek, easily irritated about the slightest thing, impatient. The pain wasn’t on my mind, neither was my new inability to sleep, read, or write, all vital activities for my well being.

The only thing on my mind was: I will get better. I wasn’t hoping I would, I’d decided that was my only option.

I researched “foods to eat and avoid with an ulcer,” and I ate or avoided them. Carrots made up 50% of my diet. If avoiding spices, salt, or dirt meant a 0.5% higher chance my eye would get better, I avoided spices, salt, and dirt. My electronic screen time went downnn. All I imagined and considered were positive thoughts. I asked friends and family to send even more positive vibes and energies my way. Of course, I didn’t have much proof it would help, but I knew it couldn’t hurt.

I rested, rested, then rested some more. Did all the visualization and manifestation meditations I could find in my meditation app bookmarks, more than once a day. I listened to podcasts that made me laugh, I spoke to people who made me smile, and I was extremely kind to myself.

The 72 hours were up.

As I got to the hospital, my heart was racing, beating out of my chest, but mostly because I was excited to hear my eye would be better.

The doctor made no small talk, but he was kind as ever as he guided me towards the eye examination equipment for the second time in 72 hours. With my head resting in the chinrest of the cool eye machine, gazing into the phoropter (I think it’s what it’s called), but more so staring into the abyss of what my future would look like, my doctor silently examined my eye.

Finally, he stepped away from the machine.

“Different as night and day! Your eye is so much better.”

He pauses for a sec and then says: “You were at risk of never seeing again and going blind in one eye.”

We were unsure what caused it, but we landed on a combination of irresponsible contact lens usage, expired eyeliner, constant contact with sand and saltwater (I’d been to the beach previously), and the time it took me to go to the doctor. Of course, I have no picture of my eye at the time (why would I?), but I still have the tiniest white speck in my eye to remind me, the way I often unconsciously close my left eye when I’m on my phone, and the expired eyeliner.

He gave me more medication and told me to return in a couple of days. In a haze, I thanked him, then proceeded to jump around the hospital for the next hour or so.

It’s not an exaggeration to say I felt reborn. Worse things could’ve happened, and plenty of people have lost their sight and still lived extremely fulfilling lives. Regardless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was extremely blessed.

In a state of disbelief and extreme gratefulness, I had an epiphany that continues to guide my life to this day, three years later. 

We are all unbelievably blessed. 

People are so remarkably powerful. There are extents only the human spirit can reach, ones AI or science will never be able to grasp. It’s what makes us us. It’s why people living in the worst conditions find ways to survive, persevere, and often, against all odds, thrive. 

Because since birth, our souls are equipped with unbelievable strength and resilience. Because being born means having a chance.

I would say it’s the chance of a lifetime.

5 thoughts on “My Eye & the Most Important 72 Hours of My Life, 3 Years Later”

  1. Father of 3 adult daughters. Expired eyeliner and contact lens have been a topic of discussion a time or two. Your perspective in your story makes all the difference. “The Power of Now”

  2. I had no idea about this experience. Thank you for sharing and I am SO happy that all’s well that ends well.

    Also, that photo of Dhermi has me in my emotions so much.

    1. I haven’t talked much about it cuz I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t write it coming from a place of pain or uncertainty. I’m so thrilled you enjoyed it (and also that it’s a happy ending story 🙂 ). If there’s a heaven, it looks (and feels) like Dhermi!

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