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Another scary story about my eye

Part 1 – August 5, 2023

This story can start a few different ways. It can start with me in a doctor’s office with a full face of glam on and one tear going down my face, disregarding all the cream, powder, liquid foundations, concealers, blushes, and bronzers a makeup artist so carefully layered an hour ago.

It can start on the beach. In My Eye & the Most Important 72 Hours of My Life, 3 Years Later, I wrote about corneal ulcer and how I almost lost my eye. The article started like this: “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.” I was in Dhërmi this time too.

It can start with me staring at myself in my bathroom mirror at 4am.

It will start at the start, though, which is my favorite place to start a story as someone who prioritizes clarity over captivating stylistic choices.

My husband, our friend, and I at 1516 Brewing Company, a bar in Vienna that has actually been around since 1516. While I appreciate how much my husband cherishes a good, ice-cold beer, seriously, his expressions and enthusiasm make the whole thing so concrete that it feels like I am having that fantastic beer and enjoying every single drop, I’ve consistently disliked actual beer for a decade or so so I was having smoked whisky.

Warm summer nights, loved ones, passionate conversations, great drinks, and a sudden, sharp pain in my eye. I haven’t been stabbed before—I’d love to keep it that way—but if I had to guess, it felt like someone had just stabbed me in the eye.

I’ve been wearing contact lenses for years, I was wearing them that night too. They move around sometimes and you have to gently touch your eyelid or undereye area to position them correctly again. This is no big deal. I tried it, but I was still so disoriented that I couldn’t hear the conversation or see straight.

With one eye closed, I headed to the bathroom to remove my lenses altogether. After the corneal ulcer fiasco, I switched from monthly contact lenses to daily ones. These are meant to be thrown away after one use and don’t require any special care involving saline solutions or lens cases. They’re more expensive, but make more sense for me considering my lifestyle and eye health history. If I had just started a monthly pack that week, I’d be hesitant to throw them away without “getting my money’s worth” and I’d likely downplay the pain. Internalized capitalism and prioritizing $ over health, anyone? Since I now use daily lenses, I removed them without remorse. Of course, I have to pay tribute to one of the sweetest places on earth: women’s bathrooms in bars. The ladies in there saw me poke myself in the eye and asked if I was okay, if I needed help, if there was anything they could do. They didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak German, but we were able to understand each other. Well, I hope I was able to convey that I was trying to get my contact lenses out, not tripping on drugs or suddenly gaining consciousness of my physical self and wanting to touch everything.

Intoxicated and uncomfortable in the poorly lit bathroom, I was able to get the contact lens out within a minute. It usually takes a few seconds, but it can take longer depending on levels of tiredness, drunkness, dryness, or time I’ve had them on.

Looking at the contact lens I’d just removed standing at the top of my forefinger, I noticed that it looked strange, different. I couldn’t pinpoint what was different about it, but it seemed like it was a part of the lens rather than the whole thing.

This hadn’t happened to me before. I’ve had difficulties removing them, but once they’re out, they’re out. The pain was gone and there was some mild discomfort remaining that I found pretty normal. I returned to our table and we stayed until 2am, just drinking and talking and laughing and having a great time.

Back home, the two of us talked about how much of a great time we both had. These conversations are sometimes my favorite part of going out, it’s wild how 2 people can have completely different experiences at the same event. Even if it’s the same experience, there are still nuances or parts that one chooses to focus on that the other doesn’t. I love this.

In bed, I started googling things like contact lens stuck in eye. My husband fell asleep, but I stayed up for 2 more hours oscillating back and forth between these 2 activities: going to the bathroom trying to get what (I thought) was in my eye out and frantically googling contact lens stuck in eye.

The next morning, I shared my findings and concerns with my husband who said we should go to the ER. I freaked out about having to go to the ER. He looked into my eye, but neither of us were able to see anything suspicious. He went and bought eye drops, tried dropping them, but my eye was being stubborn: sure, it has been gladly accepting foreign objects like lenses for years but shuts off at the prospect of a harmless little drop that’s basically water. Like, relax my dude. Once dropped, though, my husband said he saw the torn contact lens, but it might as well have been the actual eyedrop. I freaked out some more and agreed to see a doctor, but not at the ER, rather at the shop where I got my contact lenses since we saw a doctor last time we were there. This was my husband’s idea who’s great at both understanding how I’m feeling at a particle level and providing alternatives to quench my fears before I’ve even verbalized them.

We went to the first shop, I explained the situation to the store clerk, but since it was the weekend and we are in Europe after all (a lot of shops open at 11 and close at 8, close at 6 on Saturdays, and are closed on Sundays), the doctor wasn’t there. We went to the second shop, explained the situation to the store clerk, saw them explain it to the doctor in German, there were giggles I tried and surprisingly succeded in not taking it personally, and then the doctor asked us to follow him. A wave of relief hit my body. No ER!

The doctor dropped something in my eye. If my Google findings were correct, this was a dye that would show the remaining torn contact lens, no matter how tiny, in a different color in the microscope. The doctor would be able to locate it and we’d be able to remove it. The doctor asked me to move my eye around, left, right, upper eyelid, lower eyelid, up, down. Look here, look there.

“No contact lens! Your eye is a little bit irritated, but it’ll go away in 3-4 hours.”

We thanked him profusely, even more so after finding out we didn’t have to pay anything for the visit.

Part 2 – August 12, 2023

7 days later, I was at a doctor’s office in Albania and with a full face of glam on and that one tear going down my cheek. See, I don’t get my makeup done professionally often. This was the third time ever. Our best friends were getting married and this counted as a valid reason to spend $$$ on something as fleeting as makeup.

As the makeup artist was blending my eye makeup, I felt it again. Her brush moved my eyeball in such a way that the contact lens reappeared. Professional lightning also helped. I saw it in the mirror! I was delirious and had a mini-meltdown including laughter, discomfort, frantic sentences, washing my hands in the bathroom and returning to the mirror in the main room (no mirror in the bathroom) and repeating this 3 times. Once I explained what was happening, the makeup artist inspected my eye and said she was able to see what I was talking about. This was relieving, and I felt closer than ever to getting it out, but I couldn’t. I didn’t. She was busy, and I’d be late if I continued trying, so I told her to just keep going.

When she was done, I looked in the mirror, not liking my makeup, but not feeling bad as I did last time. I hated my face then, but I soon realized the body dysmorphia stemmed from me not putting lots of makeup on daily, thus being unaccustomed to my face with lots of makeup on. A lot of people complimented and loved my look then, so I understood this time that I likely looked fine, great even, even though I wasn’t able to see it.

My husband picked me up, we’d get dressed at the house, and then leave for the wedding which was in another city and we had to arrive early because we were both part of the bridesmaids/groomsmen groups.

I tried not to bring up my eye. This lasted 16 seconds.

Back at the house, he wasn’t able to see the lens and neither was I. I started spiraling thinking about the wedding and how we were going to the beach to Dhërmi the next day and how I probably would have to not do that…

My husband suggested seeing a doctor. Again, we went to a nearby shop, but since it was the weekend and Albania is in Europe too (not in the EU, alas), the doctor wasn’t there.

Just like in the first shop back in Vienna, I explained the situation to the store clerk. No giggles this time, but the store clerk mistook my delirium for indifference. Visibly worried, she explained to me that this was serious, no laughing matter, and I should do something about it. I probably seemed like a rude, apathetic person even though I knew she was trying to help. The whole thing was just so absurd to me. It felt for a moment like I was losing my mind and all I wanted was someone to tell me if I had had a foreign body in my eye for the past week.

We went to the second shop, explained the situation to the store clerk in Albanian, who then asked us if we spoke English and to explain it to the non-Albanian-speaking eye doctor. A doctor was there! A wave of relief hit my body again.

As I was trying to locate the lens just like I had back at the make-up artist’s studio to show the doctor, looking at my phone’s front camera, I see a tear roll down my cheek. Great, now I have a random makeup-less line on my face and by the looks of it, there’s more where that came from.

The procedure was the same for the most part besides having to pay and not having the special dye dropped in my eye. The doctor asked me to move my eye around, left, right, upper eyelid, lower eyelid, up, down. Look here, look there.

He asked more questions than the doctor in Vienna. As he was examining my eye, he explained that our eyes have the ability to push foreign objects out on their own and that would have already happened if I had something in my eye.

I showed him a picture I took back at the studio of what seemed to me like clear proof that there was something in my eye.

close up of my eye
Do NOT look at all the eyeshadow layers!

Just like the doctor in Vienna, he explained that my eye was irritated and I had an eye infection, but he would prescribe me medication and it’d go away in a few days. I also wasn’t “allowed” to wear contact lenses for a few days.

I had to ask him the one question I had been dreading the most: Would I be able to go in the water?

Would I be able to swim in Dhërmi, and do the one thing I consistently do and look forward to every year?

A resounding YES. I was the happiest saddest person in the world at that moment.

The doctor was reassuring but then started asking me questions about my eyesight, trying to determine the clarity of my distance vision. We’re late FOR A WEDDING. I’m in tears. I’m fucking aware of my eye prescription. This is not why I’m here.

He didn’t care. He said it was part of his job and showed me the eye testing chart, asking me to tell him what letter he was pointing at.

This continued for some time while I continued saying: We’re late FOR A WEDDING. I’m in tears. I’m fucking aware of my eye prescription. This is not why I’m here. You’re showing me the same letters I just got right?!

We finally left, carrying with us some residual anger, but also 2 wonderful insights: no torn contact lens in my eye and my makeup wasn’t ruined! And we somehow got to the wedding on time. I was the first bridesmaid to walk down the aisle, I was wearing heels (also a rare occurrence), and no glasses or lenses, and I didn’t fall on my face which was also just so fucking great. We had a blast!!!

RIP to these shoes, I just left them there🧍‍♀️

Part 3 aka la grande finale

At this point, I was convinced I didn’t have a torn contact lens floating around the abyss/my eye.

After part 1, but before the second doctor told me to not wear contact lenses for a while, I had had them on and been fine. Surely if I had something in my eye, it would’ve interfered with my vision or the other lens. I thought about how when an eyelash is stuck in your eye, the eye eventually pops it out. Two doctors had told me I didn’t have a torn contact lens floating around the abyss/my eye. I wasn’t wearing lenses and I was taking the medication the second doctor prescribed, 3×2 drops a day. I was able to sleep, swim, sweat. Putting eyeliner or mascara on didn’t bother me at all.

But something bothered me.

We hung out with friends in Dhërmi, one of which helped with the eye drops one day. I told her the story and the happy ending, partly blaming it on my residual trauma from the time I had corneal ulcer.

That night, we were talking about something medical-related, an instance when the doctors were wrong, and I pointed that out to my husband and how I wasn’t wrong to worry that the first doctor might’ve been wrong. This wasn’t based on something he had alluded to, that I was wrong to make a big deal out of it, if anything, he had insisted we go to the ER or see a doctor both times, but it was based on something I felt that was indisputable despite me trying to dispute it. I felt slightly ashamed about making a big deal out of it. I had been so dramatic.

We left Dhërmi on Friday, departed from Tirana airport the next morning, and arrived home in Vienna on August 19th, 2 weeks after our hangout at 1516 Brewing Company where I felt like someone had just stabbed me in the eye.

We stopped by a lovely Japanese restaurant to fuel my newfound edamame addiction. Tried matcha for the first time. Ran some errands including dumbbells and mobile phone carriers. Cleaned the cabinets. Took a nap.

When I woke up, like a sleep paralysis demon, it was there, the undeniable sensation of something bothering me.

I headed to the bathroom, the mirror specifically. It was there, the torn contact lens, floating in my eye, making itself visible and invisible whenever it damn pleased. Right now, though, it was there. I took a photo. I thought of calling my husband’s name so I could show him, but I felt like I had to face this water-based demon on my own in order to defeat it.

I felt delirious, feverish.

Worried that I was taking so long, he showed up and asked if everything was okay. I didn’t want to lie so I told him, asking him to help with the eyedrops. I was sure they’d make grabbing the little fucker easier.

I asked for help with the eyedrops which I couldn’t for the life of me drop in my eye, but I didn’t ask if he saw it too. This was something I had to do on my own.

It was irrational, thinking that the torn contact lens was there. It made no fucking sense. 2 doctors, 2 weeks, human knowledge of physiology and eyes, tens of activities that should’ve—would’ve—popped it out.

I was looking in the mirror, scared that the piece would “float” away again any second, but also scared that I’d finally grab it just to be grabbing my own iris and go blind temporarily, and also scared that I was losing my mind and experiencing hypochondria.

Then, my husband said he saw it. He saw it clearly. There was no shred of doubt in his voice. It was there.

He suggested going to the ER, but I said I got this and asked him to leave the bathroom.

I slid what I thought was the torn contact lens to the middle of my iris, the position generally used when taking lenses out.

More clearly than ever, I realized what I had been seeing was a part of the torn contact lens, not what was in there which was the actual half of the contact lens I had taken out 2 weeks ago in 1516 Brewing Company‘s bathroom.

I brought my index and middle finger together to remove it. For a mere second, it stuck to my top eyelid and I thought it’d be gone again, but I didn’t let that happen. I couldn’t take this anymore. I looked at my finger. There it was. It existed. It lived hidden in my eye for 2 weeks, dodging doctors and eye dyes and medication, but not my gnawing intuition.

The whole thing from when my husband said he saw it too to the actual removal lasted approximately 10 seconds. It’s like I needed to hear it from him in order to be set free.


torn lens stuck in eye

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