I’ve been remiss at posting anything here recently, but I have a decent excuse: I have, until today, been unable to see well enough to look at a computer screen for any length of time. Oh, the pink eye struck, and it struck hard. More than two weeks ago now, on a grey, chilly afternoon (which is every afternoon; grey and dreary epitomizes winter in Hangzhou), Nick and I looked at each other and said, “Are your eyes itching, too?…Shit, we’ve got it.” Turns out you shouldn’t share a towel with a baby who has highly contagious, raging pinkeye. Whoops.
We spent the evening, Valentine’s Day, huddled romantically in the corner of the Italian bistro in our neighborhood, hoping no one would make eye contact with us while we slurped up the best damn pasta this side of, um, Shanghai. The night post-dinner brought further descent into eye-hell (watching a movie proved impossible as neither of us could see the TV through our stuck-shut eyes), and by morning we both had full-blown misery scrawled all over our faces.
I stayed home to squint at Owen and make sure he didn’t eat the trash can too much while Nick set out on his bike in search of some antibiotic eye drops. Our doctor in Shanghai (the Australian nurse practitioner at the U.S. Consulate, who is a dream come true) gave us the names of some recommended antibiotics, and Nick took this short list around to some Chinese pharmacies. At the first pharmacy, the woman took one look at his request and said, “We don’t sell that. It has too many harmful side effects. You should buy this,” and proffered what Nick describes as “a bag of leaves.” He declined and pedaled itchily off to another store, where he was again told that they didn’t have the desired medication. Instead, they gave him three other options. He bought all of them, then rushed home and Web MD’d the active ingredients in each till he found one that was indicated for pinkeye (one of three, score!).
He started the drops immediately. I waited to see what happened to him before I started myself. (Hey, we couldn’t have both parents going blind.) He reported feeling marginally better the next day, and my situation was becoming increasingly horrible, so I helped myself to a tube of drops. They stung like hell the first time, but Nick assured me that happened to him, too. A few hours later, I administered them again; the stinging was worse, but I persevered, thinking they couldn’t be hurting more than helping. Right?
The next morning, Friday, I was slated to schlep Owen to Shanghai to see the aforementioned doctor for his monthly check-up and round of immunizations. Hideous to the world and afraid I’d be shunned if anyone saw my red, tearing eyes, I donned my biggest sunglasses (brown Ray Bay Wayfarer knock-offs that I bought on the street in Saigon for $4) and boarded the train. My biggest challenge, besides discretely wiping the infectious tears from my constantly-weeping eyes, was to keep Owen from pulling my sunglasses off my face (his favorite game these days, of course). I was mostly successful, carrying on a pleasant conversation with my seatmate as I turned to look out the window and dab my eyes with a Kleenex every three minutes, all the while batting away Owen’s grabby paws. I was in hell. I texted Nick, “My eyes burn so badly I can’t see.” He told me he was feeling a bit better still, and asked if there was anything he could do. Nothing, nothing. We just had to get to the consulate. And we did, in good time, relatively smoothly. My secret was safe from the polished Shanghai masses.
At the consulate, Susan, the nice doctor, took one look at my unsheathed eyes and said, “What did you put in them? You’ve had a terrible allergic reaction to whatever it was.” Oh. She fixed me up (slightly) with some allergy-relief eye drops and told me to discontinue the Chinese antibiotics, which she said “can sometimes be very strong.” Owen got his shot (took it like a champ, for the record) and got all measured and weighed (strapping lad with a huge head, for the record), and we made our miserable way home. We arrived in Hangzhou after dark, but I kept the shades on, fearful still that I’d be swept away into train quarantine if someone glimpsed the horror behind my trendy sunglasses.
Things got much, much worse from there. Over the next 10 days, my eyes swelled completely shut for 4 days, then, when the swelling subsided (thanks to near-constant application of ice packs), I had light sensitivity so severe that I literally could not open both eyes at the same time for four days. Owen decided to become extra-mobile during this time, and since we had asked ayi to stay home (fearing she’d get the pinkeye, too), I was on my own with a curious and capable baby, squinting madly into the grey day, wishing for darkness. We didn’t go out much, and I wore sunglasses indoors for a week. I was like Joaquin Phoenix and a vampire, rolled into one horrorshow of a mom.
One day a few days ago, when I could finally look at the computer screen very briefly, I Google’d the antibiotic we’d taken. Turns out it’s in the family of the most-banned antibiotics in the U.S. because it is known to have so many potentially serious side effects. It looks like I’ll be spared the liver failure because I just took the eye drop version (instead of the oral version), but the eye-drop side effects matched mine perfectly: severe allergic reaction, swelling, itching, burning, inability to be a proper parent for lack of vision.
The saga is nearly over, and my vision should return to normal soon, but I’d like to give Chinese “medicine” the big middle finger in a public forum, so here it is.