A few days ago, I woke up with a sharp pain in my eye. I could barely focus on anything. After forcing myself through my morning routine, I ended calling a cab and headed over to the doctor’s office. After sitting in the waiting room for an inordinate amount of time, I was finally called into the back and a nurse ran some tests. While I was waiting in the examination room, my vision started getting blurry, so I called out for a nurse, but no one came. Then, the pain started. With each passing second, pain shot up and down my face, centered around my eye, and each throbbing sensation felt like it lasted for an hour.
I couldn’t tell you when the doctor came in. I passed out sometime in the room. I vaguely remember being loaded on a gurney, but aside from that, my mind is a blank. I woke up the next day in the critical care unit. I was hooked into a giant machine and I had tubes coming out of my nose and mouth. It was uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as my eye. I couldn’t see out of it. I tried to reach up and grab my eye and I noticed the leather restraints attached to my wrists.
I lay there in the hospital room for much longer than I cared for. My screams were muffled by the tube in my mouth. When a nurse finally peeked in to check on me, all I could do was struggle and make muffled whimpers. She didn’t even take notice of my whimpering. After changing out my saline bag and making a scribble on her clipboard, she went back into the hall and closed the door.
As daylight began to fade — at least, from what I could tell from what was left of my good eye — I wondered if I was dying.
Nope. The pain continued. I could still hear all the beeps and hums of the machine that was hooked into me and I could still feel all the sensors and tubes that were attached and inserted into my body. Being unable to see sent me into a frenzy. I writhed against the restraints until I felt one of my hands break loose. I ripped the tubes out of my mouth and let out a short scream that turned into a coughing fit.
After prying my other hand loose, I clumsily stood up and felt my way through the dark until I found what felt like a door and pulled at it until it came open. I felt a firm hand on my shoulder, which was accompanied by a male voice telling me to calm down and go back to bed. I wasn’t having it. I had to get out of there. I felt the hand tighten its grip on my shoulder and I started flailing my arms in his direction until I broke free. I kept one hand on the wall and tried to move as quickly as I could down the hall. Several orderlies tackled me to the ground and I felt something sharp prick my hip.
I couldn’t see, feel, hear or smell anything. I guess I was asleep, but for the first time in two hellish days, there was no pain. When I woke, my hands were in restraints again. My eye wasn’t hurting anymore and I could make out slivers of light from what I could only assume was a bandage over my good eye. I didn’t feel anything in my bad eye. Nothing. I called out for help and was again reminded of the feeding tube in my throat. I started struggling again hoping to break free, but it was met with a familiar firm hand on my shoulder.
The bandage was pulled from my good eye and a doctor stood over me with a somber look on his face.
“So. Good news and bad news,” he said. “The good news is we were able to save your right eye. It seems that some the eggs were able to make it there, but we were able clear it up pretty quickly.” The doctor cleared his throat. “The bad news is that we had to remove your left eye. By the time you came into Primary Care, the eggs had already hatched and the larva had already started eating your eye.” He tried to keep a straight face as he described it, but I could tell he was just as disgusted as I was.
He pulled the feeding tube and got me a small cup of water.
“Do you have any questions?” he asked.
“Two things…” I said as I tried to compose myself. “What do you mean eggs? And why am I in restraints?” my voice was as panicked as it was loud.
The doctor shook his head.
“There were several times throughout the night where you tried to claw your own eye out and pull out the feeding tube. It was for your own safety…” he said. “Have you been to South America recently or been in contact with someone who has?”
“No,” I said.
“Did you order eye drops or contacts on the internet?”
“Just answer the fucking question!” I shouted in frustration.
“Calm down,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out where you got exposed to the insect.”
“Wait a minute, just wait — insect? Are you fucking serious?”
“We identified it as an insect native to Brazil. It bites the eye and then lays eggs in the soft tissue. The larvae hatch and burrow deep into the eye. After eating the eye the insects burst out of the socket and fly off to infect other hosts. It’s actually pretty rare for them to infect humans.”
“What the actual fuck, doc?” I screamed.
After another day of observation, I was given cleaning instructions for the empty socket and prescribed pain meds. I was discharged and sent home. By the time I got back to my apartment, the entire building had been sealed off in plastic. I called a number that was posted next to the gate and a woman claiming to be from the CDC told me to wait there and that a car would be by. No one has been able to give me any answers, but they put me up in a decent hotel and told me that they would help me find a new apartment. I just wish they would tell me what they did with my cat. I hadn’t seen Mr. Boots since a couple of days before my eye started hurting.
He was making some weird noises that day.