Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Eye Cooties

I am hardly ever sick.

There, I said it.  I’ll probably get every strain of creeping crud known to mankind now.  Actually, I have one strain right now, conjunctivitis, which is what inspired this post.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a strong immune system and a reasonably strong body.  I get one or two colds a year, never of any significance, and that’s about it.  I get a flu shot annually, but haven’t had the actual flu in years.  I have no allergies that I know of, and have not had any bones broken, muscles torn, or organs removed in my life.  I’ve never had a disease that couldn’t be treated with rest, aspirin and chicken soup.  Other than at my birth, I’ve only spent one night in the hospital in my entire life, and that was after surgical removal of a small bone spur on my left femur when I was 18.  My medical history is a snoozefest.

I am, however, very susceptible to two kinds of ailment: throat issues and eye infections.  Neither of these is as debilitating as much as inconvenient and embarrassing.  The throat issues usually involve loss of my voice, which actually ends up being a nice break for everyone.  If someone within five miles has strep throat or laryngitis, you can bet the farm that I’ll get it.  There are probably some people in my life who pray that I will, so as to enjoy some peace and quiet for a brief time.

The eye infections are a different story. My eyes have always been sensitive.  Too much dust, bright sunlight, pollen, excessive pet dander, you name it, my eyes will get dry, red and itchy because of it.  My eyes are also prone to strain from too much reading or working at a computer monitor, two things that I spend a lot of time doing.  And when they itch, I rub them.  I can’t help it.  I just do.  I know my hands are probably introducing every horrible bacteria that ever lived into my eyes by doing so, but oh man it feels sooooo good to rub my eyes.  Back in the mid 1990s I tried to wear contact lenses, but it was a miserable failure because it felt like I constantly had something in my eyes, and my compulsive side just could not get past the need to rub them.

So anyway, now I have conjunctivitis, a.k.a. pinkeye, or as I prefer to call it, eye cooties.  The most common symptoms are redness, itching, some swelling of the lining of the eyes, and tearing.  Where all manner of things are blooming in this part of the world right now, I chalked it up to allergies of some sort, but allergies would not affect only one eye.  It’s not like only my right eye would be irritated because there are flowering shrubs only on the right side of my house.

While I feel mostly fine, eye cooties/pinkeye make my eyes look horrifying, like I have either been a) mourning some great and epic tragedy (as a Red Sox fan, heaven knows I’d have reason lately), or b) doing illicit drugs in excess.  It also causes people around me with knowledge of pinkeye to run screaming in the other direction, for fear that they will catch it. Those who do not know much about pinkeye tend to either offer their condolences when they see my bloodshot eyes, or ask where they can score a hit.

My eyes, or more specifically eye, started itching last night while I was petting the cat and reading in bed, so I just figured it was a combination of cat hair and tired eyes.  But upon waking this morning, the entire white of my right eye was a bloody red.  Full blown eye cooties!  At least I hope that’s what it is, because when I searched my symptoms on the Internet this morning, the second choice for diagnosis was a transient ischemic attack, which is a type of mild stroke.  Seriously.  Once I picked my jaw up off the floor and read further, I realized that I was lacking several key symptoms for a transient ischemic attack, so decided that their first guess of eye cooties/pinkeye was the most likely the case.

Whatever it was, I certainly didn’t want other people around me to get it, so I had no choice but to call in sick to work.  I hate doing it, having only had to do it once in the past four years and for this very same ailment, but my colleagues and our clients and patients do not need this mess themselves.

When I stay home from work due to eye cooties/pinkeye, I feel like I am playing hooky, because I can do pretty much anything I would normally do on a day off, except have physical contact with others.  I can go for a hike, get some writing done, work in the yard, or pretty much anything else.  Of course if I actually DO any of these things during times when I am supposed to be at work, I feel terribly guilty, thus sapping any semblance of joy from them.

My regular physician practices 120 miles away.  I’ve kept going to him for ten years after moving out of that area of the state because I like and trust him, and I hardly ever need to see him on short notice.  I have no doubt he could fit me in today, but the idea of driving two hours there and two hours back, with gasoline prices being what they are, just to get a prescription for a tube of antibiotic ointment seems a bit much.  So, on the strong advice of several motherly-types in my life who threatened to put on rubber gloves and beat me senseless if I didn’t heed them, I am headed to the walk-in medical clinic here in town later today.

I am dreading this clinic visit like a man condemned to the electric chair.  You see, I know just enough about microbiology from my line of work to be mildly paranoid about germs, and the unfortunately but true fact that I watched the movie Contagion over this past weekend certainly has exacerbated that somewhat.   Also, take a gander in the column to the right of this post as to what I am currently reading.  Suffice it to say, I don’t want to give anyone else my eye cooties, and I sure as heck don’t want whatever kind of cooties other people may have.  It’s one of life small ironies that germs are spread most freely in the places we go to get rid of their effects. 

Hindsight being 20/20, I probably got eye cooties/pinkeye from inadvertantly touching surfaces when I visited a relative in the hospital a few days ago.  My relative doesn’t have it, but to get to her room I had to touch door handles, elevator buttons and who knows what else that may have harbored nasty germiness from Hell.

So the clinic opens in an hour, and I want to be the first one there.  That gives me an hour to bathe in Purelle, locate a surgical mask and wrap myself in cellophane.  Should be fun. 

I sure hope Ebola isn’t going around.

POSTSCRIPT FROM LATER IN THE DAY: I survived the clinic without contracting Ebola (at least so far) and it is indeed bacterial conjunctivitis that I have in my eye.  I am not able to go to work for 48 hours, which I can deal with, but I also have to put a gooey antibiotic ointment in my eye three times a day, about which I am not so sure.  I can get eye drops and ointments into my eyes about as accurately as a blind elephant can skydive onto a dime.  Plus the ointment in question is STICKY! Stickiness in any form is something I cannot abide, as you may recall from this blog post from last month.  

Yes, it's true, I really do not suffer very well at all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Working in a veterinary practice, I see plenty of animals, and none of them as a species particularly repels me.  Snakes don’t bother me, naked mole rats are a snap, and lizards are a breeze.  But if someone ever brings in an eel for treatment, I'll be out the door so fast it will make heads spin.

Eels are a terrible, terrible thing and I hate them.

Superman had kryptonite, the Death Star had that exhaust port, and I have eels.  They make my skin crawl.  I’ve made no secret of my aversion to eels over the years, but the origins of it are not well-known.

I grew up in a neighborhood that was literally a stone’s throw from a river.  These days, that river is a pretty spot, busy with kayakers and people with fishing poles.  However, when I was a kid in the 1970s, it was a black ribbon of liquid death.  The town’s sewer runoff flowed directly into it, and all the snow removed from the streets in the winter was dumped into it as well.  It wasn’t unusual to see tires, rusted bicycles, and old street signs on the shallow bottom.  And it smelled like a toilet in a men’s room at the gas station, and the occasional wad of toilet paper that occasionally washed up on the banks added to that sensation.  Of course no thinking person ever considered swimming in it, fishing in it, or even touching it.  Even the greenery that grew on its banks had a sinister, foul look.  It was a real life version of the River Styx.

So of course, my buddies and I loved to hang out near it.  In hindsight, it was probably very dangerous for us to do so, on several levels.  Not only was it one spent fuel rod away from being declared a toxic waste dump, but the only other people besides us kids who tended to go near it were drunks, drug dealers and the local crazies.  The element of danger was all part of the appeal to us. 

As if those things weren’t perilous enough, one of our favorite activities was going across the Upper Avenue Bridge underneath, in the rusty girders.  It was probably 100 yards across and nearly fifty feet above that roiling brown water.  Our hand and footholds were rife with pigeon feathers, dead insects, rat droppings and mold.

Yes, it is a miracle that I am still alive.

The year I was about nine, my best friend French and I decided to check the river out for the first time since the snow had melted.  It was early April, and the spring floods had just subsided, which meant a high likelihood of finding interesting things washed up on the banks.  In the past, we had found a battered tricycle, an armchair, and numerous articles of clothing.  We’d often giggle at the thought of someone having lost a pair of pants we had found washed up on shore, and wonder what exactly the circumstances were to his losing them.  And what he did next.

The river had a particularly rancid odor that day as I recall, which French eloquently and repeatedly compared to the smell of his sister’s feet.  One of our more memorable finds that day was a dead muskrat, which was wedged under the cover to a sewer drain.  It looked as though the muskrat had tried to squeeze through a space under the cover and gotten stuck.  It was totally disgusting, and totally cool to a couple of nine-year-old boys.  The ground around the sewer drains, which could be found every 30 yards or so, was littered with toilet paper that had flowed up and out of the drains during the spring floods.  We shivered to think what actually being in that water must be like.

French had gone on ahead of me on the riverbank, and was nearly under the Upper Avenue Bridge when he called out to me that he had found something.  I dropped the brick I had discovered with the date of 1920 carved into it, and ran ahead to check out his discovery.

He was holding a long stick in his hand and staring at the ground at the river’s edge.

“Look at this!”

Among the rocks and weeds was what looked like a snake, only slimy.  It was about two feet long, had tiny fins on its side and a long one along its back, but no scales like a fish would have.  Maybe my imagination has embellished it over the years since, but I swear it was gold in color.  Not a shiny, attractive gold, but a first-pee-of-the-day, dull kind of gold.  I remember beady little eyes and whisker-like things on its snout. It lay still on its back.  There wasn’t a sign of motion.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s an eel, idiot!” French could be rather harsh for a best friend.

“An eel?  Since when do eels live in this river?” I asked.

“Since now, I guess,” he replied.

“What’s it doing on the shore?”

“Not much,” French said, thinking he was funny. “I bet someone caught it and left it here.  I saw some big kids down here fishing when I was crossing the bridge after school.”

The idea of someone pulling something out of the water and just leaving it on the shore to die bothered me, even when it came to something as hideous as this thing.

“Is it dead?”

“Sure looks like it,” French said. “I poked it a couple times with a stick and nothing.”

“Dare you to touch it with your finger!” I said.

“You touch it, asswipe!” Again, that oddly-harsh-for-a-best-friend thing French was so good at.

“No way!”  The only reason I had dared him to do it was because I couldn’t imagine anything that I would want to do less.

We pondered this terrifying looking thing for several minutes.  When I looked up at the bridge for a brief moment, French exclaimed “I saw it move!”

My eyes shot back to the eel. “No you didn’t!”

“I did!  I swear! Just a little!”

“Isn’t it funny how you see it move only when I am not looking at it?” French was not above setting me up to look stupid, so I immediately suspected some crying of ‘wolf’ here.

“OK, don’t believe me!  I know what I saw.”

“So what do we do with it?” I asked.  We were both good parochial school boys at heart, and the idea of leaving a dead animal just lying there out in the open bothered both of us down deep.

“Let’s just pile some rocks over it.  I’m not going back to find a shovel, and I sure as hell am not picking it up and tossing it back in the water.”


“Then you do it!”

That shut me right up.  There was no way that was happening.

We began to pile stones on top of the eel.  We didn’t want to squish it, so we picked small ones.  It was about half-covered when it happened.

It twitched its tail, just slightly.

We both froze, and less than a second later, the eel thrashed and squirmed all over the bank.

“Holy shit!” French and I exclaimed at exactly the same time.  I would have called ‘jinx’ and told French he owed me a Coke, but I was too busy trying not to lose control of my bladder. We scrambled up the bank, across the little access road, and ran up the hill to the top of the bridge.  Even though we knew it was impossible, we didn’t want to take the chance that the newly resurrected eel had followed us.

French and I stood in the middle of the street, high above the river now on the Upper Avenue Bridge, trying desperately to catch our breaths and slow our pounding hearts.  In all of my 42-plus years, I cannot remember ever being so startled at anything as I was at that eel that day on the riverbank. 

French was the first to recover some semblance of speech. “What *gasp* the *gasp* hell?”

I shook my head.   All I could get out was “Don’t know.”  My eyes must have been as round as saucers.  I know French’s were.

We walked to the edge of the bridge and peered over the railing at the spot on the riverbank far below where we had just been.  There was no sign of the eel anywhere.

“Must have gone back into the water,” I said.

“Yeah, or it’s gone further up on land somewhere.”

The very notion of this creeped me right the hell out.  Was it possible for eels to chase after people on dry land?  Nah…of course not.  Right?

French and I returned to that spot alongside the river the next day, armed with very large sticks, just in case.  There was no sign of the dead eel come to life.  Part of me wanted to find it dead (again), so we could be sure it wasn’t going to come after us, and another part of me was glad it was nowhere to be found.  Neither of us wanted to find it alive and squirming around on the bank.  We probably would have set land speed records out of there if we had.

Ever since that day, I’ve had a thing about eels and eely things.  I have to admit that there’s actually a tingling, nervous feeling in my stomach even as I write this.  I don’t even like to look at a picture of an eel.  I’ve included some with this posting for the benefit of you the reader, but searching for said eel pictures was harrowing.  (You’re welcome.)  To this day you couldn’t pay me enough to touch an eel, and as far as dining on one goes, you’d have to hold a gun to my head.  A big one. 

And even then I’d make no guarantees.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Give It Up

Easter Sunday is coming up later this week as of this writing, and the forty days prior to Easter is a period known as Lent.  It’s a time of prayer, self-denial, and doing for others.  I am a life-long practicing Catholic, and so Lent tends to be a significant time of year for me.  I would be lying if I said my beliefs meshed 100% with all the positions of the Catholic Church today.  They don’t.  I am not a perfect person, and since the Catholic Church is run by people, it is not perfect either.  This post isn’t about where the Catholic Church and I agree and where we disagree though.  It’s about the popular Catholic tradition of giving things up for Lent, and specifically what an ordeal it has been for me this year.  Or it might more likely be about me seeking some pity.  Depends on your point of view, I guess.

I like the practice of giving things up for Lent, and have done it for most of my life.  It’s not a church requirement by any stretch, but I’ve always found that the self-discipline it fosters is good for me.  Even if you are not a religious person, voluntarily going without something you enjoy is a beneficial exercise.  This Lent, I gave up four things.  Two of them are old standbys for me, and the other two are new this year.

Soda: Or “pop”, depending where you are from.  That's a debate for another day.  I’ve given up soda for Lent for years.  I am not a huge soda guzzler, but I enjoy a can of Diet Coke in the evening when I settle in to relax.  It’s pretty easy to go without soda in the house if I follow one simple rule: Don’t have any on hand.  Out of sight, out of mind. 

The trouble I run into is when I make the occasional trip to a fast-food restaurant.  If I am going there, chances are I am in a hurry, and so am using the drive-through window. I always order some type of “value meal” deal, since I am very cheap, especially when it comes to buying items that are likely pushing me prematurely toward the grave.  Those value meals always come with soda, it seems.  If I ask for an alternative to soda, it usually has the unfortunate result of blowing the mind of the person on the other end of that clown speaker I am shouting into.  After asking for an alternative like lemonade or milk, there is the requisite awkward pause, the “umms”, and then the very reluctant sounding “okay”.  Without fail, by the time I get to the window to pick up my order, some sort of confusion is reigning inside.  “Someone ordered a value meal without a soda!”  Eyes are wide and sweat is wiped from brows.  I’ve thrown off the whole crew’s rhythm.  In short order, I am handed my sack of grease and cup of non-soda, and am quickly waved on as though I have bubonic plague.  The non-conformist in the blue car is gone, and fast food life can return to a semblance of normalcy.

At least that’s how it seems to me.  Maybe it’s all in my head.  Maybe I ought to give up going to fast-food joints for Lent, and save us all some stress.

Snacks: Giving up snacks is not as hard for me as you might think.  I only tend to snack in the evenings.  When “Modern Family” or “The Office” comes on, I get this deep craving for salty snacks.  If I see SofĂ­a Vergara or Rainn Wilson on TV, I need sour cream and onion chips.  It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog without the drooling (except maybe in the case of Vergara, but that has nothing to do with snacks). 

I have been successful at giving up between-meal snacks year after year though, and it makes me feel pretty good, especially given that there are always snacky things available at work, and falling off the wagon would be very easy.  It gets tricky when a birthday cake is served for a coworker, and more than half of our staff has birthdays at this time of year.  Not having a piece might be seen as rude, so what I do is eat it right before lunch or before I leave for the day, and consider it the dessert for my next meal, just eaten before instead of after.  Hey, don’t judge me!  There are no hard and fast rules to this giving up thing.

Each year I tell myself that I ought to continue this particular self-denial beyond Lent, but I never do.  The pull of the Doritos is too strong.

The above two items are ones I have given up for Lent for a number of years.  The two new ones this year are technology-based: downloading mp3s and buying e-books.

Downloading mp3s: I am a huge music fan, and for much of the year I average the equivalent of about one downloaded album a week.  Don’t think I dump a ton of money into music though.  I only spend probably $20 or so monthly, because I am locked in to all the mp3 deal sites out there, and have a subscription to an online music club that provides great bargains and wide variety.  Not getting any new music for almost six weeks has proven a real challenge.  I’ve steered away from the music sites since Lent began, and that has helped a little, but that new Springsteen album has been calling my name like some New Jersey siren for almost a month now.

Some might say it is just as well that I do take a little time out from music downloading for a while, since I have almost reached the saturation point for good music on my iPod.  I have almost every “classic” rock and pop album that I am interested in, and have been spending the past few months nibbling around at stray songs here and there that I like, but not enough to buy they entire album.  And some of these songs are not ones I am proud of liking.  My last five downloads before Lent began?

·         Poison Arrow by ABC
·         Get It On by Kingdom Come
·         Heartlight by Neil Diamond
·         Rock This Town by The Stray Cats
·         Molly (Sixteen Candles) by Sponge

I know, I know…step away from the download button!  At least Sponge is cool though, right?  Right?!

Buying e-books: I stumbled upon Johnny Virgil’s The Snitch, Houdini, and Me about a year ago, which then led me to Mike Wood's Alchemy. (Disclaimer: Mike and I are currently partners on a writing project, and in exchange for dropping the title of his book here, he promised to be nice to me.)  These two books opened my eyes to the world of independent publishers.  Since then, I have discovered countless great writers and purchased their work at a fraction of what it would cost if it were distributed by big-time publishing houses.  I know that many of you, my readers, are indie authors.  Before Lent started, I had a backlog of over 50 e-books on my Kindle just waiting for me.  It’s hard to resist when you hear of a great premise by a promising writer, and it’s only $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free.  Not all of the books I have on my Kindle are by indie authors, but even the publishing house writers whose work I have bought have not been NYT-bestseller, household names.

As an aspiring writer, reading these great pieces of writing always serves as an inspiration.  Once in a while, I am inspired NOT to do something because of someone’s book I have read, but more often, I am inspired to keep moving forward and to try new things with my own writing.  While I have given up downloading e-books for Lent, I haven’t given up reading them.  My latest Kindle reads have been The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, and Creative Spirit by Scott Nicholson.  Lynch’s book has taught me a lot about what impact meticulous research can have, and Nicholson’s is a great example of setting as character.  I get a bit of an inferiority complex reading great stuff like that, but it drives me to get better (and entertains the heck out of me), so I do it.

I follow countless writers on Twitter and Goodreads, and so avoiding temptation when it comes to getting new e-books this Lent has been hard.  When I’ve heard that a favorite or interesting author has released a new project or has reduced the price of one I’ve had my eye on, my self-discipline is seriously tested.  This has especially been the case with one of my favorite indie writers, Larry Enright.  He just released his fourth e-book about a week ago, and I am counting the hours until Easter Sunday when I can download my copy of 12/21/12.

Which leads me to the biggest dilemma: not overindulging in these things once Lent is over to make up for lost time.  I do not have a long list of albums and books I plan to download on Easter Sunday (other than Larry’s book).  I am not going to gorge myself on a barrel of popcorn and wash it down with a 12-pack of Diet Coke.  All the benefits of this exercise in self-discipline and self-control would be lost if I went hog wild after crossing the finish line.  Plus I’d be broke and probably throw up for days.  

There are no negative consequences for me if I do not keep to the things I have given up for Lent.  It’s not looked upon as a sin or anything like that.  But I know I would be seriously disappointed in myself if I did indulge in the things I have given up voluntarily.  We live in a world where instant gratification is highly prized, and often find ourselves frustrated and impatient if we can’t get what we want exactly when we want it.  You can microwave your dinner, get a new e-book to read while you eat and load up a brand new album to listen to in the background, all in the space of less than five minutes.  It’s amazing when you think about it.  But by denying myself a few pleasures and/or conveniences every year at this time, it’s not only a reminder of how fortunate I am to have the things I do, but it also strengthens me in times when I have no choice but to go without something.

So Happy Easter, Wicked Awesomology readers!  I’ll take your suggestions for new e-books and music downloads in the comment section.  Don’t worry though, I already have all of Rick Springfield’s albums. And don't bother suggesting Rick Astley.