This sunny frozen Roman morning I had the pleasure of spending two full hours in a public Italian ophthalmology clinic. I plucked my number out of the electronic turn-o-matic machine and waited for my turn in a semi-deserted waiting room where I chatted with a plump jolly old lady for 20 odd minutes, and then my first turn was up.
Before anyone ever got a look at my swollen left orb, a mousy nurse with a tattered beige cardigan - which clashed horribly with her teal scrubs - took my particulars. After briefly checking me out, she proved rather quick at her diagnosis. She informed me I suffered from a vulgar conjunctivitis (which is a haughty name for pinkeye) and handing me another number, asked me to go back to the waiting room, warning me that the doctor had just left the building. Rolling her eyes she mimed the international espresso gesture of a cupped hand and a swirling spoonful of sugar.
I walked back to my cheerful old lady friend with the cataract. We spoke some more about the weather and the price of broccoli and then my name was mispronounced over a loudspeaker. I walked into the examining room where a young doctor was typing something on a computer keyboard (his Facebook profile update, I think) and a middle aged male nurse was poring over what looked like a level 2 sudoku. Guess the espresso hadn’t kicked in yet.
I explained that my vision was not impaired, but that waking up with a glued eye made me nervous. I occasionally wear disposable contact lenses and, reminded of my brother’s unfortunate contact lens incident a few years ago, where his *life* had been at risk, I rushed to the eye hospital emergency without a second thought. I’m explaining this because after reading what the mousy nurse wrote in her pre-anamnesis, both Number Whiz Nurse and Distracted Doc asked me in unison “Why the heck are you in this examining room here, where’s the emergency?”
I guess you have to be holding your eyeball to justify going to the Pronto Soccorso, is what I answered back as I jutted my face in the forehead/chin slit lamp contraption. The ophthalmologist started flashing all sorts of wild color beams in my eye and with a metallic monotone voice kept saying, “look left, look right, look at me” in a loop. Only when he ripped a small orange strip of what looked like litmus paper did a glint of sadism cross his glance but it was too quick for me to register because in a flash he touched that very strip to my bewildered eyeball.
Not the sweetest of sensations. He asked me to blink in his parrot voice and looked at my green cornea and bloodshot eyeball some more. Then he performed another quick action that made me shriek. He virtually took my upper lid and turned it inside out like he was neatly folding a pair of bobby socks. He looked some more then massaged it back down. As he went for the bottom, I asked if he was going to play that trick again but he smiled and told me he was done.
He used 2 fingers much like I do to type up on the keyboard of his computer his diagnosis and dismissed me handing me a tissue. “Don’t freak out, it’s the reagent,” I didn’t understand until I dried the tear that lingered on my puffy left eye and saw it was bright yellow. Highlighter yellow, fluorescent tears. Psychedelic mama.
With a prescription of antibiotic eye drops and gels to last me a week, I skipped out of the outpatient department like a fifteen year old high on candy. The heavyset old lady was still waiting for the atropine to dilate her pupil fully, but she waved at me from a distance. Ciao, Nì.