I have pink eye. At least, I think I do. And if I don’t already, I will soon. I can feel the little leggy bacteria marching along the rim of my lower eyelid, thrusting their germy arms, pumping their microbial fists as they exert a final bacterial battle cry before completing the conjunctivitis coup of my conjunctiva. They are here. These bacterial bastards, ready to ravage my eyeball and tickle my tear ducts, are mating and multiplying and personifying before (and within) my very eyes. I can picture them clearly: they are thinly lined cartoons with Roman helmets covering their rectangular heads. Their helmets are feathered and their spears are slight. They have pronounced, round noses and simple oval feet. They look like the characters on an old Red Bull commercial, and, for a moment, they don’t seem so menacing at all. But then my eye starts to itch. I furiously blink, and my eye begins to moisten. I convince myself the moisture is a result of the bacteria, rather than my excessive, almost maniacal blinking, and I rub my eye forcefully and frantically. I then run to the sink, turn on the faucet with my elbow, and eradicate any germ from the palm, or fist, or finger I dared to use to itch an eye that may or may not be pink. I probably don’t have pink eye. But my friend Megan does, and that’s enough.
I noticed her eye was particularly watery while watching her drink a hazy beer as we sat at a checkered bar. The wood was warm, the air was cool, and her eye was runny. My feet dangled from the stool as I leaned onto my elbow and watched Megan’s theatrics. She shrieked about one of her patients seizing twenty-four minutes after rounds. Her beer sloshed in its glass as she swung it around, recalling the frenzy that followed. Megan started working as a nurse five months ago, and it’s been one horror story after the next. Patients seize, or their hearts stop, or their minds deteriorate, and nurse Megan, with her bright blonde hair and twinkly hazel eyes, is left to mop up the messes their bodies leave. She’ll waltz into a patient’s room with her cobalt blue scrubs, flash her bright white teeth, and make them feel as if their hospital stay is the most normal thing in the world, as routine as a Top Model re-run. She will draw their blood, or disimpact their bowels, or carry them to the shower, before charting until her fingers fall off. She will then return home, drop her scrubs into the growing blue pile on her filthy floor, and collapse onto her bed, where she will wake up at 5 a.m. to do it all again.
We had just ordered another round when Megan mentioned she had recently encountered C. diff. My pre-conjunctivitis eyes grew wide as I sipped my drink.
“Megan!” I screamed. “Do not give me C. diff.”
“I wash my hands every time I leave the room,” she laughed as she clutched my arm. “Megan, I swear to God if you give me C. diff—” I gulped my beer and stared at her tight smile. She loves how much I hate her exposure to illness. Her eye continued to run and I elected not to say anything because I was already being as annoying about C. diff as I was about MRSA the week before. I ripped my arm from her grasp.
Megan is a great many things. She is kind and thoughtful and funny and smart, but she is not particularly hygienic off the clock, which, for a medical professional, is wildly problematic. I tend to flip my pillow after she sleeps on it and I beg her to wash her hands before she eats. I can hardly take the burden of her repeated exposure to a deadly bacteria. We share drinks, and food, and touch one another with reckless abandon, but something about her watery eye had me on high alert and every time her hand made contact with my skin my muscles contracted and I would gag back the question I would soon have the answer to:
What the fuck is wrong with your eye?
We continued to talk about her medical mishaps, about the man she delivered coffee to at 11 p.m., about the scheduling nightmares of being off every other weekend. We cackled hard and grabbed each other, flying high on bathroom humor and 9% beers. And then I screamed a little too loud and Megan laughed a little too hard and a droplet of saliva leapt from her bottom lip, across her beer, through the air, and into my mouth.
“What?” she kept laughing as she rubbed her leaky eye.
“You just spit in my mouth! Now I definitely have C. diff!”
“That’s not how it works, Al,” she said as she squeezed me with her fecal fingers. But that’s how it works for me. I will fixate on contracting some strange illness, despite the physical impossibility, because I am high maintenance and neurotic and love to obsess about things I cannot control. When Megan’s spit entered my mouth, my focus shot to her eye and the strange yellow corner and I still said nothing because my fight was with C. diff and that scuzz was tomorrow’s problem. Well, it’s tomorrow and that scuzz is now mine.
My grad school essay deadline is in two days, and, of course, I have manifested some miraculous illness that has rendered me unable to complete an arduous task. This is what I do. Megan’s mystery eye scuzz is not mine because she shared it, but because I claimed it. Because I hadn’t yet realized that my mind is more dangerous than C. diff and MRSA and Conjunctivitis combined. When I couldn’t be bothered to write my final English paper my freshman year of college, I conveniently contracted mono. When I had a particularly unpleasant research project due, I suddenly succumbed to a month long migraine. And I didn’t just claim these ailments, I experienced them. I am the Queen of Psychosomatic Shit. All it takes is an influx of stress and an ounce of resistance, and I can imbue my broken body with whatever symptoms will halt my impending deadline. So here I am, pink eyed or not, itching my eyes with the fingers pounding my keyboard in a desperate attempt to meet my deadline and overcome an infection I do not actually have. It turns out the mental is physical, and I am forever one suggestion away from fundamental malfunction.