I Have Herpes. But it’s Not Where You’d think.

I have herpes. Not in or around or even near my nether regions though, and i’m grateful for that, because that would be another brand of Hell. Still, it’s in a fairly horrible place, all body parts considered. It’s in my eye.

Fucked up thing is? All along, I knew it would happen. I hadn’t yet heard of the Law of Attraction back in those days (several years ago), but I’m pretty sure it sprung into action. Like the average American, I get the occasional cold sore on my lip, or just inside my nostril, and I have to say I’m feeling VERY attractive writing about this. (WHY did I choose to write about this?) In my mid-twenties I was getting them All The Time, every three months or so, and it was entirely miserable. When you constantly have crusted-over disgustingness on your face you don’t really feel like a supermodel, but more like a disease-covered monstress. I was deeply afraid that I’d somehow unthinkingly pick at a sore and then rub my eyes, transferring the virus. I can’t stress enough how unlikely this scenario is in general, but even less likely when one is paranoid about the possibility of this happening. I was so acutely self-conscious about this that it didn’t have a chance in Hell of occurring.

I was careful. When I washed my face I’d avoid cold sore areas with my washcloth, dry my face with a paper towel, then use that paper towel to gently clean the cold sore separately. Often, I’d even douse my fingertips with rubbing alcohol afterwards for good measure.

Well guess what? Lucky me. Turns out that all my years of paranoid self-care was in vain. The Law of Attraction reared its ugly head. The doctor told me the virus had traveled up a nerve.

The first doctor I saw thought it was a bacterial infection and sent me home with an antibiotic ointment. Antibiotic ointment is incredibly uncomfortable, like having jizz in your eye. Not that I know what that’s like, just guessing. I will never fucking forgive him. Two weeks later, infection still raging, my sensitivity to light so intense I had to wear an eyepatch to tolerate daytime, I made another appointment.

The doctor scolded me. He insisted he’d told me to follow up after a week, and I am absolutely sure he did not. When you’re as insanely scared as I was with this out-of-control infection, you pay very close attention to what a doctor says to you, and he did NOT tell me to follow up. He had another look. Again, he told me it looked like a bacterial infection and wanted me to continue with the jizz. I insisted he check for herpes, as my intuition told me that’s damned well what it was. To humor me, he had another doctor take a look and, sure enough, freakin’ cold sore in my eye.

By the time it was detected it had already done enough damage to my cornea that my fifteen years of contact lens-wearing was kaput. If I’d begun antiviral treatment instead of antibiotics in the first place, my cornea may have been spared. But now I’m stuck with a nifty little scar that prevents a contact lens from fitting properly, not to mention what it does to my vision. It pisses me off.

I don’t like wearing glasses. It’s a pain in my ass. They fog up when I open the dishwasher after a dry-cycle. They attract greasy fingerprints. They’re miserable things to wear in the rain. And it took me years to find a pair that made me look cute and intelligent rather than dated and matronly.

For the first year, I battled the infection off and on, continually terrified I’d lose vision in that eye. The antivirals would knock it down enough that it would look inactive, so I’d be instructed to quit taking the pills, and the infection would re-activate. Depressed, scared and exhausted, I found a new Ophthalmologist who was my angel on earth. She put me on an intense regimen of antivirals in pill and eyedrop form that wiped out the virus for several months, and when it eventually recurred she put me on the same regimen to wipe it out again. It hasn’t recurred since. She also encouraged me be grateful that I had herpes simplex and not herpes zoster (the type that causes chickenpox and shingles). She relayed to me the story of her Ophthalmologist friend’s patient who had zoster so unbearably painful he committed suicide by jumping off a building. That’s a special kind of pain.

My mom, I think, didn’t quite understand that the infection was serious, but not gruesome. I don’t know where she got the idea that I was going to lose my eye, but she assured me several times that I’d still be able to drive with one eye even though it would take practice with no depth perception. I appreciated her “comfort”, but I didn’t like her thinking that way… didn’t need her invoking the Law of Attraction on my behalf.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time wallowing in self-pity, as if somehow a little scar on my eyeball was life-ruining. My wakeup call came one day at the local library. I was there mid-treatment, cornea inflamed, feeling shitty and using some library time as feel-good therapy. Unable to find a book I was seeking, I went to the librarian for assistance, and I noticed she had a skin-colored patch over her left eye. An odd excitement washed over me as I assumed she had the same rare malady as I, excitement that I wasn’t alone in this (not that I wanted HER to have it), and I laid it all out on her and inquired as to whether she felt as miserable as I did about having eyeball-herpes. She wasn’t miserable about it at all. I felt foolish and humbled as she explained that herpes was not a malady she had. What she also didn’t have was a left eye, as it had just been removed after it was discovered to be cancerous. And she was okay with it, grateful to be alive.

Now I’m grateful for my wonky vision, my still-viable depth perception, my glasses, everything (though, shit, I’d still like Lasik). Apparently gratitude was a lesson I needed to learn, and herpes was what I needed to learn it.

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