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I Can See Clearly Now

By Mary Ellen Collins

“What is this thing in my mouth?”

“It’s a bony protrusion called a torus,” my dentist says.

“Good. That’s what my research showed. I was afraid it might be a tumor.”

“People like you need to stay off those medical websites.”

I have heard that advice before and I know the dentist is right, so I resolve to wean myself from this behavior. My attempt lasts four days, until the morning I try to clean my perpetually smudgy glasses. Wiping them with a tissue doesn’t help. Neither does wetting and wiping them. And then it hits me.

“Oh my God! It’s my vision, not my glasses!” I run downstairs, noticing that things are becoming murkier by the second, and I call my husband.

“There’s something wrong! I can’t see!”

“Is your vision blurry?”

“No, it’s hazy, like I’m looking through a screen. And it’s getting worse! I’m calling Dr. Smith!” John remains calm and says he’s coming home.

I call our eye doctor, whose receptionist says someone will call me back within an hour. I run back upstairs to Google ‘hazy vision’ and start to hyperventilate over a list of causes that includes glaucoma and stroke. I ignore the fact that the list also includes dry eye and fatigue.

I hear the door open and John yells, “It’s not you … there’s a haze in the house!”

“What? You mean you can see it?” I yell back.

He runs from the kitchen to the laundry room trying to determine which appliance is malfunctioning. As I scurry behind him, repeating, “You really think it’s not my eyes?” he pauses long enough to say, “I can’t believe you couldn’t tell this isn’t your vision!”

He finally diagnoses an air conditioning problem and calls the repair people while I call the doctor’s office to explain why a callback isn’t necessary.

When the air conditioning guy arrives, we follow him upstairs to find that Freon is now visibly wafting out of the vents like dry ice. An hour and $800 later, our home is haze-free and I’ve done enough research to confirm the fact that we aren’t likely to suffer from toxic Freon shock.

What became known as “the hazy eye incident” strengthened my resolve to normalize my knee-jerk reactions to physical fears. I considered reading lots of books about how to rewire one’s brain, but that sounded too time-consuming. I tried (and failed) to meditate. I tried (and stopped) writing sappy affirmations. I did, however, stop visiting disease-related chat rooms and I switched channels whenever Mystery Medical Diagnosis came on. But when I told a friend about these semi-successful efforts to change my ways she said, “You know there’s an iPhone app that’s a symptom checker.”  

I’ll admit it was tempting, but I resisted the app and managed my worst-case-scenario worrying . . . until one steamy summer afternoon when I walked into Starbucks. Tingly goose bumps broke out on my scalp — possibly indicating an imminent neurological malfunction. I felt the familiar rush of fear before focusing on customers who were hunched over hot drinks and wrapped in sweaters while the air conditioning hummed on extra high.

Ahhh. I got it. Light dawned, the adrenalin receded, and I chalked one up for the recovering worrier. It’s not in my nature to believe in a cure, but any day that doesn’t require an SOS to spouse, doctor or 911 is my definition of progress.

— Mary Ellen Collins

Mary Ellen Collins is a freelance writer and essayist who has been a humor columnist for Angie's List Magazine and a community columnist for The Arizona Republic. Her topics range from preschool to pie crust, and her essays have also been published in Notre Dame Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Tampa Bay Times, Writer's Digest, SASEE and Outdoor Life.

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