On April 7, 1989, I suffered an abraded cornea.
(“Abraded” is a fancy medical term for “scratched” that I didn’t learn until much later.)
I was 8 years old and in second grade. It was a Friday, and unusually windy even by South Dakota standards. The wind was out of the east and blowing so hard that it was almost horizontal. After school, I had to walk directly into the wind to get to my carpool that would take me to my weekly Girl Scout meeting, and the wind blew some dirt or debris of some kind into my left eye.
All my life, people had told me not to rub my eyes, but no one had ever tried to explain why. And I didn’t know any other way to dislodge foreign objects from my eye, so I just kept rubbing it, and it just kept hurting, and so on in a vicious cycle.
So on the off-chance that there are any little kids reading this, let me pause for this public service announcement: Don’t rub your eyes, kids, because you could accidentally scratch your eyeball, and that really, really hurts.
(I seem to remember that at the Girl Scout meeting we were cooking something with onions in it, which didn’t help matters.)
Finally, one of the scout leaders noticed what was happening and advised me to stop rubbing my eye, so I did. But it was too late; the damage had already been done.
If you’ve ever had a scratched cornea, you already know how painful it is, and if you haven’t, I don’t know if I can explain it to you. It’s a burning, aching, searing, throbbing, itching, stinging, stabbing sort of pain. All I can tell you is that (a) it was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life and (b) my eyes are watering now just thinking about it. By the time the Girl Scout meeting was over, I was in agony, to the point where I could hardly stand to have my eye open at all.
Keep in mind, at that point it was after 5:00 on a Friday afternoon, so the doctors’ offices were closed. While extremely painful, my eye was not a life-threatening emergency, so going to the emergency room was out, and my hometown didn’t have an urgent care clinic at that time. So there was nothing to do but go home and wait until morning when there would be an on-call physician on duty.
I spent most of that evening lying on the couch with my eyes closed; I don’t even remember eating supper. Besides being scared and upset and wracked with pain, I was also disappointed because there was a Sesame Street special on TV that night and I really wanted to watch it. We taped it off the TV so I got to watch it later, but that night all I could do was listen to it. And just listening to it was comforting, because it was like being surrounded by my friends from (earlier) childhood, and it made me feel safe and supported, less isolated in my misery and distress.
That’s part of the reason why it’s so important that the Muppet performers remain consistent to the fullest extent possible. I know that the voice is only 10% of the performance, but if your eyes aren’t functioning for whatever reason, when the Muppets come on TV, that’s all they are to you: voices. If I hadn’t been able to recognize the Muppets’ voices in that special, I would have felt less safe, and been even more disoriented and bewildered than I already was.
That particular special is problematic now, but I’m still thankful it was there for me when I needed it.
(Full disclosure: I once told this same story on my other blog.)