When You are Broken and Untouchable

I am typing this post with about 30 percent vision in my left eye, fingers trembling because of my body’s crazy reactions to Percocet, and with a mid-grade fever.  Do you want a taste of what an end-of-the-world outbreak might look like?  Brush shoulders (or share some breathing space) with someone with EKC. Epidemic Karatoconjunctivitis is a freak version of pink eye, completely viral, resistant to all antibiotics and virtually any form of treatment.  In most of its victims, it attacks both eyes and shoots tiny razors into your corneas until you scream and run, begging someone to dig your eyes out of your head with melon scoopers (Well, at least that is my response).

Our youngest began his journey with this beastly mutation of pink-eye on the first day of our vacation, roughly two and a half weeks ago.  I watched as his eye disappeared. His cheek and eyelid slowly swelled to the point that they swallowed up his poor flaming red eye. 17 hours away from home and with no out-of-state insurance coverage, we sent pictures to every medical professional we knew. We began with eye drops, to no avail.  We progressed to oral antibiotics and watched the poor baby continue to suffer.  We breathed a corporate sigh of relief as we cross state lines back into our home state and promptly took him straight to the doctor the day after we arrived home.

After unnecessary delay, they admitted the poor child to the pediatric unit of our hospital with a diagnosis of pre-septal cellulitis, and a plan to run a round of IV antibiotics.  Evidently, you don’t mess around with eyes and babies.  I am glad.  I felt better to have him under more consistent care.  In addition, giving a child under the age of two burning steroid eye drops is not a feat for the faint of heart (or weak of arm muscles).  By this point, my husband had the infection in both eyes.  He spent the night in the hospital with our baby, while I stayed at home with our three-year-old daughter. My heart was ripped in half to leave our sweet little one, but his daddy was taking great care of him.  And I got to cuddle with my darling girl for two nights in a row.

My infection began 11 days ago, and of course, as evidenced clearly in the history of our family illnesses, I had to get hit the hardest.  As pointed out by our eye doctor and good friend, there is no “normal progression of an illness” for me.  I am so far beyond normal that no one knows what to expect when I get sick.  Our daughter’s eye began to get pink when my eyes started to manifest symptoms, and thankfully, hers has been the most mild case of the family.

It has been documented that in several other countries, EKC is a category IV communicable illness where all cases must be reported and quarantined for 2-3 weeks.  Our country is not as strict, but it probably should be.  You know that no one wants you around when the eye doctor doesn’t allow you to sit in his waiting room, and your PCP sweeps you back before you can say hello when you walk into her office.  I would say that it makes me feel special, but that would be the wrong word.  Talk about feeling like an “untouchable!” Maybe this is what leprosy felt like.  Thank goodness, this diagnosis only secures a quarantine of 14 days!

The day that I crossed the line into end-of-the-world-epidemic-level-scared was the day that my eyes started to BLEED.  When you start crying blood, you start envisioning all of those apocalyptic contagion movies that you saw as a teenager and young adult, or start wondering if you are becoming a zombie who may develop an insatiable craving for brains when she wakes up in the morning. Please note, no one else in my family had the pleasure of blood for tears.  That was unique to me.  About three days ago, I crossed another line.  I decided at that point that I could no longer look in the mirror without a precursor of a calm, encouraging pep-talk that that deformed, swollen-faced person with blood-red eyes is not an accurate representation of normal Megan, and than in a few weeks, I will hopefully have human eyes surrounded by peach, healthy skin, not purple, inflated rubber.

In seriousness, this has been a scary time. Vision is important. Uncontrolled infections are scary. It difficult and painful to be cut off from the rest of the world, even if it is for a couple of weeks.  I would never blame people for staying away. I would stay away also if I were in their shoes.  Let me not forget to mention that there have been a few generous spirits who have braved our quarantined home and loved us by bringing in happy meals for the kids and groceries.  We’ve even had a couple people drive us places, which was really risky on their part.  We’ve enjoyed a couple fun games of “ding-dong-ditch” as people have brought groceries and left them on the door-step.  We have been loved well by some special people in the midst of our crisis as “untouchables.”  It causes me to step back and wonder if I would love well in the midst of potential risks that loving well might hold.  I hope that I would.  I hope that I would step out of my safe comfort zone to love those leprous ones in our community who might “contaminate” us.  I hope that I could look the disfigured in the eyes and say, “I love you and am here for you.” I am infinitely thankful for those in our community who have bravely stepped past the boundaries and loved us in our potentially contagious brokenness. They have housed the spirit of Christ for us.

It is lonely and isolating to be sick, broken, and untouchable.  And just another opportunity to become one of the “least of these.”  Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to identify as one in such deep, desperate, agonizing need.  Help me, one day soon, to be in a position to be Jesus to those whom society deems untouchable.


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Pastor Al Gilbert

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