Pain. A lance of pain in my left eye. Luckily, I was able to get a friend to take me on the short trip to the Emergency Room (ER) at Georgetown University Hospital. Helped by my co-worker, Sally, I stumbled to the triage desk, where the nurse gave me a high priority and sent me to a treatment room. I waited, eager for help. While I’m first a computer scientist, I have a lot of medical background, and tell people, “I’m not a doctor but I simulate them on computers.”
Picture Doogie Howser’s kid brother showing up as the intern assigned to see me. He did not, however, have Doogie’s driving intelligence. The nurse, however, looked very competent. Since I was only 22, I didn’t have much to say.
What had happened?
How had I gotten there? At the time, I was a contractor, working on the first automated version of the U.S. Immigration data base. The core was 63 million 3x5 cards. It wasn’t my preferred area, but I prefer eating to not eating. It happened that it was a holiday that the government observed but my company did not, so we went to the company office, where we had no assigned desks, to find some place to work.
Now, the obligatory SOL erotica. My colleague and mentor, Sally, was a tall athlete with magnificent legs. Black hair was trimmed tightly around her head, in a most flattering way. She was, I guessed, almost 30. It was 1970, when short miniskirts were accepted office wear, and hot pants were starting to challenge them. It was also in the middle of the Sexual Revolution.
I had gotten to know her, in part because she was nice enough to offer me rides at the end of the day, saving me from the bus. She told me that her husband, Alan, was an Army officer deployed in the field. They were absolutely physically faithful, but they both were rather exhibitionistic. He encouraged her to wear provocative clothing. On their weekly phone calls, they talked about how they had showed off to people, and how they had been appreciated. She had told me, “Don’t get your hopes up, but if we ever open up our relationship, you’re pretty high on the list. Not sure how to put it, but when you look at me, I feel appreciated and admired. Too many men come across as creepy. Still, I need to find you a girlfriend.
“Don’t spend your time staring at the office, but I’ll try to arrange things so you can get a good look.” So, was it really surprising that I kept turning from what essentially was make-work at the company office, and admiring Sally? She had picked me up at home, something she didn’t usually do, and gave me a ride to the office. On the way, she made a point of telling me, “I decided to look especially good today. This is a soft cashmere top that still shows off that I have a tight belly. Oh, these look like casual hot pants, but I shaved my legs last night, and, this morning, put on a pair of ultrasheer pantyhose. They are neutral color with a slightly pink overtone. Let’s just say that there won’t be anything distracting showing from under my hot pants.”
It was a weird mixture of confidences and teasing. Anyway, my make-work by late afternoon, consisted of reviewing some design documents, test plans, and code that was in a three-hole notebook. Some was in fairly small print, so I had my face close. Out of my peripheral vision, I sensed Sally shifting in her chair and crossing her legs. That got me to turn my head in that direction, while still turning pages of the notebook.
Ouch! The corner of a paper sheet went across my eye. It stung. I pressed a hand against it, and, a little later, went to the bathroom and rinsed it with cold water. Joe, my boss, stopped by. “I don’t like the way your eye is tearing. Remember, this is an on-the-job injury. We’re responsible for the medical bills. If you need time off, and you might -- these things hurt a lot, I’ll grant leave. We’ll call our workers’ comp hotline. Sally, will you get him home?” She nodded. The hotline told us of an ophthalmologist that had some walk-in hours tomorrow, and they promised to get me in.
Sally parked and took me to my apartment. “I’m concerned. Your eye is tearing like mad, but you’re clamping it shut. Joe said he’d cover my time if you needed to get to the ER or doctor, so for Christ’s sake call me if you need help. In the meantime, I’m going to call for Chinese delivery.” We enjoyed a nice dinner, during which she said, “I’m going to give your other eye a treat before I leave.” She went into the bathroom, taking what I assumed was a gym bag. Sally came back in a crop top with more cleavage than I’d ever seen. It exposed a good deal of her tightly toned belly. Eventually, she left.
By midnight, it was clear I wasn’t going to get any sleep without treatment. I called Sally, who came over quickly. “I thought this would happen, and I’m glad you called.” At the hospital, she helped me to triage, and, when I was called, to the treatment room.
A nurse asked, “Would you like your friend to come with you?”
“Sally, would you mind?”
“Of course. I’d worry more sitting out here.”
The Treatment Room
Little Doogie stared at me, muttering. “Bring me an eye dressing tray!” was his first order to the nurse, which seemed in the right direction. When he got it, and removed the packaging, he started muttering, “lots of stuff here.” Sally and the nurse exchanged glances, using female covert communications channels.
I couldn’t stand it any more. “How about using the fluoroscein dye to examine my eye? That will help you see damage, and also see if there’s any foreign material there.”
“Fluorescein? Oh, yeah. I remember. The optometrist used it when he fitted my contact lenses.” Clearly, this was the medical student that slept through the ophthalmology lectures.
From the eye dressing tray, he took out a packaged fluorescein strip, opened it, and reached toward my eye. Luckily, I still had a working eye, which let me grab his wrist. “I think you want to wet it first.”
“Oh yeah. Water or saline?”
“Saline.” The nurse, seeing I seemed to have the situation in hand, was sitting on a stool in the corner. Behind his back, she waved at me, grinning.
He wet it and reached for me again; I grabbed his wrist again. “A local anesthetic first, do you agree?”
“Sounds good.” He returned to pawing through the tray. “Which one?”