My wife’s family celebrated Christmas Eve with their cousins and Christmas Day with immediate family. So our first married Christmas together, in 1980, we joined my wife’s family on Christmas Eve and hosted them on Christmas Day.

I was wearing hard contact lenses on Christmas Eve. We spent hours celebrating with my wife’s cousins and watching them open presents. My eyes were already sore but I hung in there. I thought we’d be heading home soon to our little coach house in River Forest. But we had one more stop to make. My wife promised it would be brief because these cousins were poor. It wouldn’t take them long to open their meager gifts. 

They may have been poor but they must have discovered credit cards. The gift-giving went on endlessly. I even got in on the act by giving a pair of jeans to a guy I had never met before and haven’t seen since. By this time, I felt like I had rocks in my eyes. Every time I blinked, it felt like I was getting stabbed in both eyeballs. 

We finally made it home that night and I removed the contacts. I tried to go to sleep but my eyes still hurt. I woke my wife up and asked her to drive me to an emergency room. The ER doctor told me I had scratched corneas. They applied huge bandages to both eyes and instructed me to keep them on the next day.

I was suddenly blind. My wife led me to the car and guided me upstairs to the coach house. I was no longer in pain, so I grabbed a few hours’ sleep before my in-laws arrived. They were shocked to see me wearing huge bandages over both eyes. They were a bit alarmed watching a blind man stumble around the apartment. 

I was useless that day, confined to sitting carefully in a chair. I couldn’t see my food but it tasted good. Someone gave me a sweater. It felt soft and I asked what color it was. After a day or so, I removed the huge bandages. I could see again and there was no permanent damage to my corneas. 

I was reminded of this experience a few weeks ago when I again suffered excruciating eye pain.

I woke up with conjunctivitis in my left eye. I drove with one eye to an urgent care facility. The doctor prescribed antibiotic eye drops. I was on my way to Walgreen’s when I decided to stop at the Eagles Lodge to renew my membership in the Historical Society of Forest Park.

I didn’t expect to find a large party in progress. There was food and drink. There was even a band. When I tried to renew my membership, I was told I would have to wait until Bingo was over. I sat with some friends and played Bingo with one eye. The last game was a cover all. When I finally made it to Walgreen’s, I learned the pharmacy is closed on Sundays.

The next morning I applied the medicated drops. But if I tried to read or glance at my phone, it felt like I was being stabbed in one eye. I called the publisher and told him I couldn’t read, let alone write. He kindly gave me the week off. I didn’t even have to dig out an old column to run.

I guess this is a long way of explaining why I took my first week off in 23 years. This column is also evidence that I can see again. 

Anyone up for Bingo?

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.