Irene North


A physical manifestation of stress

Cinders rests in her respective spot watching over me while I sleep in comfort in my special snowflake blanket, courtesy of George Soros. /s

I am not doing well.

I wrote in a previous post detailing some things that were causing stress in my life. It was not an exhaustive list. My Friend Sandra knew I was having a bad time recently and, under the guise of coming to play with my cats, brought me a red velvet cake to cheer me up. And it worked for a while.

When I was eight (confirmed by mom today), I woke up one day to find pus had filled my right eye socket. My mother rushed me to the pediatrician’s office to find out what was wrong. The doctors and nurses carefully cleaned away the pus. When they reached my eye, the nurse had to peel open my eyelid. There was more pus caked on my eyeball. The process took nearly three hours.

After looking at my eye, I was sent home with some medicine. We were back at the doctor’s office the next day to repeat the process. I was sent to an ophthalmologist where I was diagnosed with the herpes simplex keratitis. It is an inflammation of the cornea, the clear dome that covers the front part of the eye. I have it on the inside and outside of my cornea.

The virus can never be eradicated from the body. It can go latent, but there will be sporadic outbreaks. It commonly only affects one eye and it can cause blindness. When I was diagnosed, I was told to prepare myself because it was likely I would be blind in my right eye by the time I was 20. Thankfully, that did not happened.

My Aunt Elaine made jokes about “How did you get that in your eye.” I didn’t understand the joke at the time, but it has always stuck with me. I have had to explain it to so many people because everyone only knows about genital herpes. Yes, they are related, but they are different.

Risk factors for reactivation include, sunlight, trauma, heat, stress, and menstruation. Let me tell you, that last one was no fun. Hitting puberty with this was terrible. I was sure every single person knew every single month for more than a year. Eventually, my body figured out menstruation was normal and I stopped having flare ups. However, I wore an eye patch over my eye for most of seventh grade due to the photophobia, or light sensitivity. It is not an irrational fear. Photophobia is an experience of discomfort or pain to the eyes due to light exposure or by presence of actual physical sensitivity of the eyes.

I wore sunglasses in school most of eighth grade because the fluorescent lights would trigger my eye. It was also a transition time from the eye patch to normal vision. We learned that one the hard way. I did not enjoy being the guinea pig in that experiment.

My PE teacher used to call me Joe Cool. I’m not sure she actually knew my name, but she never let the kids make fun of me, at least not when she was around.

Then, things calmed down. I went in for a checkup at the University of Nebraska Health Center my sophomore year in college. I was participating in a snowball fight in the dorms and I ran into a cement wall at full speed, knocking myself unconscious. I hit the wall just above my right eye, so my mom asked me to go get it checked out. None of the interns had seen this virus before, so I spent nearly two hours in the office while they took turns looking in my eye and asking questions.

While there is severe pain, blurred vision, tearing and redness in my eye each time this flares up, the extreme photophobia causes the most pain and has had long-lasting changes in how I see. I have spent most of my life with darkened glasses. It has only been in the last two to three years that I have worked to lighten the glasses a little bit to make me feel a bit more normal and not have to constantly answer why I have sunglasses on all the time.

Our townhouse in Poughkeepsie, New York.

I nearly lost my eye in 2005. Paul and I were living in Poughkeepsie, New York at the time. The pain started over the weekend. I thought it was from dust – I’m allergic to dust mites – after spending the weekend helping move stuff with my grandmother.

The photophobia hit while I was taking Paul to work. I tore off my glasses and covered my eye to try to keep out the light. But I drive a 5-speed, so I was constantly removing my hand. By the time I got home, I was seriously considering using a spoon to scoop out my eyeball.

I curled up on the couch in the fetal position. I covered my eye. And I began wailing. It was loud and uncontrollable, but I didn’t know how to stop the pain. My friend, Bas, was visiting from The Netherlands. He was still sleeping upstairs. My cries woke him up. He thought I had an argument with Paul, but quickly realized my wailing was the sound of pain.

“Do you know how to get to the hospital,” he asked. I nodded yes. He helped me to the car. The photophobia was so severe I was pulling my shirt over my face.

“Don’t look. Just tell me what street I need to turn on,” he said, as he reassuringly touched my shoulder.

He drove like a madman, as I would have, too, weaving in and out of the four lanes of traffic.

“Your car has a really short shift,” he commented. We discussed how my old Toyota SR-5 sports car didn’t have that. We decided that, since I now owned a Hyundai, it must be a Korean thing.

By the time we reached the hospital, Bas had calmed me down. The wails were gone, replaced by momentary whimpers whenever any kind of direct light beamed down upon me. Instead of sitting in the waiting room or the large open emergency room, the nurses led Bas and me to a room and turned off the lights.

A few minutes later, someone came in and put some drops in my eyes to numb the pain. The pain never did go away, but about 10 minutes later, I could open my eyes. The pain was bearable.

When I had first arrived, none of the machines could register my eye pressure. It should be under 21. Someone came in about 45 minutes later. They said the pressure was 78. A few minutes later, the doctor came in and left the door open just a crack. He conducted his examination by the light from the hallway coming through a five-inch crack.

It took 1.5 years, dozens of office visits, and 16 eye drops a day with varying medications to get my eye normal again.

During a flare-up, the photophobia feels worse than having a bright light pointed at my eye while thousands of pins are jabbed in my eye. Now imagine that every day for more than a year.

And I thought I was good again. I know severe stress can trigger the virus. I know I’ve been under a lot of stress the last five months. But I thought I had it under control.

My eye at 9:54 a.m., February 17, 2018.

On Thursday, February 15, 2018, I was experiencing some photophobia. There was searing pain whenever I went outside. I had to ignore it. There was the 50th anniversary of 911 two-part series I had to finish. There was also a big story I was assigned to cover for the Star-Herald. It took nearly six hours. By 4 p.m., I was exhausted. I thought I was just tired. I knew I was stressed. Since none of the other symptoms had appeared, I really hoped some rest would make it go away.

I woke up Friday to constant, searing pain. I know that feeling. When I walked into the bathroom to have a look, my eye was completely red. The blood vessels were enlarged and looked like crooked spiderwebs shooting out from the center of my eye. I’ve seen that before, too. I sighed deeply. I knew what was happening.

I called my optometrist and got in right away. Your eye pressure should be under 21. Mine was at 45. Not as high as in 2005. But I had forgotten how much this hurts.

Whenever a flare up occurs, it takes a while to set things right. I hope I fall within the “typically clears up in 10-14 days” scenario this time.

I have a followup appointment Monday afternoon. If things haven’t improved, I will have to see an ophthalmologist. I really hope I don’t have to go down that road.

I’m taking Istalol once a day for the high pressure, Zirgan ophthalmic gel, an antiviral drug five times a day to slow the growth of the virus and Acyclovir twice a day to slow the growth and spread the virus. Zirgan and Acyclovir are also used for genital herpes. No, I don’t enjoy having to go to the pharmacy to pick them up.

While trying to determine what times to take the Zirgan so it is spaced out evenly, my logical husband had just the answer.

“Think of it like the Muslims going to prayer,” he said. “Just look up what time they pray each day and put your drops in then.”

This website detects your location in the world and tells you when you should pray. That is, if I want to be that specific.

My editor asked if I needed to take a sabbatical from work or what else he could do to help me. I told him I didn’t think a sabbatical was necessary, but I will probably take frequent breaks from my computer desk and that he needs to know if I suddenly come up and say “I need a sick day tomorrow” that I need a day off, no questions asked.

Crumpets a la Paul, with little butter. Or so he says. No flash used because, hey did you not read the story about how the light hurts my eyes?

On Saturday morning, I woke up to the gentle sounds of Cinders’ purring. I don’t know if she stayed all night, but she was there when I opened my eyes. Paul made me tea and crumpets for breakfast. Since the only other British thing he can make is homemade chips, I wonder what will be for lunch.

Right now, I have a constant aching all over the right side of my head. Photophobia has always been the worst part of this for me and it causes great pain. This time is no different. My house will likely remain dark for at least the next 48 hours.

If you don’t see me online much in the near future, computer screens make the photophobia worse. If you see me tearing up, I’m probably not crying. My damned eye is leaking. I probably won’t be as happy either. I will be trying to ignore the pain while I work. I will try to avoid any bright places for a while. You’re not going to see me outside of work either. Right now, the best place for me is inside, away from anything bright.

Whenever there is a flare up, the race is on to minimize damage and prevent scarring. And I’m running a race that I never wanted to be in, but is necessary to win. It’s a battle I can’t afford to lose.

NOTE: Please excuse any typos in this post. I have written most of it without looking at the computer screen.


Done. Done. Done.


What reporters do when covering stories


  1. Angela Marie Kembel

    Goodness! I am so sorry. What a tough thing to go through.

    • Irene North

      Thanks, Angela. I’ll find a way to get through it.

    • Angela Marie Kembel

      You have my vote of confidence, my best wishes, and my concern. I too struggle with stress management and it exacerbates Lyme Disease for me. Then the flare-up is stressful. Vicious cycle unless I very intentionally break the loop with “forced” time away and spent doing entirely different things than I’ve usually done to unwind. I’ve added Epsom Salt baths and time in the sauna to my life, when years ago I never really thought I would use those tools.

  2. Mary Jo Huelle

    I sent you a message via Paul North. Shouldn’t you be resting your eyes?! Do you need a mother? I can come up. 🙂

    • Irene North

      I’m talking a quick break from the darkness. I can handle about 10 minutes at a time at the computer right now. And I called my mom this morning to let her know about the flare up and that I was okay. the medicine is working and the pain has subsided quite a bit, so I’m hoping for the best on Monday. I will give you a shout if I need you. 🙂

    • Mary Jo Huelle

      With enough notice, I can bake cookies, too!

    • Joanne Krieg

      I’m sorry to hear all you’re going through. Hoping you get well soon.

    • Irene North

      Mary Jo Huelle If I knew cookies were involved, I would have said, “Come over now.” 🙂

    • Irene North

      Joanne Krieg Thanks, Joanne. I’m about head off to bed, but I’m already feeling much better. I’m hopeful Monday’s results will be good and my eye will quickly recover. The rest, I’m still working on.

  3. Stephanie Bradley Leeper

    I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how painful this is.

  4. Mindy Larson Baird

    You are in my thoughts my friend! Hoping this passes quicker than expected!

  5. Chabella Guzman

    Wow, take care of yourself – hope it is the 10-14 day stint and not longer.

    • Irene North

      Me, too, Chabella. I really don’t want to go through a year of getting my eye back to normal ever again. The medicine seems to be working well as my pain has halved since Friday morning.

  6. Stevie Crecelius

    Honey, it hurt to read this. You need a huge hug so I’m holding you right now…

  7. Peggi

    Remind me to close the blinds on the office Windows Monday, don’t know how much that will help but it sure can’t hurt. Feel my hug.

  8. Bas van Beek

    So sorry to hear you have to go through that again. I still remember driving you to the hospital. If driving a little above the speed limit while the rest is sleeping on the road and knowing how to position the car when everybody stays in their lane without ever looking into rear mirrors makes me a madman in the eyes of an American, so be it 😉

    • Irene North

      It was the best ride of my life, Bas. I was finally in a car with someone who knows how to drive and drove like me, a madwoman. 😉 Also, don’t come drive here in Scottsbluff. No one here knows how to drive and they think I’m the crazy person.

    • Bas van Beek

      I had one job… get you at the hospital as quickly and safely as I could. I was so happy to be able to help out. Take some much needed rest my friend.

  9. Lisa

    Dear Irene, thank you for sharing your journey with us, I am sorry to hear of this. Take good care of yourself. If you like, I could teach you some breathing techniques to help with pain. Hope you heal up quickly, friend.

  10. Elaine Carey

    Irene, I am so sorry that you are going through this again. I remember all too well what you went through all those times before, and am doubly sorry about asking “how did you get that in your eye” and that my comment has stayed with you all this time. I’m sure I have matured past that point now and wish you a short, speedy recovery with no lasting effects. My thoughts and love are with you.
    Love, Aunt Elaine.

    • Irene

      Thanks, Aunt Elaine. And no need to be sorry. When I usually retell that story, it’s with laughter as most of my friends think it’s hilarious, too. Think of it this way. It made me go learn about the different kinds of herpes, so you got me to go educate myself. 🙂

  11. Kathy Torell Hatfield

    So so sorry. What a long road you have walked…are walking.

  12. Bambi Loxterkamp

    Oh no get better soon…

  13. Rachelle Eversole

    Irene, I am so sad to hear of your issues. I’ll be thinking of you and hope it ends soon.

  14. Judy Amoo

    Irene, I would never have guessed from your typical positive, humorous, can-do attitude that you have been experiencing all of this. I’m so sorry this has been part of your life’s journey. Using your oh-so-capable journalistic finesse to share your story with the world provides an important reminder that one can never fully appreciate another’s path…it’s so important not to judge or make assumptions. Thank you for your honesty. I hope you feel the love, support, and well wishes coming your way! 💜

    • Irene

      Thanks, Judy. I don’t usually let folks know what’s going on personally, but every now and then, it slips out and then I tell the whole damned world.

  15. Mary Robinson

    Irene, take care. What a horrible journey and what an amazing person you are-no complaining.

  16. Molly North

    I hope Paul’s looking after you get better soon

  17. Jina RedNest

    Gee Irene im sorry you have to go thru that take care i may have to do some baking or something – except i dont know where you live, my friend i could throw something together and throw it in your door!! Jk

  18. Judy & Maren Chaloupka

    What an amazing uninvited journey you have experienced with this illness. Hopefully rest will help reduce your stress.

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