Something in the Eye

I HAD something in my eye. I had spent the forenoon in trying all the familiar remedies. I had blown my nose under my secretary’s careful instructions; I had winked and rubbed in strict observance of directions from interested friends. To no avail — at noon I still had something in my eye.

With tear-stained cheek I sought medical assistance. It was midsummer. I rang doorbells up and down the street. Always the same answer — Dr. So-and-So was out, his hour of return and his present whereabouts shrouded in mystery. What becomes of the doctors at noon in midsummer?

An hour of fruitless effort resulted in rapidly approaching blindness and the purchase of three pocket handkerchiefs. Just at the moment when my despair was blackest my one remaining and seeing eye observed a coldly classic doorway ornamenting a Greek temple of colossal proportions. A tiny brass sign bore the legend, ‘Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary.’

My heart leaped. Here at last was respite from my woe! Where in all the world could a thing be extracted from the eye more quickly and skillfully than in an ‘Eye and Ear Infirmary,’ and where could sufferer look for greater tenderness than in such an institution brazenly labeled ‘Charitable’?

I entered the massive portal. All was cool and still. The enormous rotunda was deserted, but scores of open doors invited. I chose one haphazard and found myself in a beautifully appointed office. A lady of singularly unhappy mien, considering the luxury of her surroundings, was seated at a table facing the door. I approached her and explained my errand. She was strangely unsympathetic. Inured to suffering, I fancied. She opened a drawer and took from it a pink card. She wrote my name and address on it and handed it to me. ‘Fourth door on the left,’ she said, and turned to the window.

I found the fourth door on the left. Another room of equal grandeur; another sad-eyed woman at another desk. I handed her the pink card. She took a blue one from a drawer and copied my name and address on it, adding other illegible notes. She handed it to me. ‘First corrider on the left — Room 80,’ she said, and resumed her sad communings.

I found Room 80. It was larger but less elaborately furnished than the others. A man replaced the sad-eyed ladies, but he was a stricken-looking creature. He sat in the centre of the room, and about the walls a circle of sufferers. He took my card and whispered, ‘Be seated.’

I sat against the wall and nursed my eye. Silence reigned; a clock ticked. One by one the sufferers rose, approached the desk, received whispered instructions, and vanished. I waited and nursed my eye. An hour passed; I was faint with hunger.

At last a number was whispered. I recognized it as the one upon my card. I rose and went to the desk. ‘ Dr. Smith will see you. Third door on the right.’

The world looked bright again. There was a doctor in the city and he was about to remove the mote from my eye. I hastened to him, pain and hunger forgotten.

The third door on the right admitted me to a tiny office. I confronted a furtive-looking youth in the early twenties. He looked me over critically. I hastened to explain my needs.

‘One moment,’ he said with just a shadow of impatience. ‘Is this a charity case?’

‘Oh, no,’ I exclaimed. ‘I will gladly pay for such attention as I need.’

At that moment I would have given half my worldly possessions to have my eye restored to a normal condition.

He sighed deeply. ‘You are in the wrong ward; you must return to the office and start over again.’

I started to remonstrate, but was cut short.

‘Kindly return to the office.’ He spoke with decision and pressed a button by the door.

I was again in the corridor. ‘Return to the office.’ It was easily said, but where was the office? I wandered aimlessly about. Every corridor seemed to lead to a window with a fire escape. I did not dare open one of the hundreds of closed doors. I heard the soft sound of rubber soles behind me and I turned to face a youth in a white jacket with masses of flaming red hair. His status in this highly complicated establishment was indicated by the mop and pail which he carried. He had a pair of humorous blue eyes and was whistling very softly. One glance at those eyes and I was convinced. I explained my plight. He listened attentively. He was the first person I had met who would listen, and I made the most of it.

‘So you want to get to the office and begin over again,’ he said.

I explained to him that I had no such plan. I only wished my freedom; I only wanted to get out of the accursed building and with my one remaining eye to see the blue sky once more.

‘This is a very difficult place to get into,’ he said, ‘and much more difficult to get out of. Since you are here, to leave without treatment would be — er — irregular.’ The faintest shadow of a smile lurked in his eyes as he said the word.

‘But my eye hurts like the devil.’ I was becoming angry and profane.

‘I know it does,’ he said.

A solemn silence ensued while he seemed to be listening intently. He took me by the arm and led me to the end of the corridor; he placed me at the window and opened a door which swung across the corridor and concealed us completely. He whipped an immaculate handkerchief from his pocket and wound it about a match.

‘This is highly irregular,’ he said, as he delicately probed my eye.

A swift movement, a suggestion of pain, and my eye closed normally. The thing — whatever it was — troubled me no more. I grasped his hand in mine. I pressed money upon him.

He shook his head and said, ‘You are in the charity ward.’

At that moment his alert ears detected danger. ‘Come with me,’ he whispered, and swung open another door which gave on a circular iron stairway.

At the next floor we met another young man. My guide directed him to ‘steer this gentleman out.’ I thought I detected just the shadow of a quiver in his right eyelid. We threaded our way through the boiler room, and a small basement door opened to let me into a paved area. It was but a step to the street and liberty. Once more I saw the world with normal vision; once more I took my place in the ranks of seeing men.

I passed once more the classic doorway. Once more I read the brazen sign, but without emotion, for I carried with me a vision of a flaming head and lips that whispered, ‘This is all highly — er — irregular.’