Une conjonctivite

What does this mean? It’s pink eye, baby. I’m going to tell you about my experience (which I’m still living) as it relates to life in France and also give you some tips on how to get through the healing process.

While there are several different kinds of pink eye, mine is the bacterial variety. I can tell because I had the yellow-green discharge in spades the first day. Here is some fairly standard information you’ll find about the different types and treatment suggestions.

If you’re like me, you might have several unanswered questions about how to deal with it, especially in a foreign country and culture.

Who to see:

You can go to an ophthalmologist (ophthalmologue) or you can choose to see your general physician, like I did.

Getting medicine: General

You will need to make an appointment with your doctor to get your prescription and then head over to a nearby pharmacy to fill it. In France, I’ve never seen a prescription called in or put on auto-refill.

Instead, you’ll hold on to your prescription document and just take it to whichever pharmacy is most convenient for you. You have no obligation to return there, even to get a refill. The only reason I choose to return to a French pharmacy is if they stock a specific kind of medicine or a generic that I like, if the staff is friendly, and if their prices are good (there can be slight variations in France, depending on the size of the pharmacy).

Make sure to keep your prescription in a safe place where you can easily find it again later as it is essential if you need a refill or if you have questions about your medication later on.

Getting medicine: For pink eye

My doctor prescribed both antiseptic and antibiotic eye drops. The pharmacist told me that I was entitled to get compresses also. The compresses would have been partly reimbursed by social security and partly by a mutuelle (additional medical coverage that is either paid for through your work or that you pay for yourself). I don’t currently have a mutuelle, which isn’t the smartest move as it’s very cheap month-to-month, and their purpose is to reimburse you for the rest of the medical costs that your social security doesn’t pay for.

Read all the information about your meds:

Unfortunately for me, the antibiotic she prescribed is in the same family as one I’m allergic to. I would not have known this if I hadn’t read the notice on my medication and looked up the information online. You definitely don’t want to apply medication that you’re allergic to to an already irritated part of your body …

Speeding along the healing process:

Here is some great information for dealing with pink eye.

Keeping it clean:

To add to this, I would advise you to pick up some paper towels and potentially a fresh bar of soap or soap dispenser that you’ll only use during your pink eye because you are going to be washing your hands. A lot.

Make sure to have some hand lotion around to keep your hands from looking like this:

Guanajuato_mummy_03

Having the paper towels will allow you to thoroughly dry your hands on a new, clean surface each time instead of getting your regular hand towel repeatedly wet and potentially covered with germs, which could lead to getting pink eye in your healthy eye or giving it to someone else. Also, though I don’t normally use it, I strongly recommend hand sanitizer while you’re recovering from pink eye.

Non-medicated solutions:

Physiologica_S___5088f754488ec

You can find a sérum physiologique nasal oculaire (pictured above) usually intended for babies and kids but that’s also for adults. It’s basically little capsules of saline solution, which you can reuse under normal circumstances, but with pink eye, just toss them after one use.

I applied to my eye using a coton tige (cotton bud or Q-tip). This helped me clear away any discharge, and it’s a great way to clean out your eye and keep it moist.

Avoiding infecting your good eye:

Here’s my rule that (so far, fingers crossed, please God) has kept my healthy eye from getting infected: I do not touch my good eye unless I have just washed and completely dried my hands, and I have not touched anything else. I will touch the eyebrow or near the cheek bone with “dirty” hands, but I keep clear of the zone where I would normally apply any eye makeup or under-eye concealer with anything but the cleanest hands.

If I touch anything, I consider my hands dirty, and will only touch my infected eye. But I avoid touching doorknobs and light switches with my hands as much as possible to keep from spreading this stuff to my husband. I’m going to look up how to sanitize household surfaces without chemical-laden products here pretty soon.

I keep a special pack of tissues at the ready for if my eye gets watery/ leaky. Some will tell you to only use them once and then throw them away. This is good advice, but given all the other things I’m only using one time (i.e. my THREE kinds of eye drops, plus the paper towels…), I’ve chosen not to do this.

At night:

I sleep on the side of my bad eye as much as possible for several reasons 1) This allows any discharge to seep out of my eye instead of accumulating excessively 2) It keeps said discharge as far as possible from my good eye 3) It keeps my eye from crusting over completely overnight.

However, sleeping on your back is necessary from time to time as you’re likely to get a bit sore from being on just one side. Also, this will keep the infected side of your face from getting super puffy and swollen. I had to give myself a lymph-draining face massage the morning of my second day with pink eye.

Be aware:

Your clothes, your hair, your sheets and blankets, and anywhere you have touched after being in contact with your infected eye could carry the bacteria of your pink eye, and they need to be washed, disinfected, or thrown away. I’m planning on doing this once I’ve recovered.

But for right now, I’ll rotate my pillow and/ or change the pillow case, and I keep my sheets and blankets from touching high up on the side of my face with my healthy eye.

Stages of recovery:

This is just one person’s experience, so take it with a grain of salt.

Day 1: Woke up with my eye feeling quite dry and irritated as if I’d gotten sand in it. Lots of discharge throughout the day, which blurs your vision as the stringy stuff is finding its way out of your eye and feels uncomfortable. Lots of pressure and general discomfort/ pain as well as burning/ itching sensation. Painful, upper and lower lids, which became swollen throughout the day.

Day 2: Successfully kept my eye from being totally crusted shut in the morning and cleaned it with saline solution and cotton bud. Eye was quite swollen as was the left side of my face, which I’d slept on for most of the night. Eye was very red and irritated but had almost 0% mucus discharge the entire day. However, I did have a clear fluid leaking out occasionally, which I wiped away with tissues. This fluid made my vision a bit blurry. Used antiseptic drops and cleaned with saline solution when it felt very irritated. Lots of sinus pressure on infected side at night, had to massage the side with pink eye and sleep on back to relieve pressure.

Day 3: Much less discharge in the morning, which I again cleaned off with the saline solution. Eyelid much less swollen and noticeably less red. Eye feels slightly irritated. Using antiseptic and the saline solution. Little or no need for tissues as there’s virtually no clear discharge today. A big improvement.

I will update this tomorrow soon and also if any secondary infection occurs, which fingers crossed, it won’t! Here’s some final information about what causes pink eye. Good luck and bon courage!

UPDATE: I believe I got pink eye because I had a mild case of strep recently. I could easily have coughed or sneezed on the sleeve of the sweater that I wore to bed the night that I contracted it and transferred the streptococcus bacteria to my eye (strep bacteria is a known cause of bacterial conjunctivitis).

The bad news: My husband got my pink eye in both eyes… 😦

The good news: He was able to begin treatment immediately because I couldn’t use the antibiotic, so his lasted about two full days and was gone by day three.

The lesson I learned: Avoid touching your infected eye directly with your hands even if it’s past the gooey green mucus phase. If you do touch your bad eye, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after any contact to prevent spreading your pink eye.

Helpful tidbit: I consulted my Ophthalmologist in the States, and he told me that you cease to be contagious when you no longer have any discharge coming from your infected eye. People with bacterial pink eye, be aware that after Day 1, 99.9% of the oozing happens at night, so you’ll want to check your eye for discharge in the morning.

People with viral pink eye, your is much harder to gauge because you don’t get the gooey green stuff. Consult your doctor for further information.

So with no antibiotics and only antiseptic drops, I was no longer contagious after about 6 days, with my eye looking normal after about 4 or 5 days. My husband was no longer contagious after about 48 hours with immediate antibiotic and antiseptic treatment.

Help, I’m Alive

This song pretty much sums up how I feel a lot of the time: afraid of life. I feel things intensely, I care too much about what everyone besides me thinks of me, and I’m terrified of doing something out of step with the natives here in France.

Unlike many American expats, I speak fluent French, and I’ve already lived here more than once. But that doesn’t make living in a foreign country much easier sometimes, I’m afraid, because you’re not just in a foreign place. You’re in a different culture all the time.

That means that nearly every single thing that you take for granted about how people think, what they expect, and how they react to various life events does not operate the same way here. They’re working with an entirely different set of rules, and guess what? None of them is written down. So it’s like you’re constantly playing bumper cars with invisible opponents.

Living here successfully would probably have been impossible for me without my husband. As a fellow North American, he encounters the same things as me, and at the end of the day, I can use my native language to express my feelings, so there is a 0% miscommunication owing to language or culture. Thank goodness.

I know that I probably sound pretty whine-y when I talk about the differences, obstacles, and mounds of paperwork that are part of my life here, but at the end of every day, I still don’t want to book a return flight. Even with all the shitty, frustrating, stressful parts of life in a foreign country, France’s strengths far, far outweigh its weaknesses for me. The imperfections are there, just as they are anywhere, but I chose it for a reason. Honestly, marriage is strangely similar. If you think the person you are married to doesn’t have flaws, you’re in for a nasty surprise. But if you did your homework before you got hitched, you know he isn’t perfect, but they are flaws you can live with and all the good things about him are just right for you.

There is something so wonderful and satisfying to look out my window and to know that we consciously chose everything about our life here. We chose this country, we chose this city, and we chose this apartment and every stick of furniture that we own. That makes me proud.

I feel a deep sense of pride to live in a country whose values reflect my own: tradition, art, culture, craftsmanship, beauty, cuisine, language, family, nature, community. Had I been raised in NorCal or Maine instead of Oklahoma City, things may well have turned out otherwise. But I’m really glad that they didn’t.

The Hard Truth

When my husband and I were talking about moving to France, it never occurred to me how much our lives would change. There is a huge difference between thinking about something, imagining it and what it’s actually like once you’re doing it.

Though I don’t regret moving here and on average I am much happier in France than I ever was in the States, there are certain rough truths that no one explained to me. Maybe they couldn’t have even if they had tried. The biggest one is that none of my relationships with my family, my childhood friends, or my adult friends will ever be the same. In fact, several of my friendships have dissolved or are currently dissolving. Since any friendships I had in the States are now long-distance, none of those people can be here, experiencing daily life with me or near me anymore. Even though some of them were already in other states, we were still living in the same country, which made me feel significantly closer and more connected to them.

I imagine that some of my friends let our relationship drop because of the extra work of keeping up contact, and maybe others are resentful that I left them, and still others have even seemed confused by my efforts to keep up with them.

I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I will only be able to visit my parents every two to five YEARS unless they come and visit me in between. And with most of my husband’s family up in British Columbia, which is not close to Oklahoma, there is that added complication of how to split up the visits. So I will never be able to see my whole family in one place ever again.

Also, with the exception of the time I spent at college and one gap-year, I attended the same home church from the age of seven to twenty-eight. And now I no longer have those ties. I can send people cards or emails, but I’m no longer a part of that community.

My husband and I are starting over from scratch. We had to find an apartment, and now we’re working on breaking into the system as far as jobs, residential status, healthcare, etc. We have to find social opportunities and networks as well as cultivate them. And there’s also the question of a spiritual community or support system.

If our lives where a car, and we moved to another state, it might have been like we needed to replace a part or that we ran out of gas and had to go get more, but we could have put it in neutral and pushed it where we needed to go or called a toeing service, and then the car would be fixed and good as new.

People who transfer jobs to a new place and have housing either provided, subsidized, etc by their company or the foreign government are like people renting a car: It’s a little unfamiliar, awkward and belongs to someone else, but you get used to it and can function quickly since you’ve got your wheels.

Us? We sold our old car when we left. We came over with a picture of our dream car in our pockets. That’s what other people are looking at when they think of our lives. The reality is that we have a list of all the parts and some local maps and the names of a few stores but no car. Every day, we go out and hunt for a few more pieces. By now, my husband and I have the undercarriage completed and a seat stuck on top so that our “car” can roll around. And it’s moving a little faster sometimes and a little slower at others, but believe me when I say that it is far from complete, it is challenging, and picking up momentum takes a lot of energy.

Yes, we get to make a new beginning, but to use another metaphor, we’re drawing up the plans, getting the permits, breaking the ground, laying all the bricks, and putting in the plumbing and electricity with no pre-made parts and no work crew.

Luckily, I married another only child who is just as stubborn as I am (only he has a British passport), and we are not giving up. Not even close.

A New Home

It’s strange to say that I already feel more at home in Toulouse than I ever did in the States. However, it’s true. At least, it’s the truth that I’m living at this moment. This city is full of people: French people, Arabic-speaking people, Spanish ex-pats looking to earn a living, British and Irish ex-pats opening pubs and playing for the Stade Toulousain rugby team, young families and students. Toulouse owes a lot of its relaxed character from its balmy climate and Spanish and Italian neighbors, but it’s also got plenty of the rules, regulations, and bureaucratic structures that are a hallmark of French life.

My neighborhood is young, multiethnic and multicultural, safe, and cheaper than the “hyper-centre” but right by the action. There are more activities, classes, and cultural offerings than you can shake a stick at. But most of all, I love the view of the river Garonne and the surrounding brick buildings at sunset: all vivid blue and warm coral glowing in the golden light.

Even though I don’t yet have local French friends a job, or any regular, driving force to get me out of the apartment, I’m starting to feel like I belong here. Maybe that’s because I took my first city bike ride yesterday. My previous experiences were exclusively in suburban neighborhoods, mostly with my parents and before the age of 13, so yeah… This new city-cycling business had me sweating with fear and holding onto my handlebars with a deathgrip (my arms are sore today!). I went over curbs, steered between cars, strove to stay in my little bike lane with cars whooshing past, and avoided pedestrians on sidewalks when I couldn’t find a lane for me and was headed in the direction of oncoming cars. Whew! But getting to ride past the Canal du Midi, feel the cool air, and walk inside the Jardin Japonais balanced out the terror I felt in getting my “sea legs.”

I am beginning to take personal pride in the French education system, of the nation’s rich literary heritage; it’s appreciation of beauty in nature, art, architecture (and of course, great food!). It’s a strange to feel that I am drifting away from my Americanness. This was partly brought on by the move, but it is also related to some unpleasant truths I have recently learned about the United States (I will share these another time). However, there are many American traits I want to keep: adventurousness, open-mindedness, a positive and solution-finding attitude in the face of obstacles, a spirit that embraces risk and significant change.

Right now, I feel both excited and daunted by the singular opportunity I have to recreate my life with my husband. Together, he and I chose France, chose this city, chose to leave behind everything we had established and to start anew in a foreign country. Little by little, I’m doing new things, such as embroidery, which I am hoping will be a gateway drug to sewing by hand and, fingers crossed, making my own clothes, curtains, etc by sewing machine. As I take greater control of my life and my happiness, I am also rediscovering pursuits of which I had let go, such as language learning, travel, and reading. My husband and I have begun a choose-your-own-adventure story here in Toulouse, and each day presents us with a new set of choices.