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updated: 2/14/2012 11:24 AM

Coming face to face with a Cyclops in the mirror

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One morning last month when I woke up, I noticed my entire face was swollen and red, and my right eye was closed shut.

Every time my good eye caught my image in the mirror, I thought of Cyclops, the one-eyed mythological beast.

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Then I reminisced about the time I'd created giant flash cards of "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book," a spoof written by Shel Silverstein for adult readers as if they were children.

When I was in high school pledging for membership in the Violet Club -- one of two sororities that connected teenage girls from the three high schools in Muncie, Ind. -- pledges were required to provide entertainment to earn points toward membership.

I didn't sing or dance or play a musical instrument well. My talents were in graphic art, so I reproduced copies of the colorful pages of "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book" on large poster boards for another pledge to read out loud. As 15-year-olds, we found great humor in the warped satirical alphabet primer written by Silverstein. (Little did I imagine then that one day Silverstein's witty poetry would be popular requests of our three young children who loved listening to us read from "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and "A Light in the Attic.")

At any rate, Uncle Shelby wrote "C is for Cyclops." The brief narrative described a one-eyed monster and suggested that the reader, "Go stick your finger in his eye and call him 'One Eye.' I will wait here for you."

For years I saved those ABZs where each letter stood for inappropriate advice for kids.

Back to my one eye. After I admitted something was wrong, my husband picked up an antihistamine at the pharmacy. The swelling went down. I was on the mend.

Then the flaking began. Both of my eyelids started to peel.

I wondered, "What's happening to me?" Then I remembered that after nearly 40 years of using Maybelline mascara, I'd purchased another famous brand that was offering two for the price of one. I figured I'd had an allergic reaction to the new mascara, so I stopped using it.

I noted some improvement. I didn't wear mascara for a week.

But my eyelids didn't stop peeling completely. Lotion and lubricants helped only temporarily.

I told my friends. No one, not even my 84-year-old mother, had ever heard of peeling eyelids.

Now determined to get to the end of it, I went online before calling the eye doctor, just to see. I searched for "peeling eyelids." I was agog that such a category search would produce so many pages of information!

I discovered nearly three dozen reasons why my eyelids could be peeling. Several symptoms frightened me. In fact, when I read that lice could cause peeling eyelids, I shuddered.

As I sat in the examining chair at the eye doctor's office, my heart pounded as I dreaded the possibility that his high-tech magnifiers would discover microscopic bugs bustling around my eyelids. I expressed my apprehension to the good doctor.

He smiled.

Then he asked, "Have you changed cosmetics lately?"

His diagnosis was "dermatitis," likely caused by the new brand of mascara. He prescribed a high-powered topical salve, a corticosteroid to decrease inflammation, advising aggressive application four times a day for 10 days. Within 36 hours the flakes had disappeared.

What did I learn?

Your mind can really run wild if you trust the Internet to diagnose an unfamiliar condition without getting a professional opinion.

Also, connecting to Cyclops reminded me that all those years ago, I'd opted out of joining that high school sorority.

I recalled my final afternoon of pledging, wearing a little purple beanie as was the rule once off school grounds. While racing to catch the bus home with an armful of books, the club president had called after me, laundry ticket in hand, demanding that I go pick up her dry cleaning to earn some pledge points.

Weighing my options, I took off my beanie and handed it to the aforementioned, noting the trivial pursuits of pledgeship, experiences that promised "memories to last a lifetime," weren't quite right for me that day.

"I was for 'Independence.'"

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