November 19, 2006

Lately I've been thinking a lot about risk. I know that for most people it's a positive thing. Taking a risk equals feeling alive. Every day there is somebody jumping out of a plane, quitting their job, trying something new. But what defines risk? I take a risk every time I pick up the phone. My caller ID doesn't always work and sometimes, when it says "unknown caller", I answer it anyway.

Sex is a big risk. My friend Katie is dating someone new and had sex with him on the second date. Afterwards she thought maybe she'd slept with him too soon. Now she's worried he's only interested in her because of sex. It was a risk. But what was the alternative? If she'd held off, she'd only wonder if he was into her because she played hard to get. You can't win. I pointed out that she wasn't worrying about the right risk anyway: she should be worrying about STDs. If you're going to worry about risk, it may as well be one that involves a disease.

The risks I take seem to be mainly by accident. I'll kiss someone and find out afterwards they've been feeling under the weather. Or I'll forget to wash my hands after taking the subway, then eat a piece of pineapple with my fingers. I usually find out that I've taken a risk after the event. That's not "good risky", the kind someone finds attractive. It's "worrying risky". The kind nobody wants to hear about.

Here's the latest risk I've uncovered. A doctor friend in London found out I was using tap water to rinse my hard contact lenses. "You're risking your vision!" he exclaimed. That got my attention. For 20 years I've been risking going blind? He explained that there is an amoeba in tap water that infects the eye and can cause acanthamoeba keratitis, which can lead to loss of vision. I felt sick.

But on the bottle of my contact-lens solution, it categorically states in bold black letters: "rinse lenses with fresh tap water". I called the manufacturer's global headquarters immediately. Customer service asked me what it was in reference to. I told her: "Going blind." She put me on hold. I called my eye doctor in New York instead.

In a calm voice he told me that acanthamoeba keratitis is a devastating condition but only affects 1 in 500,000 people. But there are 10m people in New York. That sounds more like 1 in 20 to me. I could be the one.

Hearing the panic in my voice, he assured me that I had nothing to worry about, and that Manhattan's tap water was protected: it was well-water that might be a problem.

I asked: "What if I'm swimming in a lake?" He told me not to open my eyes. Then he told me to avoid Jacuzzis. Jacuzzis? Why would someone open their eyes underwater in a hot tub? I didn't want to know. Besides, I wouldn't go in a hot tub if you paid me. It's a cesspool of germs.

He told me he had to go. "Have a good day," he said. Then he hung up.

I'm not sure what to do. Why did seeing have to become so complicated? All I know is that now, I feel I'm at risk of being in danger as soon as I wake up. But that's never something people will consider to be exciting, is it? You'll never hear someone say: "That girl is a real risk-taker. Every day, she gets out of bed."