People on social media seemed to notice two things about Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance during his debate versus Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday night. Both of these things rhyme with moon pie.
One was a fly. During the debate a fly treated Pence’s head as if it were Dulles International Airport. The insect landed on Pence’s head as this photo showed:
Then the fly taxied, perhaps refueled, waited for Pence to complete his answer even though Pence went over the allotted time, and eventually took off again. It’s not clear whether the fly did any reconnaissance while in Pence’s hair. All the while, Pence did not flinch or even seem to notice the fly. The fly did not respond directly to any of the moderator’s questions, which wasn’t too different from what the two main debaters did at times during the televised debate from the University of Utah.
The fly quickly got attention on social media. In fact, it even seemed to spawn a bunch of new Twitter accounts. For example, Mike Pence’s Fly (@MikePenceFly___) has already accumulated 76.6K Followers and tweeted the following video:
Then there’s the @MichaelsFly account that quickly pulled in 14.9K followers, bears the description “Living rent free on Mike Pence’s head since 2020,” and tweeted this:
Then there was this tweet from CNN’s Jake Tapper:
The second thing that social media noticed about Pence’s appearance was his eye. For example, Jemele Hill, contributing writer for The Atlantic, tweeted out a question:
Various people on Twitter pointed out that Pence’s left eye seemed to have a reddish hue. More specifically, the normally white or whiter parts of his eye appeared to have some redness. Of course, those parts of your eye are not supposed to be that color, unless, of course, you tried to squirt some ketchup on your hot dog and missed badly. Some on Twitter speculated that the redness may have been from conjunctivitis:
Now, conjunctivitis has nothing to do with the use of conjunctions. Conjunctions are connecting words such as “but” and “and,” as in “thank you for your question, but I am now going to answer the question that I want to answer.” Conjunctivitis is when your conjunctiva gets inflamed or swollen. The word conjunctiva may sounds a bit like naughty parts, but it’s not. It is that very thin and transparent tissue layer that covers the white part of your eye and extends across the inner surface of your eyelid. People often call conjunctivitis by the more colloquial term “pink eye.” There are many possible causes of pink eye, both infectious and non-infectious.
Nevertheless, one potential cause seemed to be on a number of Twitterers minds:
Indeed, I did write for Forbes back in April that conjunctivitis is a possible symptom of a Covid-19 coronavirus infection. According to a research letter published in the Journal of Medical Virology, studies have found that 1.1% of people with Covid-19 developed conjunctivitis, and 3% of those with severe Covid-19 and 0.7% of those with non-severe Covid-19. Eye symptoms in those with Covid-19 have included redness, chemosis (which is swelling of the conjunctiva), and epiphora (which is excessive tearing when not watching the movie The Notebook.)
Covid-19 has to be a concern for Pence since so far at least 27 people in President Donald Trump’s inner circle have tested positive for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) recently. And presumably, Trump’s inner circle still includes his Vice President Pence, who has lasted in the Trump administration for 135 Scaramuccis so far. But you can never know for sure.
Regardless, in medicine, one should never diagnose from afar. Actually, correction, one should typically refrain from diagnosing from afar. There are certain situations where the diagnosis may be fairly obvious. For example, if you see from afar a pig run over a person, there’s a good chance that any subsequent injuries to the person would have been pig-induced. Or if someone’s arm were to fall off, you can probably say that the person’s arm just fell off. Such situations would be the exceptions though rather than the rule.
In the case with Pence, definitely don’t jump to conclusions. Calling the redness in his eye conjunctivitis may have been a bit of a premature identification. There are many reasons why Pence’s eye may have appeared reddish. First of all, was it really red? The lighting and television can do funny things. People often don’t appear the same on camera as they do in real life. Some celebrities like Zack Galifianakis and SpongeBob SquarePants reportedly look very different in person compared to how they look on TV.
OK, assuming that Pence’s eye was really red, you still can’t tell from a distance whether he actually had conjunctivitis. How do you know that it was the conjunctiva that was inflamed or swollen? Inflammation in other parts of the eye such as the cornea or the iris can lead to eye redness as well.
In general, the list of possible causes of eye redness is very long. Here are just some of the possibilities:
- Foreign body or substance: In this case, foreign doesn’t mean something from another country like Russia. It means anything that doesn’t normally belong in the eye like dust, make-up, bedazzling rhinestones, a contact lens, or a ham sandwich. Without knowing things like Pence’s bedazzling habits, you cannot rule this out as a possibility.
- Injury: The larger or sharper the foreign object, the more likely it is to cause damage versus just irritation. For example, a bowling ball in the eye may cause more of an emergency than a piece of dust. Eye surgery can also leave eye redness for a while.
- Crying: Say, for example, during the debate Pence thought about the scene from the Twilight saga when Bella was writing the goodbye letter to Edward. Yeah, that scene’s a real tear-jerker. Of course, when your emotions cause you to shed tears, both of your eyes tend to be involved.
- Dry eyes: If you’ve ever seen an eye drops commercial, you’ll know that dry eyes can lead to red eyes. Pence may have been dry, his eyes, that is.
- Medications: On the flip side, eyedrops themselves in some cases can cause eye redness. Other medications can affect the eyes too such as certain decongestants, antidepressants, sleeping pills, blood pressure medication, and birth control pills. It’s not clear what medications Pence may be on, although presumably he is not on birth control pills.
- Allergies: Lots of things can cause allergic reactions. What if, for example, Pence was wearing Jimmy Choo’s Man Intense cologne for the first time and had an allergic reaction to the cologne?
- Blepharitis: This may sound like what you say when someone sneezes. But it occurs when the small oil glands around your eyelashes get clogged.
- Broken blood vessels in the eye: This can occur after an eye procedure or spontaneously. Bleeding into your eye can look disturbing but may actually be painless and clear up on its own eventually.
- Eyelid turned inwardly or outwardly: This is not a metaphysical thing but is when your eyelid actually curls a different direction, which in turn can either leave parts of eye exposed and thus more open to irritation or lead to your eyelid rubbing your eyeball too much.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma does take time to develop so it’s less likely to be a short term cause of eye redness.
- Inflammatory or autoimmune disease: Examples include sarcoidosis, ankylosing spondylitis, systemic lupus erythematosus or Crohn’s disease.
- A range of different infections: Covid-19 is certainly not the only possible infectious cause of eye redness. Lots of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens can be at fault. Examples include staphylococcus infections, herpes, cat-scratch disease, syphilis, toxoplasmosis and tuberculosis. Of course, telling people “have you considered herpes” when trying to dissuade people from assuming that you have Covid-19 may not have the effect that you desired.
Ultimately, the only way to tell for sure what was causing Pence’s left eye to appear reddish would be for a qualified doctor to examine his eye in person and not from afar. Sure, Covid-19 could cause redness in the eye. However, diagnosing him with Covid-19 would require an actual Covid-19 coronavirus test to be performed. So while it may seem tempting to guess what Pence may have, only time and real medical exams and tests can tell. Guessing from afar can be like determining whether someone is marriage material simply from a Tinder profile.
On the other hand, chances are the thing on Pence’s head was probably a fly or at least some kind of insect with the ability to fly. Sure, it could have been something else like a sophisticated drone from the Space Force. But don’t bet your moon pies on that.
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