The Eyes Have It

Monday, July 14, 2008

In January this year, I had what the Brits call “a bloody awful moment.”

The beginning was remarkably un-dramatic: an irritation in my right eye in the middle of the night. I thought perhaps a fleck of dandruff had dropped into my eye. I pulled my upper lid over the lower lid to see if tears would flush it out. No good.

I get up, sluice out my eye with some Murine eye drops. It’s a little better. I get back to sleep.

In the morning, the irritation is back and seems to be wandering around my eye. I try drowning the eye with sterile saline solution with little benefit. That night my right eye is leaking tears.

The following morning my right eye looks like a maraschino cherry, and nothing is in sharp focus through it. By noon, I am at the ophthalmologist’s office, and she tells me I have a viral infection, and it’s a pretty bad one. She prescribes some very expensive anti-viral eye drops ($100 for a tiny bottle) and some anti-bacterial eye drops. Bacteria, it turns out, are opportunists and will freeload on the infection site created by the virus, I don’t have a bacterial infection yet; the drops are a precaution. Sure enough, a bacterial infection shows up a couple of days later.

It takes nearly 10 days to battle the virus and the bacteria to a standstill, and I’m left with a scar on my cornea. Fortunately, it’s not on the visual center. Nevertheless, it was a near thing: I could have lost all visual acuity in that eye and been reduced to seeing not much more than light and shadow and movement. Strangely, very nearly the same thing happened to an acquaintance – he scratched his cornea (he doesn’t know how), got an infection, and came perilously close to losing the vision in that eye.

Why am I telling you all this? For two reasons. First, because that experience scared the poo right out of me. Until January, 2008, I didn’t know you could get an eye infection and lose your sight within days. Second, because you’re going to need those eyes for shooting your air rifles and air pistols! So here’s the bottom line: if you have a scratchy sensation in your eye that doesn’t clear within 24 hours (or if you get abnormal light sensitivity in that eye at any time before 24 hours), get yourself to a qualified eye specialist PRONTO. After 48 hours, you could find yourself with a runaway eye infection, and – trust me – you don’t want to go there.

And that brings me neatly to another point: protect your eyes when you are shooting. I wear big, aviator-style glasses with polycarbonate lenses (the same stuff motorcycle face shields are made of). If you don’t wear glasses, or if you’re not absolutely positive that your lenses are safety lenses, get yourself some shooting glasses and wear them (you can wear them over your regular glasses) whenever you shoot. Buy several pairs and insist that anyone you’re shooting with (including by-standers) wears them too.

Shooting safety glasses: some of the cheapest insurance you'll ever buy.

Shooting safety glasses cost less than $6.00. That’s a deal – you couldn’t buy another eyeball for ten times that much.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

Jock Elliott

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