Eye on the Ball
Robins Air Force Base, Georgia
It looked like an easy out when the softball left the burly right-hander’s bat — a grounder just a step or two to my left. I shifted my feet and got into position, bending my knees and holding my glove close to the ground before I got in front of the bounding ball. The field’s surface wasn’t even and I saw the ball take two low hops, so I braced for it to hit squarely in the pocket of my trusty infielder’s glove. I figured I could scoop it up and nail the runner at first, but I didn’t get the chance. Instead, the ball hit another rise in the ground and struck me in the face. That’s when the lights went out.
The next thing I remember was my teammates and opponents hovering over me. Someone put a wet rag over my left eye and told everyone, “He’s all right. The cut’s underneath his eye.” A couple of my teammates picked up what was left of my glasses and handed the pieces to my wife, who’d raced from the bleachers to the huddle of people gathered around me. She’d been chasing our 2-year-old son and missed hearing the thud when the ball hit my face and knocked me down. (By the way, “softball” is a gross misnomer. Believe me, there was nothing soft about that ball!)
After I shook loose most of the cobwebs, my wife and a friend helped me into our vehicle and we headed to the emergency room. Now, I’ve been playing softball since I was old enough to hold a bat and suffered my share of twisted ankles, pulled muscles and strawberries. This time, though, I could tell my injury was more serious.
I’d been wearing my prescription glasses during the game because I’ve always had poor eyesight. When I opened my swollen left eye during the examination, however, I couldn’t see anything. While a CT scan showed no broken facial bones or fragments from my glasses in my eye, I wasn’t encouraged when the emergency room physician said, “We’re going to have to get an ophthalmologist in here to see if we can save your vision.”
The ophthalmologist checked me and offered a little more hope. He said, “The front part of your eye is filled with blood (hyphema) right now. When it clears out, your sight might come back completely. However, when the blood clears, it might reveal more damage to the back of your eye.”
Although that “however” got to me, I went home thinking positive thoughts. Surely the hyphema will clear up and my sight will come back, I told myself. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.
When the blood cleared, the doctors could see my lens was ruptured and my retina, although not detached, was severely damaged. I had an hour-and-a-half operation where an ophthalmologist removed the lens and cleaned out the remaining blood. His best prognosis was that with an implant or contact lens I might get most of my peripheral vision back. Nevertheless, because of the retinal damage, I’d never recover my central vision in that eye.
His prognosis was right on the money. Using a contact lens today, I can see things out of the corner of my left eye, but when I try to look straight at something, it’s covered by a black cloud. Even so, I’ve adjusted pretty well to my situation. Thanks to the overlap of my right eye’s field of vision, I lost only about 20 percent of my total vision. My job requires me to work at a computer all day, so my right eye now tires more quickly than it used to. Fortunately, I can still drive.
There wasn’t much I could’ve done to prevent that ball from hitting me. I didn’t see the little rise in the field that lofted the ball into my face. However, while I couldn’t have predicted what happened, I could’ve protected my eyes. Various models of protective sports eyewear that are shatterproof and can be ground to match your eyewear prescription are available at optometrists’ offices. Sure, they’re not cheap, but that one-time expense is a lot cheaper than surgery. It’s better to spend the money now to protect your eyes than spend it later correcting the damage and still end up like me, partially blind.
Eliminating Eye Injuries DAVID TURBERT
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Tens of thousands of sports- and recreation-related eye injuries occur each year. The good news is 90 percent of serious eye injuries are preventable through the use of appropriate protective eyewear. Because the risk of eye injury can vary depending on the activity, make sure the level of protection you or others in your family use is appropriate for the type of activity. That includes those who wear corrective lenses, which do not offer proper eye protection. High-risk activities
For all age groups, sports-related eye injuries occur most frequently in basketball, baseball and racquet sports. Boxing and full-contact martial arts pose an extremely high risk of serious and even blinding eye injuries. While there is no satisfactory eye protection for boxing, thumbless gloves may reduce the number of eye injuries.In baseball, ice hockey and men’s lacrosse, a helmet with a polycarbonate (an especially strong, shatterproof, lightweight plastic) face mask or wire shield should be worn at all times. It is important that hockey face masks be approved by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council or the Canadian Standards Association.Protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses should be worn for sports such as basketball, racquet sports, soccer and field hockey. Make sure you choose eye protectors that have been tested to meet American Society of Testing and Materials standards or pass the CSA racquet sports standard.If you already have reduced vision in one eye, consider the risks of injuring the stronger eye before participating in contact or racquet sports, which pose a higher risk of eye injury. Check with your ophthalmologist to see if appropriate eye protection is available and whether participating in contact or racquet sports is advised. Other risky leisure activities
While sports account for a particularly high number of eye injuries, they are by no means the only hobby that poses a risk to your sight. According to physicians surveyed for the Eye Injury Snapshot conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Ocular Trauma, more than 40 percent of patients treated for eye injuries sustained at home were involved in home repairs, yard work, cleaning and cooking. Use common sense and err on the side of caution, whatever the activity.
- Consider the risk of flying debris or other objects during activities and wear appropriate eye protection.
- Remember that eyeglasses aren’t sufficient protection.
- Be careful during activities or games involving projectiles and other sharp objects that could create injury if in contact with the eye. For example, the U.S. Eye Injury Registry indicates that fishing is the No. 1 cause of sports-related eye injuries.
If an eye injury does occur, see an ophthalmologist or go to the emergency room immediately, even if the injury appears minor. Delaying medical attention can result in permanent vision loss or blindness. For more information about sports eye injuries, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s website at https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/injuries-sports.
Editor’s note: Reprinted with permission from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Did You Know?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has designated April as Sports Eye Safety Month.