Friday, June 21, 2013

The Importance of Sunglasses


On June 9th, I woke up at around 5 am with an itch to get down to the shoreline.  I had been working on getting the boat cleaned up for the summer, so I could spend some time on the water with the kids before college started in a few months.  In the meantime, I had been waiting for a break in some pretty consistently high surf to get to the beach to see what was biting.  The water had been getting warmer, with a persistent south swell, but the waves had been 6-10 for a few days.  Even if the surf made conditions unfishable, I wanted to get down there and watch the waves and wet a line.  The kids were all in the local production of “The Little Mermaid” and had to report to the Three Peace Theater by 9 am, so it was a solo scouting trip for me.  That was just as well, given the big conditions..

                I got to Salt Creek beach before 7 am. It was drizzling, so I put my sunglasses on the console and left them there. The tide was low and just starting to come up.  It was an unfavorable draw, as the incoming tide and pounding surf would be picking up all of the kelp stringers that had been stranded in the tidal zone and washing them around in the shallows I intended to fish.  Given the ripping current, I shortened my fluro leader to about 18 inches to keep it in the zone.

                  I fished Gravels in front of the golf course, but it was weed infested with lots of littoral drift. The waves were big and glassy. I watched a paddle-in guy get a bunch of cool rides. I was using a Carolina rig with a ¾ sliding sinker; 15# main line; 8 # fluro; a 2 inch Gulp sand worm and throwing well inside the primary break into advancing sheets of  foam that made the splash of the cast hard to mark.  The water was pretty cold and had dropped down to what I think was mid-60s.

                After watching the surf and mostly dodging kelp stringers by constantly reeling in, I decided to call it quits and head back along the beach.  I was jogging in the tractor tracks in the sand in the direction of the Ritz-Carlton and watching the waves, which inspired me to think that I should just do this every morning at dawn to slow down the deterioration that had left me with shooting and fishing as the primary activities I could still perform.  Instead of heading up the road to the Salt Creek Parking lot, I kept going toward Strands Beach and decided to have a look to see if conditions might be better on the other side of the point.  When I got there, I noted less kelp and a pocket of what looked like fishable water just to the east of the point. There was another guy there with his kid.  He was using a long surf pole and had just given up to sit with his wife when I showed up.

                 I started getting bites in the shallow water just behind the trench created by a secondary shore break.  I released a couple of perch and talked to the other angler, who was using the natural version of my artificial bait and asked me what I was using to catch fish.  I advised him to throw closer and he would probably get bit. He started fishing again and was positioned about 30 yards to my left.

 I caught and released another small perch and put on a new rubber worm.  As I threw it out, I noticed a big chunk of kelp moving from left to right and tried to avoid it with a retrieve.  As I did I got bit again and struck back right as the kelp enveloped the line and began to stretch it back out to sea.  Without warning, it suddenly released.  The last thing I saw with my right eye was a giant sinker filling my entire field of vision on the right side.  I was on my butt in the shallow water and staggering around, momentarily completely blind and trying to comprehend what had happened to me. 

I was on my feet and was now able to see with my left eye.  I closed my left eye and could see nothing but white.  I felt for my eyeball and it seemed to be in place.  There was blood on my fingers.  I thought I was going to puke and pass out, so I felt an extreme need to get out of the water and up onto the path above a four foot high section of rocks.  Intellectually, I knew that I had been struck in the eye by the sinker, but I was having a hard time trying to process my situation.  I remembered that I had my cell phone and decided to make for the unmanned lifeguard tower on the point in front of the Ritz, so I could sit down and make a call.  I even went back to the edge of the sand to recover my beloved 2 dollar Duff Beer flip flops and bite my terminal gear away from the fishing pole I never dropped. I felt bad about littering a length of line and terminal gear on the beach, but trying to dispose of my gear seemed like too much effort at the time. I called Wendy and told her what had happened and where I was.  She said she was on her way and told me to call 911, which I did.  After I explained my situation to the operator, I told her I would start walking back toward the Salt Creek Beach Road and meet them at the base of the road.

I got to the spot and waited.  I was cognizant of people walking by with strollers and surfboards, but I did not want too accost anyone and ask them what I looked like.  My head began to clear, the nausea passed and was replaced by a splitting headache.  Pretty soon, a giant fire truck showed up and the cheerful crew of paramedics checked me out.  They confirmed that my eye was still in the socket; that it was damaged and hemorrhaging; that I did not appear to have an orbital fracture and that I should go to the hospital.

                The paramedics suggested that if Wendy was on the way, she could just take me to the hospital, which was fine with me.  They asked where my shoes were and I realized I had left them back at the lifeguard tower where I had made the call.   We then all piled into the enormous fire truck and took the jeep path back to the tower to get my shoes while I filled Wendy in on the plan when she called me back and asked where the hell I was.

                We got to the hospital, where the nurse turned out to be a very enthusiastic angler who completely understood the mechanics of what had happened to me without a painful explanation.  She even gave us some smoked yellowtail she had stashed in the hospital for lunch.  It was great.  They gave me an Rx for Oxy, which I had never had before.  I was given an appointment with the on call ophthalmologist who set an appointment for Monday morning. 

The Oxy proved to be a terrible match for me (maybe if I was as fat as Rush I could get more into it) and the headaches just got worse as the pressure built up inside my eye.  I got a laundry list of drugs to bring it down and switched out my pain meds to Vicodin (lighter, but more effective) to get into a better place.

I began seeing a series of eye specialists.  Everybody wanted to know what had happened.  It was a lot easier to explain to folks who fished, than to those who did not.  Often, my history of injury was retaken by ESL nursing students to whom I had to explain the mechanics of the injury; the elements of surf fishing which generated the physics of the trajectory, and some basic English language terminology.  I learned to ask if my historian, who often was reading a history already on my intake form, fished:

“I have history on chart.  Tear me what happen.”

“Do you fish?”


“I got hit in the right eye by a sinker while fishing.”

“What is senker?”

“It is a lead weight.  ¾ ounces.  It was like it had been launched into my eye with a slingshot.  Do you know what a sling shot is?”

“No.  So you have brunt eye?”

“No.  I have blunt eye trauma caused by a ¾ ounce lead sinker being propelled into my eyeball at high speed.  I think the report you are reading says blunt eye trauma, meaning that my eye was impacted by a blunt object, not a sharp object.”

“How big is senker?”

“3/4 ounce”

“How big is that?”

“Like a marble.  Do you know what a marble is?”

“No.  So you have a brunt eye?”

“Well, I guess I do now.”

 There was a lot of blood behind my eye and I could not see much of anything.  That little bit of vision I had started to wind back on kept getting worse. Ultimately, it was determined that I had to have emergency surgery to repair a retina that was rapidly detaching in four places and drain the blood out of my eye.

The surgery and sequelae proved to be more complicated and they ended up placing permanent rubber bands to hold my eye components together. I had my vitreous jelly and fluid removed in place of a gas bubble, which means that I must remain in a face-down position virtually at all times for at least a month and try not to move too much.

The day after the surgery, Dr. You, who is very direct, advised that my eye pressure had reached an unacceptable level and would have to be dealt with:

“You have too much pressure in your eye, so we are going to have to reduce the pressure.  We are going to do that by putting a needle into your eye and bleeding off some of that pressure.”

(I suddenly got a toe curling sense of apprehension and kept thinking of that little rhyme we used to recite about telling the truth.  I wondered if I could just cross my heart and hope to die instead of going in for this treatment)

“That sounds awful.  How long will that needle be in my eyeball?”

“Less than a minute.”

It was in my eyeball for less than a minute, as promised, but that is about the only thing good I have to say about having a needle put into your eyeball while your eyelids are held open with that spring-like speculum device like they used in the aversion therapy in “A Clockwork Orange.”   They should have been playing Beethoven’s Ninth while this was going on.   As for the sensation, I would describe it as feeling exactly like someone is putting a needle into your eye and talking to you while it is in place.  The doctor pulled it out and re-inserted it one more time, while instructing me to remain perfectly still, which I did.

As part of the positionally-awkward rehab involved in this surgery, I have rented a number of contraptions designed to allow me to remain in a face-down position for virtually all of the time.  I have learned that many people have undergone this kind of surgery and that the key to having any chance for recovery is to remain face down.  I watch TV through a mirror device from a torture stool (similar to a massage stool) that tilts me forward and directs my face down into a horse shoe-like pad. People in the room can come and go without me knowing unless they walk between me and whatever is in the mirror.  I sleep on the couch on top of this whale-back pad that allows me to drop my face into a padded donut.  Actual slumber has been a bit of a problem.

The steroids I am putting into my eye four times a day are puffing me up, despite the fact that my wife and vegan GP doctor have put me back on a plant-based diet because of the high cholesterol counts in my pre-surgical testing.

I just got released to go back onto my computer and have avoided having to have a needle put back into my eye in follow up visits.   The piles of work-related e-mails are daunting and I am obviously avoiding them right now by typing this instead of confronting work.  I can get up for a bit and make stir-fry vegetables, which I now do while wearing safety goggles (really – I am paranoid about splatter going into my sighted eye).

I am mostly watching documentaries on Netflix, which my kids were stoked to finally get. Everyone is a bit of a comedian around this house.   Sarah commented that all we had to do to finally get this bit of technology that all their friends already have was for Dad to have his eye gouged out, so the injury has been a net positive family development, as far as she can tell.

                Sarah refers to me as “Oedipus” – because “your name is Ed and your eye is gouged out.”

                Isaac calls me as Polyphemus, as he is also into Greek literature.  It reminds me that my three oldest have just graduated from high school.

                For Father’s Day, my wife and kids performed a parody based on “Les Miserables”, which has always been a literary vehicle for a seemingly endless supply of humorous analogies in our family.  This performance was based on the song “Look Down” and was objectively quite funny.

In any event- Sorry for the length and lack of monkey killing in this narrative.  This situation kind of sucks, but it could always be worse.  I am hopeful for resuming activities by August, but there really is no guarantee at this point as to how much, if any, sight I will get back on that side.  I guess I might have to learn to start hunting with grenades, or just shoot vegetables at short range, since this vegan thing has once again reared its ugly head in my masquerade of a lifestyle.

These are the days.