Edging a sidewalk with a grass trimmer in the fading May light, Paul Miller skipped donning the safety goggles he almost always wore. Suddenly he felt excruciating pain when a one-inch rock shot up and hit him in his right eye.
“I thought my eye was gone and started rubbing it,” remembers Miller, 33, of Nashville. “I realized it was still there, but my vision started getting cloudy. I looked in the mirror and saw my eye filling up with blood.”
Fearing he’d lose his eye and vision, he contacted his ophthalmologist, Rebecca Taylor, M.D. She told him to meet her in her office right away.
“He had so much blood in his eye, I couldn’t see the bottom two-thirds, but I could see that his iris was partially torn,” said Dr. Taylor. “It was a huge injury.”
The rock hit so hard it compressed his eye and ruptured the blood vessels in his iris, an injury called hyphema. Getting hit in the eye like this can cause permanent vision loss, glaucoma, cataracts or retinal detachment. Dr. Taylor noted the pressure in Miller’s eye was okay, a good sign because high pressure can lead to glaucoma. When Dr. Taylor told him he wouldn’t lose his eye, Miller remembers bursting into tears.
But she couldn’t see his retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. She sent him to see a specialist to be sure it wasn’t torn or detached. If a detached retina isn’t repaired, it causes vision loss. An ultrasound determined the retina wasn’t detached, so he didn’t need surgery.
But Dr. Taylor told Miller he had to take it easy and use eye drops (including prednisolone and atropine) to limit inflammation and dilate the pupil. He had to wear an eye shield for a few days. She told him he had to avoid as much movement as possible to ensure proper healing. For a week he could do nothing but eat, shower and use the bathroom. He couldn’t go back to work for two weeks.
“He was at risk of injuring the eye or causing it to bleed again, so he had to stay very still,” said Dr. Taylor. “If his eye bled again, he would have been at huge risk for glaucoma and most likely would have needed surgery in the operating room.”
Miller realizes how close he came to losing his vision. He knows it would have seriously affected his work as well as leisure pursuits. He enjoys traveling during his slow months of January and February. He’s planning a trip to Australia next winter.
When Miller’s eye healed and Dr. Taylor cleared him to work again, it was with one condition. Wearing goggles was a must.
“If a tool has an ‘on’ switch, the safety glasses need to go on first,” Dr. Taylor said.
Miller readily agreed. “Once I healed, I went to the hardware store and got every single type of safety glasses they had to be sure I could find ones I liked,” he said. “I wear them all the time and I insist my workers do, too.”