Eyeball Wizard, or: a Jabillion Illustrative Photos of Moi Looking Bad

A week ago this morning, I chugged an iced-decaf-stovetop-espresso-soy-latte (these are the things I consume these days; Lewis Black would call it “bullshit on a stick,” but perhaps if he laid off the caffeine he wouldn’t be so cranky), and hatched an auspicious plan to carpe the diem:


  1. Ride to campus on spiffy new bicycle ^^^;
  2. Attend “Full Body Boot Camp” class at palatial campus gym, which I have recently joined in order to keep my stress levels low and my self-image high–something about being able to do all the same exercises as a bunch of 19-year-olds make me feel good about myself even though they can wear shorts and I haven’t worn shorts since 1996;
  3. endorphins pumping, ride bicycle to office and prepare two lessons for the second week of class. I was nervous about my courses this semester, because one of them is very small, so the students are feeling a lot of pressure to be “on” (they have to speak in German multiple times per class, as it should be, but as it usually is not at a large school like this one); and the other one has, inexplicably, like eleven bona fide dudebros in it, including one dudebro to out-dudebro them all–an official player on the university’s religiously-revered marquis sports team (the other ten dudebros are probably his sycophants).

My partner was also visiting from about 400 miles away, and my plan was to auspiciously finish my auspicious agenda and then return home by mid-afternoon to spend some quality time together before he disappeared into the Midwest ether once again.

This, it turns out, was not to be how things transpired. I managed to get as far as riding my bike to the gym and attending the first 20-25 minutes of Full Body Boot Camp, but then things took a remarkably inauspicious turn. So, here’s what happened. The fitness instructor had us working with round resistance bands in lieu of dumbbells. Resistance bands are most commonly used in physical therapy when patients are too wimpy to lift real weights yet, so right off the bat you know this is bad news. And most of the participants in the class chose the pink bands, the lowest level of resistance; performing exercises with them basically amounted to lifting stretchy air. Because I have been strength training (with varying degrees of seriousness) since I was eleven years old, I chose the middle-resistance band so that I could get at least a mild workout in my upper body.

There are two basic types of resistance band–the flat TheraBand kind, that look like this:


(Look how much fun I’m having! I’m 900 years old and I’m still doin’ it!)

And the old-school round surgical tubing kind, that look like this:


We were using the latter round kind. The importance of this distinction will become apparent momentarily.

So, after a few different sets of exercises, the instructor had us sit down on the mats and loop the band around our feet so that we could perform rows. But instead of traditional rows, where the participant pulls those handles directly backwards, so that the “angle of resistance” and the “angle of exercise” are the same, our instructor–who, let it be known, apparently “feels really bad” about this, to which I say, “good, and I’m surprised you still have a job”–she had us “pull the handles UP TOWARD YOUR EARS!” This was ostensibly to get a better workout in the upper back and shoulders, but what it really did was make the “angle of exercise” substantially different than the “angle of resistance.” So while the band wanted to be stretched straight back so that it could stay on my feet, I pulled it back and up at an angle…with the handles DIRECTLY AT MY EARS, just as she had instructed.

What happened next will be unsurprising to anyone who made higher than a C+ in high-school physics. The band slipped off my foot and–equal and opposite reaction etc. etc.–snapped with all of its might (as it had been close to fully extended around my feet), directly where I was pulling it. Which was TO MY EARS.

This means the band snapped me directly across the eyes.

The second it happened I knew it was bad–I saw a bright flash of light and a whole shit-ton of stars. I reeled backwards onto the mat, grabbing my face, and probably made a pretty unpleasant “UNGGH!!!” sound. It hurt, but more than that, it alarmed me, because…

I could not see out of my left eye at all.

Luckily I could see fine out of my right eye, though, so I could see class going on around me with no disruption whatsoever. Nobody had noticed. At first I thought this was good because I could just shake it off and continue with Boot Camp, but I noticed that my vision was not returning and something felt very wrong. So, much to my mortification, I had to raise my hand and get the inexplicably-still-has-a-job instructor’s attention: “I HURT MYSELF!!!” She quickly jumped to action, by which I mean she called over the girl whose job it was to swipe membership cards on the way in, who ran over to me, asked what happened, and then said: “IT’S ALL RIGHT.” (Spoiler alert: it was not all right). She then got me some water. I said: “I don’t need water, my eye is hurt, I can’t see.” The instructor then, in a true exhibition of caring and compassion, asked me to move out of the room so everyone could continue doing the exercise that just (spoiler alert) permanently injured my eye unimpeded. I moved out of the room while the attendant called “help”–but “help” was just three idiots with walkie-talkies who worked for “facilities management” and had no training in first response, so they did not give any fucks what had happened to my eye. Instead they asked, rather accusatorially, “Do you want us to call medics?” I responded that they probably should, given that I had just been STRUCK DIRECTLY IN THE EYE WITH A GIANT RUBBER BAND. They did, and then while I was waiting to be seen by a medic, they made me fill out some paperwork (or rather dictate the paperwork).

While all of this was happening, I attempted, with my good eye, to use my phone–things were blurry, but the good eye worked well enough so that I could dial my partner…who was nowhere to be found (turns out he was at a different gym, managing to work out WITHOUT poking his eye out. Some people are good at everything). I wouldn’t reach him for another hour and a half, from the hospital, but in the meantime I called the one person who could do anything to help me:


(Sorry this is a terrible picture; it’s the only recent one I have of us together).

MY SISTER-IN-LAW. My brother’s wife is by far the nicest, kindest and most considerate member of our family–but she is also an award-winning ophthalmologist. (By the way, I CANNOT spell ophthalmologist to save my life, even though I’ve now been to one three times in a week). She was home, so before the medics even arrived I talked to her. I actually called my brother and then proceeded to start bawling: “ISLANIHOMEIHURTMYEYEBALL????!?!?!?” He understood me, miraculously, and put her on. She calmly and kindly asked several questions (“How much does it hurt? Did you see a flash? Are you seeing floaters now?”) and told me I should go to the hospital. Just then yet another gym employee (again, NOT A MEDIC) showed up and asked me what happened but could not offer any medical assistance.

Finally, two amazing medics came; one put a light in my eye, and took one look at what at the time was a grim sight (a completely non-reactive pupil and some pooling blood), and said: “You need to go to the hospital. You can either come with us, or go there yourself. We can’t MAKE you come with us, but we’d recommend it.”

“With you. You mean, in an AMBULANCE?” (This seemed absurd to me since I hurt my eyeball, not my feet).

So, I said, “No, that’s all right. It’s not far, I’ll walk.” They gave me disbelieving looks and strongly encouraged me to follow them into the mobile medic unit (which is not an ambulance, which I hope also means I do not get billed for an ambulance), so I followed them and took a mortifying journey through campus (past the building where I work, with thoughts of the Diem I wanted to Carpe flooding my mind, as well as sadness that the afternoon I had planned with my partner would probably not come to be–and oh was I right about that). During said mortifying journey, I was asked all the routine questions (name, SSN, DOB), but when I gave my DOB (“8-31-76,” I turned 36 two days ago), the medic stopped me: “Did you mean to just say SEVENTY-six? Are you feeling dizzy? That would make you thirty-five.”

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox HEARTZ. I think he was messing with me, but this was still a very nice thing to hear en route to the hospital, still unable to reach my partner, and scared out of my mind.

It turns out that the not-an-ambulance ride was an extremely good idea on several fronts. First, I got to skip the waiting room and triage (and that waiting room is no picnic; I was there not six months ago when I had what I thought at the time was a terrible flu but was actually pneumonia) and go straight to the eye clinic! And, then, after several hours of poking, prodding, drops, dyes, scopes, ultrasounds and sitting there (during which time my partner was reached and rode his bike down to the hospital bearing support and snacks! And has been an absolute rock ever since, might I add!), I was given a diagnosis:

1. My pupil was “stunned,” a la the Dead Parrot from Monty Python (except actually stunned, as opposed to dead):

2. I had bleeding in the anterior chamber of my eye, aka a hyphema (click at your own peril! Also, mine did not look nearly as bad and gross as Wikipedia’s!)

The stunned pupil (aka “traumatic iritis”) was not actually a big deal, although it does make my eyes look a little David-Bowie-esque (it has gone down since this was taken):

Big Pupil

But the bleeding (which as you can see is gonee!) was another matter. If a hyphema does not drain properly or continues to bleed, it can result in glaucoma and/or permanent damage to vision, for example BLINDNESS.

So the prescription for one of these is to, first of all, wear one of these babies around all the time, especially when you sleep:


Do not be alarmed, Citizen. I am Robocop, here to protect you.

And the other thing you have to do is: nothing. You have to just sit there and stare at either the wall or the TV. You can’t read, you can’t write, you can’t FACEBOOK (!!!!), you can’t move, you have to just sit. There.

So I did. According to my SIL, most hyphema patients don’t comply with the restrictions, but I dutifully sat on ass watching reruns of “The Cosby Show” while my unbelievably kind partner ran errands and READ ME MY EMAIL AND FACEBOOK POSTS!!!!! (he is a saint), and many friends and family members phoned to keep me company and see how I was doing. I have a few colleagues who live in my apartment complex, so they also came by and brought me dinner (!!!) while their kids entertained me.

Another thing you have to do with a hyphema is go to the doctor every day for a week, but by the time I had my first follow-up appointment most of the blood had drained and I was given PROGNOSIS POSITIVE!!! And after 48 more hours of sitting on ass, I went back in and was given the ALL CLEAR (for now). So, as you can see, I’m able to read and write (or at least technically I am, I was never that good at either), I am back working out (though obviously I will never go to that woman’s class again, and if I peek in there while it’s going on and see resistance bands I am going to flip. the fuck. out.), back in the classroom (my students were DEVASTATED that I had to cancel the second week of class outright), and back doing everything.

My left pupil is still partially dilated and may never be properly reactive again, but I ordered myself a bunch of pairs of fabulous sunglasses and I’m trying to look on the bright side of having a “unique look,” rather than mourning the loss of what I have vainly and brazenly always considered to be my best feature, my usually-symmetrical, steel-grey eyes (that go blue or green in the proper context).

So now here it is Sunday again–I am supposed to be 400 miles from here, spending Labor Day/my birthday weekend with my beloved, sainted partner, but I couldn’t drive 7 hours or get in an airplane so soon after a traumatic eye injury (eye pressure=bad), so I’m here in Football Town USA alone, wading through the pea-soup mugginess of the summer that just wouldn’t fucking leave already. But as you can tell I’m chipper–I’ll see my partner on Thursday when he visits again, I’m ahead on my research, I’m caught up on my teaching, and, most importantly of all, thanks to the quick thinking of my SIL and several good ophthalmologists who saw me, I can see just fine.

And now for the moral to the story: THE GYM IS A DEATH TRAP! No, I ‘m kidding. The moral to the story is: fitness instructors are fucking stupid and do not expect them to assign you exercises that are safe. If for any reason you doubt the safety of an exercise they ask you to do, DO NOT DO IT. Or, alternatively, wear goggles Dr. J style at all times! That’s entertainment!!! ***

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