Sara – A Vulnerable Age

I was eleven at the time and we lived on a farm in Narrikup. It was late in the afternoon and I was helping my dad. I had to go and collect a bucket that was through a cocky gate. (A cocky gate has steel or wood pickets attached together with wires, this is then held to the strainer posts with straight wire). The wire that held the bottom of the gate to the strainer happened to be broken for a while, and it was always a bother to open and shut the gate.

This particular day I thought I would fix it. Little did I know that it would not be worth the consequences.

I went to pull the wire that held the picket in place but I wasn’t aware that it was completely detached from the strainer. As I pulled it, it penetrated directly into my eye. It came out as quick as it went in. It felt like a little pinprick and then liquid was oozing out. I knew something was wrong as the liquid quickly filled my cupped hands. I walked home and told my Mum I’d done something to my eye. She waited for dad to come home and then he rushed me to the Mt Barker Hospital. Dr Burke took one look at me and sent us to PMH. We were given the option of an ambulance but Dad decided to drive me.

I remember lying in the back seat of the car vomiting all the way up. My Dad drove through the night and nearly hit a kangaroo. We arrived at PMH very early in the morning. The emergency staff were waiting and after a doctor’s examination I was taken through to the operating theatre. My Dad slept in the car during the surgery and waited for the outcome.

I remember it took me a while to come out of anaesthetic and dad was by my side crying when I woke. I was unable to see as both of my eyes were covered with patches. My lens in the right eye had been damaged. I had to stay in hospital indefinitely, so Dad decided to go back home, as he had to work to support the family. I found it hard not being able to see. I had to hear everything around me and imagine what it looked like. For this short time I experienced what it would be like if you were totally blind. I am so grateful that I can still see through one eye

My family didn’t visit very often because they were down south. My uncles and aunties came when they could. I hated being in hospital. I remember there was a girl to the left of me who was in a very bad accident. Her name was Louisa. I never got to see her before I left.

The nurses and doctors were nice. I only saw them when they changed the eye patches. I spent six long weeks lying on my back with covers over my eyes. I had to have pureed food, as I was not allowed to chew. It was very hard to lie still for that long, as I was always a very active girl.

I was then transferred to Royal Perth Hospital. It was really strange, because as soon as I arrived I could walk around, eat any sort of food on the menu and only had one eye patch on. I was a bit confused but thought it was a great change. Shortly after I got there I had my second operation and I could see a little from my injured eye. It was very blurry. Professor Ian Constable was my surgeon and my doctor. He used to bring around a lot of students and interns. I remember them lined up around the bed. Each time he would tell them of the details. I never really understood the medical terms. Sitting at the window and looking at the new part of the hospital being built and walking around the ward consumed my days. I was there about six weeks.

On the day I was being discharged a nurse came to put drops in like every other day – but when these drops went in it felt like a stabbing sensation to the back of my eye. This was very different to any other time. After that I couldn’t see at all. I was home for a few weeks when the hospital contacted my parents and requested I go back for a third operation. My retina had detached and unfortunately they were unable to reattach it. I never really understood what was happening in detail. Due to my age all medical issues were discussed with my parents and they didn’t explain much. The only thing I did understand was that I remained totally blind in one eye. I was extremely upset and found it hard to accept.

Over time the eye shrank and changed in colour. I became very shy, embarrassed and very self-conscious. Some time later I was referred to Mr Bun who was a dental prosthetic maker and he fitted me with a scleral lens. My eye rejected the prosthesis, it used to water all the time. It was painful and I could barely keep my eye open.

My confidence was shattered. I found it difficult at school but still seemed to cope. After a few revisits to the specialist and Mr Bun they recommended that I not wear anything. I was a typical stubborn teenager and I didn’t want to look like that. I kept persisting with the eye and gradually increased the time that it was in every day. It was still quite watery and painful but it eventually got better. After a few years it settled down. I had friends at school that accepted me for me. They were great. I was still teased by some. I used to just accept it, but deep down it really hurt.

Since the accident I have always been very self-conscious. I hated the way I looked. I went from being a bubbly happy kid to being someone who was very shy and embarrassed. I was a bit of a recluse. Years later I had some counselling for another reason and was made to realise that what I went through was a big change. I should have had some counselling at that time. I was at a vulnerable age when your looks are so important. I realise now that emotionally it was a really difficult time. I would certainly recommend to anyone facing eye loss – to get some counselling and support.

In my early twenties we moved to Perth that is when I came to see Paul. He was great. He understood how I felt and wanted to make it better. Make me feel and look better. This was the second lens I have had made. It looked and felt great.

I have now visited Paul and Jenny for the third time. They are just fantastic. They take so much pride in their work and they ultimately want you to feel fantastic too.

Thank you Paul and Jenny.

As told to Julia Sutton. Reprinted with permission from Sara. You may link to this story, but please do not copy or otherwise circulate.