On Losing My Last Remaining Eye and Getting It Back

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Some advice: Don’t get shot in the face. I don’t care what your friends tell you, it isn’t a good idea. Further, avoid corneal transplants if you can. If you find a coupon for one, in a box of Cracker Jacks maybe, toss it. Transplants are miserable things. Unless you really need one. What am I talking about? Eyes, and losing them, and getting them back. On this, I am an accidental authority.

Long long ago, in a far galaxy, the United States was bringing democracy to Viet Nam, which had barely heard of it and didn’t want it anyway. As an expression of their desire to be left alone, the locals spent several years shooting Americans. I was one of them: a young dumb Marine with little idea either where I was or why. But that was common in those days.

A large-caliber round, probably from a Russian 12.7mm heavy machine gun, came through the windshield of the truck I was driving. The bullet missed me, barely, because I had turned my head to look at a water buffalo in the paddy beside the road. Unfortunately the glass in front of the round had to go somewhere, in this case into my face. Not good. I didn’t like it, anyway.

So I got choppered to the Naval Support Activity hospital in Danang with the insides of my eyes filled with blood, which I didn’t know because my eyelids were convulsively latched shut. An eye surgeon there did emergency iridectiomies — removing a slice of the iris — so that my eyes wouldn’t explode. He also determined that powdered glass had gone through my corneas, through the anterior chamber, through the lens, and parked itself in the vitreous, which is the marmalade that fills the back of the eye. It had not reached the retina, though they couldn’t tell at the time, which meant that I wasn’t necessarily going to be blind. Yet.

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Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. Visit his blog.

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