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That time I (almost!) shot my eye out

August 02, 2023 - 00:00
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Have you ever heard of someone surviving a direct hit in the eye with a rocket? Well, now you have. The time was in late May of 1999. The place was Navasota Intermediate School, and I was a teacher there. The standardized tests had all been administered, graded, and recorded and for all practical purposes the school year was basically over. My colleagues and I were teaching a unit on Space – Space Travel – and everything in between. It was a fun time. The kids were really enjoying their projects and we teachers had a chance to put the lessons we learned at NASA to good use. Things rocked along merrily – until that one day when everything changed.

As a culminating activity, I had procured a device that would launch 2-liter bottles slightly filled with water up to 100-feet in the air. The students had decorated their rockets with poster boards to make them look more realistic, including the nose piece and they were very proud of their work; and I was too. During a break in my schedule, I let my colleagues know that I was going to test out one of the rockets. They each wished me luck and outside I went to conduct my research.

I followed all the instructions carefully and then pumped the required amount of air in the test rocket. Unbeknown to me was the design flaw in the launch device. I took the release cable to its maximum length, took a deep breath, and gave it a solid yank. Nothing. So, I pulled it again, this time a little harder. Still nothing. The third try was the near fatal one. When I pulled the cable that time, the entire launch device tipped over toward me and the rocket was released. It struck me directly in my left eye at a speed of over 150 miles per hour. Instantly I was stunned and all my vision in that left eye was gone. I made my way somehow to the nurses’ office and after taking one look at me she immediately put me in her car and took me to the Emergency Room. By this time, my eye had completely filled with blood, and I was all but certain that I was going to lose that eye. I had almost made peace with it actually and I was wondering how much longer I would be able to stay on duty as an Army Reservist with only one eye. Funny what goes through your mind during times like these.

There was not a doctor in the ER that could treat me, and I was sent to Scott & White Hospital where an eye specialist could tend to my incredible situation. The main concern was the pressure in my eye. That had to be dealt with before any other procedures could be conducted. I was issued a series of eye drops to get the pressure down and I was required to come back to Scott & White every day for at least one week to get my pressure checked. At this point I could see a little bit. It was like looking through a car windshield that was completely covered in mud.

After a few weeks of dutifully following my eye drop regimen I was cleared for surgery. Once again, unbeknown to me, eye surgery is not the kind of surgery where they knock you out. You are awake for the whole thing. And not just awake – they put a spreader on and around your eye to keep it open during the procedure. Terrifying does not even come close to describing that feeling. But I made it. Somehow the surgeon was able to sew the cornea of my eye back together, which I still find astonishing. Dr. Paul Wuthrich saved my eye that day and for that I am eternally grateful.

The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Alan Shoalmire. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.

Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant Hotdogs and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.