By Jay D. Prince
Iritis. Vitreous and/or Retinal Detachment. Floaters. Flashing light in peripheral vision. It doesn’t take much thought to guess that I’m talking about issues relating to our eyes. And it certainly is overstating the obvious to say that we have only two eyeballs to not only play squash, but also to enjoy the world.
For over 16 years, I’ve been quietly supportive of the use or protective eyewear while playing squash. Why do I say “quietly?” Because I’ve always worn glasses on court (though, admittedly, there have been occasions when I’ve tossed them over the back wall after getting frustrated with sweat dripping down my lenses), and because I’ve never been one to insist that my opponents protect their own eyes—I’ve taken the stance that it’s really not my place to tell someone else how to live their life (except for my own kids who I do require to wear glasses, but they don’t even play the game with any sort of regularity).
I’ve been hit a few times, primarily in the calves, since I began playing squash 28 years ago—but rarely in the last 10 years. I attribute that partly to playing higher-level opponents with better racquet skills.
While in Baltimore a couple weeks ago for the U.S. Skill Level Championships, I was offered the chance to play some doubles on the Friday before the event began. Though I haven’t played much doubles, I have enjoyed it when given the opportunity. Shortly before walking on court, one of my playing partners jokingly asked if I was prepared to get hit by the ball. I know that it’s not uncommon for players to be hit in a game of doubles, but I did say that I hadn’t been hit in years. That turned out to be a very ironic statement on my part.
Fifteen minutes later, while three of us backed out to the center of the T area (about five or six feet inside the court), one of my opponents hit a reverse corner from the back left—and drilled me in my left eye. It happened in an instant—the feeling of being shot in the face. I immediately put my hands to my eye, leaned up against the wall, and wondered what the hell had just happened. I knew, of course, that I’d been hit, but the suddenness and force of the impact of the ball to my glasses had been so shocking that I wasn’t really sure what to make of it.
For a minute or so, I couldn’t see anything out of my left eye. Someone on the court said I was bleeding, but I wasn’t sure where from; turned out to be my nose that had been cut by my glasses. No problem.
Once the bleeding was stopped, and someone could actually take a look at my eye, it was obvious that the lens of my glasses had been jammed into my eye, causing swelling of the lids, a couple of burst blood vessels at the bottom of the eye and, frankly, pain. But I could see out of it which, obviously, was a huge relief.
Peter Hefernan, Director of Squash at Meadow Mill (and my partner on the court) took me to see an Opthalmologist immediately. After that visit, things were looking pretty good—a minor scratch to the cornea seemed to be the worst of it. But overnight, I developed “flashes of light” and “black floaters” in my vision which precipitated a trip to see a retina specialist.
Again, things are looking good—the retina is not detached, but the vitreous fluid in my eye has become detached from the trauma which has caused the floaters and can, over time, lead to a detached retina. Bottom line is that, for now, I am to have follow up appointments with a local retina specialist in the Seattle area.
The point of all this is, hopefully, very obvious. I’ve been playing squash for a long time; I play at a reasonably good standard, as do my opponents; the chances of being struck in the eye are slim, but the risk is so high that it just makes no sense whatsoever to not accept the minimal inconvenience of some sweat dripping on your glasses to protect the one thing that is so precious in our lives. Given my respect for the rights of others to do as they choose, I am probably still unlikely to insist that my opponents wear protective eyewear. But if I can be a living example of the benefit of having done so, then so be it. Many of you know Will Carlin, or at least his story. If you don’t, email me and I’ll fill you in. But suffice to say that the first text I sent after being hit was to him: “Hey Will… glasses spared me your experience today. Phew!”