On Sunday I entered the Cairns Base Hospital emergency room expecting to eventually see an eye specialist, after they called him/her in, and begin a series of antibiotics to heal my very infected eye. I had some warning from talking to an ophthalmologist acquaintance of mine in the US, that the eye infection I had could be serious and might result in needing surgical treatment down the road to repair scarring, and may even require a grafting to replace the damaged area of the lens. But, I still remained hopeful that the antibiotics would have immediate effect and I would be able to recover in a few weeks.
They immediately called in the on-call eye doctor. She is an assistant MD to one of the four specialist in Cairns, and was very competent and thorough. She did a thorough examination, and prepared me to make a scraping of the eye so they could take cultures to determine what kind of bug I have. This would hopefully enable them to better target the antibiotic needed to fight it off.
After this, I was surprised when she explained that I would be admitted to the hospital immediately. The reason is that the antibiotic treatment is an intensive onslaught of several medicines both orally and mostly through eye drops. This would need to go through the rest of the week at least. There is a complex timing of the doses resulting in different medicines every 30 minutes of the day, and night. Obviously, sleep was going to be a challenge. Fortunately, I’ve been pretty good at falling asleep, and actually manage to sleep most of the time between intervals of the drops. The drops only take a few seconds, so I’m not actually awake much.
Late on Monday, I was finally able to meet the eye specialist doctor assigned to the hospital. He gave me the bad news. My infection is too serious to hope for a complete recovery without further steps. The eye is so infected that there will be scarring which will continue to obscure the vision after the infection is eradicated. But, the good news is the eye will be saved as long as things proceed properly. And we should be able to resume our sailing after a month or so. I will have to operate with my right eye in a reduced capacity (essentially blind in that eye) until I can have surgery to fix things. The surgery procedure will take too long, and it will be unsafe for us to travel during the healing process. So, it will have to wait.
[UPDATED: Need to clarify that extended wear (overnight) contacts are the ones particularly to be blamed, and are what I was wearing. I'm told those who take there contacts out daily, and put them in a disinfectant, are at less risk. Although, you are more likely injure your eye in the process.]
It is amazing to me that the innocent act of rubbing my eye (the only one I usually wear a contact in) resulted so rapidly in this serious infection. The doctor told me that wearing extended wear contacts in the tropics is particularly dangerous for this reason (the extended wear have longer to build up bacteria). The warmer weather gives the bacterial much stronger ability to attack the eye, and there are more critters who can attack your eye to be found in tropical regions. We knew this as it applied to cuts and scrapes, and always apply anti-biotics and try to stay out of the water after recent injuries.
Somehow I missed the memo, or ignored it. Before leaving on this trip, I read many things about traveling around the world by sailboat. I thought since I had no issues with contacts, it wouldn’t happen to me. But, let my experience be a lesson. If you are going to spend time in the tropics, avoid using contact lenses (especially extended wear). The slightest incident can cause serious infection, and possible loss of vision. My case proves it. Once it happens, there is nothing you can do to stop it. I tried.