This isn’t a recent story, but even though it is just a little old, I thought it would be a good thing to share as a cautionary, yet humorous tale.

It was summer, and my wife an I traveled down to Peoria Illinois for my brother’s medical school graduation. It was a great day and I was very proud of my formerly little brother on his big day. He had worked very hard for years to get through medical school, and it was great to see him pass this significant milestone. After the graduation ceremonies, the family spent time in the hotel restaurant and lounge area talking, eating and having a generally great time. In the middle of our evening, a tornado warning interrupted our celebration and the hotel staff whisked us off to a conference room to wait out the demon wind. In the end, the storms came and passed with lots of bark, and luckily, not much bite. All the excitement from the celebration and predicted doom of storm was more than we could possibly handle, and figured it was time we adjourned for the evening to spend time with our beloved sleep.

Back in our room, we began unpacking all of the things that we pretend to be a necessity for an arduous two-day journey 110 miles from home. Creature comforts that we, never quite successfully, attempt to transport from from our home-life and inject into the fabricated reality of a hotel room. After making as much of a temporary home as possible out of 350 square feet, I turned my attention to the very practiced art of the bedtime routine. Of course, this routine relies heavily on the not-so-artful practice of packing with foresight. Very quickly, an error in the forethought process was uncovered: a missing container for my contact lenses. Normally this wouldn’t be much of an issue except for the detail that the contact container was for my Clear Care lens solution.

If you are not a contact wearer, the name of this solution may mean nothing to you, but allow me to explain. One type of contact cleaning method uses two solutions. Step number one uses a mix of chemicals that remove enzymes on the lenses, and the second step uses another solution to rinse and neutralize the harsh cleaning chemicals that you use in step one. Clear Care is a one-step hydrogen peroxide based liquid that reacts in a special container over 6 hours to clean the lenses and, in the process, break down the hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water. I’m sure you noticed the choice of the words “special container”.

Yes, it is THAT special container that I had so brilliantly left out of my “packing with foresight”. But, being the prepared, resourceful and ingenuous Eagle Scout that I am…no hold on, that should actually be Dr. Eagle Scout…and perhaps more important, it is not actually me, but my freshly graduated brother. So to rephrase with even more accuracy: being the tired, unprepared former b-average college science major that I am, I started to formulate a plan for getting this contact solution to work without it’s so-called special container!

Step one, figure out how this solution works. Here was how my brain broke it down: Clear Care is based on a low percentage solution of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is sensitive to exposure to light and oxygen and will break down quickly when in the presence of one or both. So, therefore if this is a low percentage solution, and it is exposed to air overnight and then sunlight in the morning, it should break down some of its potency and should have a similar effect as using the special container…right?

Let me state at this point, that I’m normally not prone to this type of dangerous experimentation, but exhaustion was creeping in quickly, and I just wanted sleep. I wasn’t really thinking about how smart this was, and I wasn’t really thinking about…well I can stop there…I wasn’t really thinking. I pondered the wisdom of my idea for only a moment or two and then spent a significantly longer amount of time than that mumbling aloud about how silly it was to forget an item so simple. No matter, on to step two. I grabbed a clean hotel glass, squirted in an eighth inch of Clear Care liquid, and dropped in my sight-saving discs. This whole process took a frighteningly short amount of time to clumsily rush through. At this point, it was easy to stumble on to step three: collapse on the bed and fall asleep to whatever fascinating, albeit mildly blurry program that was playing on the History Channel.

After sleeping in for a sufficient amount of time to clear a foggy thought process, we awoke to a bright and sunny morning. It was at this point where I began to question the wisdom of my eye care plan of the previous evening. I rehashed the logic in my mind, and I had a nagging doubt if this was going to work correctly. However, I had convinced myself the night before and I was not dissuaded so easily. I approached my contacts with only slightly hesitant confidence. I fished the first disc out of the crystal clear liquid in the drinking glass where it had been lazily floating all night. I placed the contact on the tip of my finger as I stood in front of the mirror and paused a moment. “Well, here it goes!” I placed it in my eye.

It is a little difficult to describe what happened next since the descriptive timing is very skewed compared to how much time actually elapsed. It seemed as though about 10 seconds passed as I waited for my vision to adjust to the contact, but in actuality it was more like a tenth of a second before I started to feel that something may be wrong. And when I say that I could feel that something “may” be wrong, I mean that I became very disturbed by the sort of hyena-type howl filling the hotel room, while simultaneously feeling as though I had somehow managed to place only my left eye in the path of a shooting jet of molten lava. I concede that it would be very difficult to imagine what the searing pain of a volcano vomiting directly into your eye could feel like, but I still contend that it would be about as equally comfortable as what I was feeling at that moment as I hopped up and down in front of the bathroom mirror.

I believe a total of 2 seconds of jumping and howling had passed before I started frantically clawing at my eye to attempt removal of the shard of flame sticking in my cornea. At first I could not overcome my eye’s seemingly sensible instinct to clamp the eyelid shut to protect itself, but it was too late for protecting and was now just in the way, it had to come out! I finally managed to pry my eye open through the pain, but now I had difficulty actually holding still long enough to stick my fingers in to pull out the contact. Removal attempt one failed miserably, more hopping ensued. Attempt two failed, as did attempts three through ten. It seemed as though it was not only sticking on and melting my eyeball, but was burning a hole right through my head to the back of my skull.

After many painful attempts, I was finally able to wrest the offending circle of silicone from my eye and I practically threw it onto the counter expecting some sort of relief. In more ways than one, I was sorely disappointed. I did know that one of the worst things to do was rub my eye, but the temptation was impossible to resist, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think at the time that It’d do much more damage than a magma bath. I was conscious enough to stop rubbing and remember that the best thing to help in this case was an eye wash. A little luck! The hotel had one of those high arc faucets in the small, cramped counter space that passed for a kitchenette. This gave me just enough room to stick my head in the sink and have my eye directly under the flow of water. Although the wash provided some abatement in the pain, having my body doubled over the counter with my head under a running faucet was far from my ideal way to start the day.

After about ten minutes of running water directly on my eyeball, I felt safe to retreat from the sink. At this point I felt immensely relieved, but far from comfortable. My eye was sore and throbbing a strange combination of numbness from the cold water and menthol-like burning from the caustic liquid. I could feel the veins in my eye bulging and rubbing against my eyelids, which were tender from some twenty minutes of prying, and now the whole side of my head was wet and dripping cold water down my shirt.

Then, I looked in the mirror. What I saw looking back at me was a little frightening. There was no “white” of my eye anymore, it was now completely red. I don’t mean “ow, I got an eyelash stuck in my eye and now I need some Visene” red. I mean full-on “oh my God call a priest, we have a total Exorcist possession and I can see Satan glowing in his eyes!” red.
Really…it was freaky.

I was still hurting, but after a quick trip to Wal-mart for an eye wash kit, and some more rinsing under the handy-dandy hotel room faucet, the danger was gone. The rest of the day was spent trying to hide my eye by holding it closed, wearing a baseball hat down low, wearing dark sunglasses, anything to shield my satan-eye. I had to tell the whole story several times to the rest of the family…which fortunately for me, contains several health care professionals. A couple of examinations inevitably ensued to ensure that there was no serious damage…after which everyone was free to laugh at the situation. Other than my bruised ego, there was no long term damage.

Every now and then I look back on this experience and seriously question my sanity. The packaging of Clear Care is now a little more jarring in its warnings about how to NOT use their product, and it is possible that it may have helped me avoid that painful experience. But I have to be completely honest, it’s also possible that I would have done the exact same thing. It is a little hard to say, but my little bout of ingenuity might have even over-powered the bolder and stronger warnings of impending liquid doom.
And there is where the moral of the story arises.
Even if you’re not using a Red Ryder bb gun, be careful, you can still shoot your eye out!