You’ll Put Your Eye Out with That Thing!

I still hear my mother saying that, all these years later. I’m sure my friend Ed remembers his mother saying the same thing.

Over the past 23 years, my friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed has missed Daytona Bike Week only twice. On different motorcycles he’s owned, he’s made the trek from Tucson to Daytona and back 21 times. In early March, accompanied by our mutual friend Paul, he embarked on another pilgrimage to the Mecca of American motorcycling.

Ed and Paul

They rode east through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, then across the Florida Panhandle and down to Daytona. Bike Week was a blast, the weather uncharacteristically gorgeous. They followed it with a ride down the Atlantic Coast to West Palm Beach and Miami, then took the Overseas Highway for a short stay in Key West before starting home: up the Gulf Coast to Tampa and Port Richie, then Tallahassee, and—such was the plan—back west to Tucson.

Somewhere on the way from Key West to Port Richie, Ed began to see floaters in his right eye. These weren’t the kind you can blink away; they were big and getting bigger. Hitting Highway 19 north after overnighting in Port Richie, Ed began to lose vision. At a rest stop he described it to Paul as a curtain of blindness in his right eye: he could see straight ahead and up but everything below was black, and the curtain was gradually rising. Foolishly or not, Ed and Paul pressed on.

Eventually Ed pulled into a rest area to Google his symptoms. What he learned wasn’t encouraging: the symptoms suggested a detached retina. They rode on, but when they got to the small town of Marianna near Tallahassee, Ed had to stop. In the 300 miles they’d ridden that day, the loss of vision in his right eye had progressed from 25% to almost 100%. Ed called his doctor in Tucson, who said to stop riding and find an eye doctor. Like now. The first two clinics Ed called were closing for the day, but the optometrist who answered the third call said come on over, I’ll wait for you.

The Marianna optometrist examined Ed and quickly confirmed his self-diagnosis: the retina in the right eye was detaching from the top (which is why, if you remember those diagrams of how light refracts through a lens, to Ed the blindness was rising from the bottom to the top). He contacted an area opthamologist to set up corrective surgery the next morning, and offered to keep Ed’s Goldwing in his garage until Ed could make arrangements to ship it back to Tucson (because after eye surgery Ed wouldn’t be riding for a couple of months).

After talking it over with Paul and his own doctor in Tucson, Ed decided to get home as quickly as possible and have the surgery done there. Riding and flying were out, so Paul went into town and rented a truck to transport Ed and both motorcycles home to Tucson. The first truck he tried came with such a narrow ramp Paul couldn’t put his feet down while riding the first bike up it, and not only that, once one Goldwing was in it was obvious the second one wouldn’t fit. When Paul realized he’d have to get a bigger truck, he had to back the Wing down the narrow ramp, a harrowing experience he says took ten years off his life.

Loading the bikes in the second truck

Every motorcyclist has stories of helping and being helped while on the road, but what happened with Ed and Paul during this medical emergency was memorable. Ed’s doctor in Tucson called an opthamologist colleague in Mobile, Alabama, who opened a surgery slot there in case Ed changed his mind after starting the homeward journey. Bikers and bystanders came to Paul’s assistance when he had to back the Goldwing down the narrow ramp from the first rental truck. When Ed and Paul went to a hardware store to buy tie-down straps for the second rental truck, the store owner suggested they rent a car instead and offered to lock both bikes in a storage shed for as long as it might take them to come back to Florida to get them.

Technology was a big help, too. How much harder would all this have been to deal with in the days before the internet, Google, and cell phones?

In the end, Paul drove Ed home to Tucson with both bikes in the back of a rental truck, 30 hours straight through. Ed had surgery to reattach the retina the next day.

Ed recovering from surgery

After all that, you probably want to know how he’s doing. The retinal tears were worse than first thought. It’s been four months now and Ed is still recovering. The optimologist in Florida has called a couple of times to see how he’s doing, ditto the opthamologist in Mobile. Ed’s eye surgeon in Tucson watching him closely. Until he recovers, Ed can’t drive a car, ride his Goldwing, or fly. He has to say below 4,000 feet in elevation, so no weekend drives with his wife up Mount Lemon to escape the heat. When he does recover, he won’t have distance vision in his right eye and will have to wear corrective glasses.

Looks like Mom was right. Moms always are.

Note: I wasn’t with Ed and Paul on this ride, but I once helped them out of a tight spot they’d gotten into on another ride, and during the Florida adventure and subsequent truck trip home, Ed sent me messages and photos in real time. He’s a good friend, as is Paul (who is also my barber), and I’ve been following his recovery closely. Ed and Paul told me the story in detail and asked me to write an account of it to submit to a motorcycle magazine. This is a condensed version of the story I sent in.

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