Experience: my sunglasses took my eye out

I’ve worn sunglasses ever since I was a little girl, regularly going shopping with my mom for new pairs. After splurging on some gorgeous large designer glasses at the mall, I felt more than ready to soak up the sun and go on road trips from my home in Atlanta, Georgia.

On 3 August last year, I was driving to my fiance James’s house with my dog in the back seat, ready for a cosy night in. We were getting married in three months, and I couldn’t wait to see him.

 

I was only five minutes from his house and driving at 25 miles an hour when a car pulled out of a sidestreet in front of me. I hit the brakes as quickly as I could. I was thrown forward and my face slammed into the airbag, which had inflated on impact, shattering my sunglasses.

My dog was terrified and I tried to calm him as I grappled with what had just happened. I was in so much shock I could barely feel pain. Smoke was coming out of the airbags and I was too distracted to notice I was bleeding, until I caught sight of myself in the rearview mirror. My left eye was fine, but my right eye was covered in blood and I had glass shards stuck in my face. From what I could make out, the top lid of my right eye was split in two.

A stranger came to my rescue and helped call my family. I was quickly taken to hospital, and James joined me. They had to fly in emergency surgeons because the damage to the eye was so bad.

The scariest moment was when they thought there might be glass in my brain – there was so much glass in the eye socket that they worried it might have travelled further back.

I was told I would need surgery. They warned me that if they found glass in my brain, which would need to be removed, I might wake up from the operation and not remember anything. I was in the most excruciating pain I’ve ever been in. I just kept thinking, “If I lose my eye, I’ll learn to live with it, please help me,” over and over again.

James broke the news that my right eye was gone. It had been completely deflated by the glass, which had severed my optic nerve and caused my sinus cavity to collapse – that has caused chronic migraines, and any time the weather changes now I can feel it in my face.

The doctors said it was a complete accident, but all I could think about was that if I hadn’t been wearing my sunglasses, none of this would have happened. The next day, they pieced my eyelids back together, and I had more surgery to remove the eye itself.

I don’t think it really hit me until October. After the surgery they had stitched my eye shut to let it heal for two months. When I had a look in the mirror afterwards, all I thought was, “You look like a freak.”

I’ve gone through all the stages of grief now and I hate to think I said that about myself. Now I love one-eyed Hannah, I’m so much stronger. After nine months of speaking to my therapist and flicking between “Why did this happen to me?” and total denial, she suggested I could have a “funeral” for the old Hannah, as a form of closure. I got dressed up and left flowers on the side of the road where the accident happened.

I didn’t just lose an eye – I lost the old me and the things I could do. I used to enjoy long drives across the country. I don’t feel comfortable doing that now because I can’t see properly, plus the traffic in Atlanta is horrible. I have no peripheral vision or depth perception on my right side, so things like parking and pouring dog food into a bowl are difficult. And it takes me for ever to do my eyeliner. I have learned to keep laughing and roll with it.

I haven’t been able to work for the last year because of the accident, but my new goal is to release my own sunglasses line made out of shatter-resistant polycarbonate lenses. I think every company should have a disclaimer stating that sunglasses can shatter on impact. Before this happened to me, it wasn’t something I ever thought of as a hazard, and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I have.

It sounds funny, but losing an eye has helped me open my eyes: it’s changed me, and I love who I am now and the acceptance I have for myself and others.

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