This will make you cringe.
June 9, 2005
Angler’s eye shattered by fishing weight
By MARK FREEMAN
GOLD HILL — It all came to Rod Maddox in less than a blink of an eye.
Bank-fishing in the Rogue River at Hayes Falls, the 53-year-old Jacksonville man had hooked and lost two spring chinook salmon on May 24. And for the moment it was a fellow angler’s turn to wrestle with a chinook.
As is the bank-anglers’ practice, Maddox and the others all reeled in their lines to make room for the guy fighting the fish.
"I just glanced back over my left shoulder toward him, and that’s when it happened," Maddox says.
The chinook shook the hook. Like from a sling-shot, the hook and two-ounce lead weight rifled toward the bank.
"It was like that lead was fired out of a gun," Maddox says. "I saw the lead coming at me, but I didn’t even have time to flinch."
That’s the last clear image Maddox has in his left eye, which was shattered by the flying lead that evening at Hayes Falls in the kind of fluke accident that makes people wince every time he tells the story.
"I wince myself, just thinking about it," he says.
What they don’t hear in Maddox’s matter-of-fact tone, though, is the pain.
The smashed orbital bone that holds the eye in place. The broken sinus bone between the eyes. The deep gashes to his eyelids. The shredded iris. The dangling lens.
And all that blood.
"It was pretty horrific," says friend Bob Furlan, who was fishing with Maddox that day. "I don’t think a lot of people realize how dangerous fishing can be."
But doctors across America do.
The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission tracks emergency-room cases at hospitals nationwide, and recreational fishing-related injuries accounted for 65,124 accidents in 2003.
In 2000, the CPSC looked more closely at the 72,751 fishing injuries that year and discovered that 1,695 of them resulted in injured eyes.
A recent study conducted in South Carolina and Alabama and published last month in the American Journal of Ophthalmology found that 20 percent of all sports- related eye injuries occurred while fishing.
That’s why Dr. Paul Imperia, a Medford ophthalmologist and a fly-fishermen, wears polycarbonate "safety-rated" glasses whenever he’s near anyone fishing.
It’s not enough to wear sunglasses, he says. Wear the ones rated as impact-resistant.
"Even if it’s cloudy or raining," Imperia says. "If you’re casting anything with a weight or a hook, or around people doing it, you have to have your glasses on."
And the irony here is that, when it comes to flying hooks and eyes, Maddox is no rookie.
He fished commercially for 24 years in Alaska, which is one of the most dangerous professions in America. Wayward gear flies all over salmon boats that bounce and roll in the sea. His forearms are littered with scars from defending his face from commercial hooks and weights.
On the ocean, Maddox constantly worried about losing an eye until he finally quit the business two years ago and moved to Jacksonville.
"I had too many close calls over the years," Maddox says. "I decided to get out of fishing before it killed me."
His fateful trip to Hayes Falls was just one of a handful of sport-fishing days he’s logged.
And just seconds before his accident, Maddox remembers moving away from the bank-fishermen specifically to get out of the potential flight-path of any wayward gear.
But the lead made a bee-line for his eye.
"If that thing had hit me in the temple, it would have killed me," Maddox says.
Maddox immediately staggered backward and put his hands over his eye Blood gushed down both elbows. He stood up and staggered toward the parking lot.
"I wanted to get off the rocks and out of there before I passed out," he says.
In the parking lot, he started to shiver. I’m in shock, he thought. Someone gave him a blanket.
Forty-five minutes later, an ambulance took him to Providence Medford Medical Center, where doctors told him he would have to go to the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland if his eye were to be saved.
"His eye had swollen to the size of a peach," Furlan says.
After two days in Portland, doctors shipped Maddox home.
Though healing quickly, he still can’t see with his left eye. A little light leaks in, but no images. He has no depth of field.
And Maddox has no way to pay the bills.
Maddox is between careers. He has no insurance.
He’s been back to Portland twice for exams and treatment. Many surgeries await him.
"I haven’t seen a bill yet," he says. "But they’re coming."
Last week, Maddox and Furlan thought they could find financial help.
They returned to Hayes Falls, hoping to learn the identity of the angler whose weight crushed Maddox’s eye.
They explained to the Hayes Falls faithful that the anglers’ homeowners’ insurance likely could cover Maddox’s medical bills. The anglers there, Furlan and Maddox say, wouldn’t reveal the man’s identity.
"We were treated with hostility," Furlan says, "like we were cops."
One guy told Maddox he didn’t want to see the anglers’ homeowners’ premiums rise.
"That’s so petty," Maddox says, "that it’s not even funny."
Regardless of the surgeries and the bills, Maddox says he won’t give up on seeing out of his left eye again.
His doctors remain "evasive" over whether Maddox has any hope of succeeding.
While the lead may have taken his sight, it hasn’t crushed his hope.
"The doctors haven’t given me any good news, but they haven’t given me any bad news — and I still have my eye," he says.