Vegas as a Blindman, or Visine ≠ Saline January 31, 2012
I've been asked by a few people about the time that I was blind in Vegas. So, here's the story:
In 1999, I was working for Motive Communications. They sent me to CES in Vegas to make contacts and report back on the state of software for set-top-boxes, one of our target platforms. After a full day of stomping the convention floor, I played a bit of blackjack, and then headed back to my room so I could be coherent for the next day's meetings.
I discovered that I had forgotten the saline solution to store my contacts, as well as my glasses, so I headed back down to the hotel gift shop to buy some. They didn't have saline, but they did have Visine. Seemed like a reasonable substitute to me. I bought some, filled my contact lens case with Visine, and went to sleep.
The next morning, I was running a bit late for my first meeting. I dressed in a hurry and popped in my contact lenses. I got the second one in before the searing pain started in the first eye. The second eye started burning as I scrambled to get the first one out. I considered my options: I could go through the day without glasses or contacts and still be able to read and take notes, but losing my distance vision would be a bad thing at a conference -- slides would be completely unreadable. Instead, I rinsed the contacts as best I could under the tap water and put them back into my eyes. The pain continued for awhile, and then subsided to a mild burning sensation. But at least I could see.
I tromped off to the convention floor. People at the conference gave me good-natured jabs about my bloodshot eyes, assuming I had been out all night long (as many of them had). As the day wore on, the burning in my eyes gave way to a dull ache. The comments turned from, "Too much fun last night?" to "Wow, you must have really partied last night," to "Dude, what the fuck happened to your eyes?" Lights became increasingly unbearable, and I started staring at the floor. The dull ache turned into a throbbing pain. Finally, I went into a casino bathroom and looked in the mirror. Both of my eyes were a bright blood-red. I took out my contacts and threw them away, but the pain persisted. I found a bottle of saline solution at another gift shop and tried squirting it into my eyes to wash them out, but it didn't help. My eyes became so senstitive to light that it hurt to even open them. They were too teary to see anyway, and without my contacts, I was pretty much blind. I could squint through tears to see my feet on the floor and make sure I wasn't bumping into anybody, but that was it.
I bought the darkest pair of sunglasses I could find, and then called Megan (my wife). She called an opthamologist friend. Their conversation went something like this:
"My husband is in Las Vegas. Last night, he didn't have saline to store his contacts, so he used Visine."
"He's had them in for most of the day."
"He finally took them out and has been trying to rinse his eyes out, but they still hurt."
It turns out that the morning's initial searing pain was a chemical burn caused by holding the Visine against the surface of my eye. The chemical burn was burning away the outer layer of my conjunctiva, which (among other things) protects the eye from infection. Other than the pain and sensitivity, my eyes were now highly prone to infection. Wandering around casinos and sticking my fingers and Vegas tap water in my eyes was not, apparently, high on my opthamologist's list of recommended activities.
I bought the darkest pair of sunglasses I could find in the casino gift shop, and Megan helped me book an earlier flight. For the rest of the day, I was pretty much blind -- I could squint through tears long enough to plan out about 10 steps without bumping into anyone or anything, but I had no distance vision and no ability to read anything. I managed to wander around long enough to find my baggage and a taxi to the airport. Kind strangers read the airport monitors for me and led me to my gate. Megan met me at the airport with antibiotic ointment for my eyes.
Luckily, I managed to avoid any permanent damage. As a matter of fact, other than having to continue use of the ointment for a bit longer, my eyes and vision felt completely normal just two days later.
Don't soak your contacts in Visine. Bonehead.