Day 38: Bringing Canada Into the US: The Eyes Have It
When I crossed the border from Canada to the United States, the friendly but by-the-book Customs and Border Protection agent asked among her many questions, “Are you bringing anything back from Canada?” No, I said. I lied. But I didn’t know it at the time.
Two days ago, as I was writing my blog after a day on the Ice Fields Parkway and and a downhill sprint to Radium Hot Springs, something was irritating my right eye. I rubbed it. No relief. I stretched the eyelid to release what I though might be a stray eyelash. No relief. I rinsed the eye several times. No relief. The something was still there. After several more rinsings, I went to bed, assuming whatever was there would work itself out or maybe the eye fairy would pluck it out and leave me a quarter. The next morning the eye was still irritated, but not painful, and I assumed the object had worked itself out, so we fired up the Harleys for the day’s ride that would return us to our natal country at the Piegan Border Crossing.
Along the way that day, I rubbed the eye from time to time because I felt a minor irritation, but nothing serious. We rode across the windy plains of Alberta and the eye watered some, but, again I thought, nothing serious. And then we crossed the border and I dishonestly but innocently declared I was bringing nothing in from Canada.
Last night, at our Great Falls hotel, the offending eye bothered me a little more, but it was still just an irritant I couldn’t seem to resolve. A little more rubbing. A little more watering. Surely it would be gone in the morning.
Nope. Still there this morning and more irritating than before. Nothing to do though, but get on the road to Billings because we needed to get to Beartooth Harley-Davidson for some routine maintenance on Mark’s bike and we needed to be there by noon. But as we rode east and then south toward Billings, the pain increased to the point where I had to stop on the roadside to rinse the eye using my water bottle. I even put in some Visine from my first-aid kit hoping that might help. Back on the road. But only for 20 miles. Then I had to stop again to rinse again. By now the problem had worsened substantially. I was having trouble seeing out of the right eye because of swelling and tearing and keeping it open was becoming increasingly difficult. Finally, I let Mark lead the rest of the way to Billings because I was having trouble focusing (literally and figuratively) on the road. I would try to follow his tail light. For the final 50 miles to Billings, I held my right eye shut with one hand and steered with the other. I knew I was going to have to find a medical solution to my agonizing vision problem.
At the Harley dealership, while I tried with little success to focus my blurred vision on my cell phone and its Google search, Mark mentioned my situation to the service writer who was setting up an oil change. He recommended Beartooth Vision Center not far away because he had seen them for an eye injury and was pleased with the outcome and the quality of care. He even printed out a page for me from their website with the address and phone number.
I called the office, described my worsening symptoms and growing level of discomfort; they said they could work me in as an appointment at 3:15. I’ll take it, I said.
Mark’s service was finished by 1:30, and with no place else to go I rode with one eye on the road to Beartooth Vision Center. When I walked in, Dr. Mikel Mettler, recognizing I needed relief ASAP, said she had 20 minutes before her next patient and would see me right then.
The required new-patient paperwork was quickly completed and I was seated in her exam chair in about five minutes. She gave me a quick but thorough general eye exam before turning back my reddened eyelid to reveal the boulder I had inadvertently smuggled in from Canada and about which I lied to the unsuspecting border agent. The sharp-edged rock had firmly attached itself to my eyelid and, abetted by my constant rubbing and blinking, had scratched the cornea and left me with what Dr. Mettler professionally described as a corneal abrasion. With gentle hands and a soft Q-tip she removed the offending foreign (i.e. Canadian) object and my ophthalmic torment quickly dissipated. She added a few drops of antibiotic, wrote a prescription for more of the same, and explained that the healing process would take several months. Dr. Mikel Mettler earns my vote for hero of the day and a nomination for an Optometric Nobel Prize.
I have to go back to Beartooth Vision Center in the morning for a final check-up before hitting the road to Laramie, but that will give me a chance to thank her again for her role in letting the Alaska Redux adventure play out to its expected conclusion in Maggie Valley in five more days.