Treble Hook in the Eye

A treble hook catches an eyelid in the backcountry.

Controlled Fishing Chaos

Thankfully, we only got a few miles up the Middle Fork Trail, before we stopped and set-up our first night’s camp. As it turned out, the whole treble hook situation would’ve been way more complicated had we gone further that first day.

I climbed out of my tent once the first rays of the morning sun began to shine through the fly and it felt like it was actually warmer outside than in. I was alone in the campsite for the moment and carried the stove; a ditty bag with cone, coffee and filter; my water bottle and a pot over to a nice-looking rock next to a pine, to sit and make my morning brew. I savored the early morning ritual and had come to realize how important of a role it played in the way I dealt with the chaos that typically came with leading groups of teenagers on adventures out in the wilds.

Just as I got the stove cranking and the pot stabilized, two of the group walked up from where they’d been early morning fishing. One of the two, who happened to be my nephew, Ryan, had a treble hook dangling from his eyelid. The other, his friend Glenn, was carrying his own rod, very obviously void of the Mepps spinner, which now hung down from Ryan’s eye.

“Ryan’s got a lure caught in his eye”, Glenn said in something of an understatement.

The “victim” was saying nothing. He appeared calm and collected, which especially considering the circumstance, had me more than just a bit concerned.

“Is it in your eye”, was the first thing out of my mouth.

“No, I don’t feel it in there”, was his response.

“Don’t mess with it”, I said. First things first, I reasoned.

I mentally worked through the various tools I had on hand in my first aid and repair kits, and immediately thought of the multi-tool pliers I always carried. I looked closely at the hook/eyelid and could see where one of the three barbed fish hooks was stuck into the eyelid skin and kept thinking about the bad things that would undoubtedly happen if it went on through and scratched or otherwise messed with his actual eyeball. He’d said it wasn’t all the way through and I had to believe him, but wondered if it was right on the verge of poking through and speculated that perhaps any sort of jostling around could lead to all sorts of long term issues. Maybe he shouldn’t blink, walk, swallow or even talk, I reasoned.

I’d been around embedded fish hooks in feet, legs and hands and knew from past experience that field extraction, in the best of cases, is iffy. But, I had to try something. I carefully surveyed the situation, took out the pliers, braced his head with my free hand, asked him not to move and positioned the cutting part of the tool in a position to theoretically cut the hook. I realize now, that had I done that, the barbed part would’ve still been in the eyelid, so I’m not really sure what I would’ve gained. What I didn’t want to do is make a bad situation even worse, so, at least up to that point, did nothing.

And so, I was still left with the quandary of what to do. Just as I was in the process of trying to develop a new plan, the water in the pot came to a full boil and I took a moment, while pondering it all, to pour myself a cup of dark roast. It wasn’t the peaceful ease into the day which I’d anticipated, but the process allowed me more time to think the situation through and as something of a bonus, the resulting caffeine incubated a new idea.

We were only a couple of miles from the trailhead and ultimately the place where our van was parked. My idea was to simply walk back there, get the van and drive into the local hospital and let them deal with it- in a proper, medical sort of way. Regardless of the cost in terms of time and trouble, it was simply the best thing to do, I decided.  Ryan could still see out of the hooked eye and I’d recently learned in a first aid class about covering the good eye, so as to diminish the reciprocal blinking response. And so, I decided to bandage up his good eye, stabilize the hooked eye with lure, walk him back to the van and then head to town. As it worked out, he was still partially able to see after all of the taping and bandaging was done and so, with assistance, he was able to move forward, and that’s what we did.

I had no idea about how the hospital would handle the whole thing or what would happen when we arrived. I was prepared to sit there with him for days, mobilize our camp office and call my brother (related to that situation- I did a lot of speculating about where he would actually fly into along with his various other travel details). And then there was the rest of our trail group, still back out on the Middle Fork and expecting to head deeper into the backcountry. A day of fishing under the watchful eyes (so to speak) of the other staff was one thing, but I knew that the next day would be different and that eventually they’d mostly all be ready to move. And what if the hook came out and messed with his eyeball. What about blindness, what if he tripped while we were walking, what about the 3 guys from one of the little states that just wanted to go to Deep Creek Lake and didn’t really even know Ryan?

With a plan, plenty of questions and few answers, we began to walk back. At least, I concluded, we could deal with a few of the obvious and more pressing issues and to that end got Glenn to join us. He would provide moral support and actual physical assistance as needed. By 9 am we were on our way. It’d taken us about 2 hours to get there the afternoon before and figured it’d take us about 3 to get back. With Glenn clearing the way ahead of us, by just before noon we arrived back at the trailhead, with Glenn helping Ryan into his seat while I got the driving part situated.

The drive back to town took only about 20 minutes and so by 12:30, we were shuffling into the emergency room. Once inside, I was expecting to witness all kinds of excitement with nurses and doctors seeing our situation and springing into action with lights going off, the PA system blaring and techs wheeling gurneys in our direction. But, none of that happened.

A nurse did immediately engage us, examining Ryan and hearing about the situation. She sat my nephew down in a wheelchair and presented us to the admitting person, who wrote down some details and made a copy of his health form. With all of the paperwork details apparently taken care of, the clerk asked us to wait in the waiting area and told us that we’d soon be attended to. After only a few minutes, the door opened and a nurse came out and verified Ryan’s name while walking over and pushing he and his wheelchair through back through the same door and into a treatment room. I followed, but Glenn stayed out in the waiting room. The nurse helped Ryan up onto the examination table, told me I could have a seat in one of the extra chairs and left the room while saying the doctor would be “right in”.

A physician did soon walk in and after a few lighthearted comments, sat down on a rolling stool and wheeled up next to Ryan to take a closer look. He raised the eyelid in question, studied the stability and position of the lure and used a penlight to look at the innards of the situation. He asked us what happened and was obviously listening to our answer as he rolled over to a counter, prepared a syringe with a deadener and opened a drawer, pulling out a small tool of some sort. He rolled back over to Ryan, reached up to the eye, somehow injected the eyelid without Ryan going berserk and talked about the big fish he’d caught the week before up on the Middle Fork, at least partly in order to give the medicine time to work. After a couple of minutes and confirming with Ryan that it was indeed numb, he made a small incision on the eyelid where the hook had gone in and in some sort of interconnected motion pulled the whole thing out from the front.

In an instant it was out and he was throwing it into a bin marked “sharps”.

“Looks good. Blink. Can you feel anything strange?”, he had commands and questions, but there were certain answers to his particular questions that he wanted to hear, before moving forward.

Once he was satisfied with his work, he gave us infection instructions and as he walking out simply said, “sunglasses, wear sunglasses and that won’t happen again. Good luck out there. There’re some good fish on the Upper Middle Fork, I’ve heard”. And then, he was gone.

That was easy, but what next, I wondered? After a few minutes, a nurse walked in, handed me a paper of care instructions and said, “the doctor said to call if there are issues”.

And I said, “So we can just leave”?

“Sure”, she said. “You’re free to go”.

Both Ryan and I had thought the hospital part would be a good bit more complicated, but I looked at him and while he had a small bandage on his eyelid, he was moving and acting as normal as ever and so it was obvious that there was nothing more to do there and so we just got up and walked out. Glenn joined us a we went through the waiting room and was full of questions. He got his answers and finally became content with the outcome, even though it was almost too simple. Enough said. All was good. We were done and it was simply time to head back.

The three of us walked back to the van, got in and began driving—each feeling as if we’d forgotten something or weren’t doing what we were supposed to. In many ways, it really had almost been too easy.

Since we’d missed lunch and as a treat of some sort, we decided to stop at a local fast food establishment to celebrate and that’s when the chaos started again. Ice cream, cheeseburgers, three or so miles of trail walking, pop tarts, lost shoes, wet socks, biting flies, tent hackers, stomach aches……..and the list expanded all the while.

When we got back to the campsite, the rest of the group was there after having had a good day of fishing, exploring and rock climbing, but all verbally ready to move on the next day. And I smiled to myself, thankful to be back to a thing I came to know as chaos with an answer.

Backcountry Fishing

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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