The Angry Awn

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I glanced up the hill 100 yards, where Derek was moving through some high grass. There was a chill in the early morning of October air. This was the first weekend that I was free to hunt. We were carefully covering my favorite clearcut on the backside of Buck Mountain.

As I watched, Derek suddenly grabbed his face and buckled to the ground. It took me a couple of minutes to climb the hill to where he was on his knees, with his hand over his eye.

“What’s wrong,” I asked as I approached through the chest-high dry grass.

“Aw, I have something in my eye,” Derek said.

I pulled his hand away to look at his eye. It was tearing heavily and was mostly closed from the pain, and the pupil was pinpoint. The culprit was already on his cheek. A grass awn laid on his cheek an inch below his left eye.

“You had a grass seed in your eye,” I said as wiped the seed off his cheek. 

“It really hurts,” Derek said.

I was starting to wonder if I was going have to pack him out of here. That would be no easy task. There was a steep hill up to the road. 

“I have a first aid kit in the truck, and it has some eye ointment and an eye patch in it,” I said. “Do you want me to go get it, or do you want to try to walk out of here?”

Derek was quiet for a moment. “I think I can walk out of here with a little help,” He finally said.

I slung both rifles over my shoulder and helped Derek to his feet. 

“Keep that eye closed, and it will feel better,” I said.

We were some distance from the truck, but Derek did fine once we were moving. We got through the high grass and cut across the clear cut to the cat road that went up the hill. I had to provide some support on his arm as we climbed the hill to the truck.

I got Derek into the truck and then opened the first aid pack. I carried more of a first aid pack than what you would find on the drug store shelf. I was prepared for lacerations, fractures, and penetrating wounds. But I was a little limited on eye injuries.

I did have a small tube of eye ointment. It was a triple antibiotic ointment, but I figured it should be okay for this situation. After I squeezed it into his eye, the pain was alleviated somewhat.

It was a long drive back to town, not in miles but in time. The logging roads were not highways, and speed was not an option.

We were lucky that Saturday morning when the local Optometrist was still in his office, and he accommodated us with an emergency exam.

“There are a couple of tiny little scratches on his cornea,” the doctor said. “It should feel fine if we keep it lubricated with some ointment for a day or two.”

It was just a few days later when Mike came through the door with Bob. Bob was wagging his tail stub. He always seemed happy in the clinic. Bob was a Springer Spaniel who lived for the fall bird hunting.

“Good morning, Doc,” Mike said. “Bob has a sore eye. I would like you to look at this morning if you have time.”

I glanced at Bob, and his right eye was half-closed, and the side of his face was wet with tears. Other than the eye, he looked like nothing was wrong.

“This eye started bothering him a few days ago,” Mike said. “We hunted on Saturday, and everything seemed fine. On Sunday morning, I noticed he was squinting his eye a little.”

“Let’s get him up on the exam table where I can get a look at it,” I said.

Mike was a big, muscular young guy who cut trees for a living and spent most of his spare time hunting or fishing. Bob was his constant companion when he was hunting or fishing.

Mike lifted Bob onto the table for me, and I placed a couple of drops of topical anesthetic into his right eye. I thought that maybe I should put some of this in the first aid kit after Derek’s near incapacitation.

“We will give that a couple of minutes to soak in, and then I will be able to look at this eye a little better,” I said. “Where were you guys hunting?”

“We were up Canyon Creek,” Mike said. “There is a lot of quail up there. I miss a lot them, but Bob has a grand time. He is not much of a pointer, but he flushes the hell of them. Keeps me in shape just trying to keep up with him.”

I spread the eyelids wide on Bob’s eye. I could see there was an extensive ulcer on the surface of the cornea. I ran a blunt forceps under the upper and lower eyelids to make sure there was no foreign body. Then I grasped the third eyelid with the forceps and lifted it away from the corner of Bob’s eye. There it was, a large grass seed awn stuck under the third eyelid. I grabbed it with the forceps and pulled it out. 

“This is the problem,” I said as I held the seed up to show Mike. “Now, I need to put a little dye into this eye so we can see how much of the cornea is damaged.”

A drop of dye and a blue light from the ophthalmoscope and over half of the cornea’s surface glowed green.

“Look at how much the cornea is ulcerated,” I said.

“What do we need to do now?” Mike asked.

“I need to hang onto Bob for a couple of hours,” I said. “We need to suture his third eyelid up over his eye to serve as a patch. We will send him home on some medication, and things should heal just fine. We will take the sutures out in a week and expect the eye to be healed.”

Suturing the third eyelid was an easy procedure. With Bob under brief anesthesia, I placed a couple of mattress sutures through the upper eyelid. I used a small piece of rubber-band to serve as a stint so the sutures would not cut into the eyelid.

When Mike came to pick him up, Bob bounced out of the kennel like a new dog.

“He looks like he is feeling a little better,” Mike said.

“I will tell you a little story,” I said. “Last Saturday, I was hunting with my son up on Buck Mountain. My son got a grass seed in his eye. By the time a got over to him, the seed was already on his cheek. Now I’m telling you, he was so painful, I thought I would have to carry him out. When we got to the doctor, he had a couple of tiny scratches on his cornea. Bob comes in here wagging his tail, and over half of his cornea is ulcerated, and the grass seed is still there.”

“What does that say about how tough this dog is?” Mike said.

“Most dogs are pretty tough, and maybe people are just pansies,” I said. “Eye pain might be more intense in people because eyesight is more important to us. I don’t know, but there is definitely a big difference.” 

Photo by Scott Spedding from Pexels

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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