A recent medical study and other documented incidents that the T&RA has enough evidence to strongly recommend eye wear, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon, Joel Humphrey, states that 10% of Real Tennis injuries involve the face.
A recent serious injury at the Hyde involved David Pengelly, who has kindly provided his permission for the T&RA to circulate the circumstances of the incident.
Initial report 26th December
I would like to give you a full account of the circumstances which led to a major eye injury I obtained last week. It is my intention to give a detailed account to demonstrate the severity of the injury and the risk of not wearing eye protection during Real Tennis.
On Wednesday 19th December I was playing in the night pennant having been asked to fill in for an absent player. At around 9.30pm during the doubles match, I received a Tennis ball in my left eye. The ball was struck as hard as a man can hit a ball. It was intentionally hit that hard, but unintentionally directed at me. It came towards me at head height and I attempted to block it. The ball nicked the edge of the racket and went straight onto my eyeball. I collapsed at the impact and instantaneously lost sight in my left eye.
My initial diagnosis at hospital was haemorrhaging in the eye, with a blood clot in the anterior chamber. There was muscle damage to the pupil, resulting in potential long-term pupil dilation. The incident caused lens scratching and displacement, the latter of which can be surgically corrected. Pain during the first 48 hours was at an intensity which prevented me from sleeping. Recently, I am sleeping for around two thirds of the day as my body recovers from the trauma and concussion. High pressure in the eye has meant daily visits to the ophthalmologist in Dorchester hospital to monitor eye pressure and adjust prescribed medication.
A week later and I still have no vision in my eye. Losing sight in an eye impacts all aspects of life. Though I hope and expect to recover my sight, the medical experts give no assurance at this stage. They still can't see into the eye due to the internal bleed.
I do not seek pity or retribution, what I want is for the club to raise the profile for members to wear eye protection. I am asking that eye protection is expected, rather than exceptional, as it is currently. I calculated my probability of losing sight in an eye while playing a tennis match and it is 1:130. Who would run the risk of not wearing eye protection with that probability? This is a game that members love playing, and they should be made fully aware of the risks and encouraged to play in a safer manner.
I am happy to assist with any creation of new guidelines and codes of conduct and join Ros in her campaign for wearing eye protection during play. I appreciate you listening to a somewhat personal account, but I am intentionally stating it this way to ensure the committee realise the gravity of such incidents and take action.
Update 7th February
I have provided an update on my situation, which supplements the position I gave over Xmas when the full extent of the injury was not known.
During the 7 weeks since the accident (19th Dec) I have been in and out of hospital 22 times, undergone 2 operations, with at least another one come. The incident turned out to be more complicated than first though. The vitreous gel at the back of the eye prolapsed into the anterior chamber, which had to be removed. Subsequently, to reduce the high intraocular pressure (which can cause secondary glaucoma) as a result of damage to the drainage angle, a shunt has been fitted to facilitate drainage from the anterior chamber (the shunt is a 9mm hollow filament to literally act like a drainage pipe). Additionally, the retina at the back of the eye has been damaged as a consequence of the impact of the ball. This has caused a depression on the retina resulting in a persistent black-grey splodge in the central vision of my eye. The vitreoretinal consultant has told me not to expect this to recover. Currently I have blurred peripheral vision, which has gradually improved over time as the blood clears.
Tomorrow I visit a neurologist to assess the continued in-head pain, though the intensity has subsided over the past 10 days. And on Tuesday I am back to Moorfields Eye Hospital for removal of the stitches from the eye following the fitting of the shunt. A subsequent operation required, probably not for 4 to 6 months to allow sufficient time for the eye to settle following the injury, will be to have a new lens inserted, with a ring to retain its position (as my existing lens has ligament breakage for half its circumference).
I have been making and taking calls more recently, am now catching up on emails, and yesterday drove myself for the first time, making it to my office at Wincanton. Being Self-employed and having to go private to obtain timely treatment (unfortunately the NHS let me down), being off work for so long has caused us problems; having also impacted on my wife who has had to spend a lot of her time over the first 4 to 5 weeks ferrying me about etc. It could be disastrous for a player who has no financial security.
So you can see why I believe it should be essential for all players to wear eye protection. Carrying out risk assessments could mitigate risk (assessing the risk to the player due to their own ability and style, but also by assessing their opponents style). I do believe players with greater ability are less risky: making less errors but also using intelligent skills in the placement of the ball rather than just whacking it!
In 2016 the T&RA conducted an audit of available eye protective equipment for both Real Tennis and Rackets. This is included at the link.