Pee-wee strike in Airlie leaves tourist blind in one eye
WALKING down the main street of Airlie Beach, 74-year-old Kelvin Stokes and his wife Juliet thought they had stumbled on a little corner of paradise.
Little did they know that within seconds, a life-changing event would leave Mr Stokes blind in one eye, with a severe injury affecting the most powerful pain generator in the human body.
Mr and Mrs Stokes were on holiday from Sorrento in Victoria and had driven from Rockhampton to Airlie Beach on July 23.
The couple had only been in town for 30 minutes and were oblivious to the rogue pee-wee, aka magpie-lark, that had been terrorising pedestrians on Airlie main street some weeks prior.
Mr Stokes had just removed his sunglasses when the bird swooped from the left-hand side, directly hitting his left eye.
Mrs Stokes had been putting rubbish in a bin when she turned and found her husband with both hands over his face.
"I asked him what was wrong and this man standing beside him said 'this bird has just flown straight into his eye'," she said.
"He was in shock and I guess a bit traumatised. It didn't seem real."
At 7pm that night, Mr Stokes was "in dire straits", trembling with excruciating pain and was taken to Proserpine Hospital Emergency Department.
The cornea is the source of the most concentrated pain in the human body due to the amount of nerve or sensory fibres located there, meaning any injury results in agony.
After waiting two hours for treatment, medical staff attempted to alleviate the pain using Endone tablets, an eye anaesthetic and eventually a morphine injection, but there was little effect.
Mr Stokes had a mere 15 minutes of relief before the pain returned in full force and, having exhausted all pain relief options, Mrs Stokes said the hospital staff admitted they didn't know what else to do.
"My husband is an extremely stoic man, but his whole body was shaking with pain," Mrs Stokes said. "His eye looked like grey cotton wool and his whole face was swollen. I've never seen anyone in that much pain and I never want to again either.
"I'm not complaining about the hospital. I have to say they were totally ill-equipped to deal with the sort of trauma that we presented, but they certainly did their best."
Proserpine Hospital senior medical officer Ken McCallum confirmed that eight people have been treated locally for bird attack injuries, with the majority being corneal abrasions that took place in July.
"The equipment we have at Proserpine Hospital enables us to diagnose eye injuries and in most cases we can treat the injury here," Mr McCallum said.
"Patients with complex eye injuries are transferred to a larger hospital for specialist care which cannot be provided at Proserpine Hospital.
"Eye injuries can be very serious so our medical officers will consult with an ophthalmologist if there is any doubt over the best course of treatment."
At 4am, Mr and Mrs Stokes returned to their accommodation in Airlie Beach without any improvement. Mr Stokes was transported back to Proserpine Hospital by ambulance the following day where an optometrist referred him to Vision Eye Institute in Mackay for immediate attention.
Mr Stokes received surgical treatment for corneal erosion and inflammation, excess fluid stemming from the erosion, and a rupture along the site of laser eye surgery performed 25 years earlier.
Following three days of treatment in Mackay, Mr Stokes was referred to Cairns Base Hospital where he remained for eight days receiving antibiotics and steroids to his eye every hour, 24 hours a day for five days.
Mr and Mrs Stokes returned to Sorrento on August 13, but the end is far from sight.
A Melbourne eye specialist advised Mr Stokes that he would need to see him on a weekly basis with the injury taking up to 18 months to heal.
The amount of scar tissue means Mr Stokes may never regain sight in his left eye and is facing a possible corneal transplant in the future.
It's a nightmare that Mrs Stokes said would affect them forever.
"I feel that there have been so many people that have been injured. I don't know if it's one bird or a number of birds, but something needs to be done," she said.
"If it was a child or a baby, there would be hell to pay wouldn't there? Someone needs to let people know that it's really dangerous."
The Whitsunday Regional Council said they had installed a sign on the tree notorious for pee-wee swoopings along the Airlie Beach foreshore.
Although it's usually uncommon for pee-wee birds to cause a problem, they are prone to attacks during mating season between August and December.
As a native bird, the pee-wee is protected under the Queensland Conservation Act which means the nest cannot be relocated while there are eggs in it.
On July 13, council installed signs around Large Gum Tree and Breeze Bar and five more were placed throughout Airlie Esplanade on August 13.
Mr McCallum said anyone with an eye injury inflicted by a pee-wee should have a medical assessment as soon as possible.