An eye for an eye – sports injuries and brawls

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Eye chart image courtesy of Community Eye Health, CC https://flic.kr/p/cenNDu

The news photo of rugby league player Dylan Walker’s fractured eye socket made me feel anxious, like I get when I have an eye infection or it’s time for the annual glaucoma test. If I cover my left eye with my hand, I can navigate my way around the house, but that’s about it. No reading, watching TV or movies; definitely no writing, although I know vision-impaired people who have found ways around reading and writing.

What the auld aunties called a ‘gleyed ee’ or lazy eye was diagnosed in the late 1940s. I don’t remember wearing an eye patch when I was two, but I’ve seen the photos. It didn’t work. I say this only as an explanation if you passed me in the street and I did not say hello, it is possible you passed by on my right side.

Yes, so a serious injury to my left eye would probably see me lining up for the blind pension, although as I understand it, the aged pension replaces the (non-means tested) blind pension when the recipient reaches retirement age. An essay for another day, perhaps.

Last week the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Flinders University produced a report on eye injuries in Australia. The report shows 51,778 people were hospitalised due to eye injuries in the five-year period, 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2015. Two thirds of these were males. Falls (35%) and assaults (23%) were the most common causes of eye injuries. The most common type of eye injury was an open wound of the eyelid and periocular area (27%).

However, the report also showed that 86,602 people presented to an emergency department with an eye injury in the two-year period, 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2015. Only 1% of these cases (866) were admitted to hospital.

Sports-related eye injuries were seemingly uncommon by comparison, with just 3,291 males and 595 females reporting that the injury was sustained while participating in a sporting activity. However, information on what activity resulted in the injury was not reported for 69% of cases, so this is likely to be an under-estimation.

Of the known causes, more than one-third (37%) of males were participating in a form of football when they sustained an eye injury. Trail or general horseback riding (12%) was the most common sport-related activity resulting in eye injury reported by females. Over half (55%) of the sports-related cases resulted in an orbital bone fracture.

Such was the case during the Melbourne Storm-Manly rugby league game when a melee turned into a serious scrap between Manly’s Dylan Walker and the Storm’s Curtis Scott, with Scott throwing several punches, one of which broke Walker’s eye socket. Scott was sent off – red-carded as they say in soccer. Walker was given 10 minutes in the sin bin (for throwing a punch) and then had to be assessed for a head injury. Manly player Apisai Koroisau was also sent off for 10 minutes for running in and throwing a punch at Scott.

The National Rugby League (NRL) has been cracking down on such behaviour – Scott was the first person to be sent off for punching since 2015. All rugby league players know if they throw a punch they will at least be sent to the sin bin; angry flare-ups in recent years have tended to be of the push and shove variety.

But whether you follow rugby league or not, it was a bad look, for the sport and for all sports. Imagine the conversations over breakfast.

“Right, that’s it,” says Mum, whose son Billy (8) has been pestering her to play footie. “If you want to play sport you have two choices – soccer or table tennis. Those league blokes are thugs.”

Discussing the Manly/Storm fracas on the Sunday Footie Show, former Jillaroo Allana Ferguson commented: “If they did that in King’s Cross on Saturday at midnight and someone was injured they’d be off to jail.”

She makes a valid point.

A study last year by Dr Alan Pierce from La Trobe University found that repeated concussions in rugby league players have a long-term effect. He compared 25 former league players in their 50s with a control group of a similar age. The men carried out cognitive tests to measure memory and attention spans and dexterity tests to assess motor skills.

“What I’ve found is that the responses of retired rugby league players were significantly different to the healthy controls with no history of head injury,” Dr Pierce told the ABC.

The NRL took steps in 2015 to introduce mandatory head injury assessments (HIA), where players who have suffered a head knock have to leave the field for 15 minutes and be assessed by a doctor. If found to be concussed, they are not allowed to return to the field that match. An NRL injury surveillance report by Dr Donna O’Connor found that head injury assessments increased from 210 in 2015 to 276 in 2016, largely due to strengthened concussion guidelines. Sixty-six per cent of these cases were cleared to continue playing in 2016, compared to 54% in 2015.

If you have seen the excellent Will Smith movie Concussion (about brain injuries in American football), you may well ask why it took the NRL so long to act.

Cheek and eye socket fractures are common injuries in rugby league. They come about through (accidental) contact in tackles, as big bodies collide. Sometimes it happens through ‘friendly fire’ collisions with teammates.

Such was the case with Broncos forward Josh McGuire, whose injury in 2011 required surgery and he is now effectively blind in one eye.

Sports Medicine Australia says the incidence of sports-related eye injuries is low, but severity is usually quite high, as injuries to the eye can result in permanent eye damage and loss of eyesight.

“Research has shown that 30% of sports-related eye injuries in children have the potential for permanent loss of eyesight.

“A blow to the eye from sporting equipment, fingers or balls can lead to injuries ranging from lid haemorrhages or lacerations, corneal abrasions, retinal detachments and hyphaema (bleeding inside the eye) to permanent loss.”

Rugby league is rated a ‘moderate’ risk sport (in relation to sustaining eye injuries) compared to high-risk categories including baseball/softball, basketball, cricket and racquet sports. Any sport that involves small projectiles moving at speed is considered high-risk.

Our family GP once told me most serious eye injuries he had encountered were caused by squash balls and champagne corks.

If you lose an eye, the alternatives are an ocular prosthesis (a glass eye) or an eye patch, the latter having a bad press courtesy of movie bad guys. Think John Wayne’s bullying Rooster Cockburn in True Grit, Adolfo Celi’s menacing Emilio Largo in Thunderball, or John Goodman’s itinerant bible salesman Big Dan Teague (O Brother Where Art Thou).

If it came down to it, I’d opt for a good quality prosthesis, although the price (from $2,500), makes a $10 eye patch look like a bargain.

I’d make it a different colour just because I love that line in the Paul Kelly song about falling for a girl with different coloured eyes.

In the meantime, I will keep wearing Australian Standard safety glasses when I mow the lawns or use the brush cutter. You should too.

 

Whipping up a dust storm in D

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Dust storm obscures Sydney Opera House, September 2009. Image by Janet Kavanagh, NSW Maritime, CC

While innocently vacuuming never-ending dust this week, I accidently sucked up the D harmonica which was lying on the coffee table. Said harmonica emitted a plaintive sound, closely resembling the wheezy noise of a piper warming up (think, You’re the Voice, Eric Burden’s Sky Pilot and that AC/DC song about it being a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll).

Alarmed (these little blues harps cost $45 a piece), I managed to grab one end before it disappeared into the dusty bowels of the 10-year-old Wertheim. After a short struggle and a discordant approximation of the intro to Blowin’ in the Wind, I freed the harmonica and continued on my merry way.

Most household tasks have fallen my way since She Who is Ambidextrous (SWIA) broke a bone in her wrist, although to be serious, using the vacuum cleaner has always been one of my chores. This machine has seen better days, but it still does the job. The broken hose is securely held together with gaffer tape and a pair of chopsticks. A while ago I priced a replacement hose at a vacuum cleaner shop (I could have bought a budget-level machine for the same money). The enterprising young lad managed to side-track me to a really up-market vacuum cleaner which, I discovered after a 20-minute spiel, cost $1,799.

“I could buy a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla for that sort of money,” I said, “Nice try, kid.

I went out of the shop happily humming ‘I love my Toyota Corolla, aha hah,’* having spent no money at all. Instead I went to one of those big red and green barns and bought a roll of gaffer tape.

Maybe 36 years ago (or more), I succumbed to a sales pitch when a colleague sent his uncle around to sell me a vacuum cleaner. I had been telling this colleague how the old machine was seriously incapable of sucking up not only dust but hair and dander from a Golden Retriever.

So Uncle Harry called around, to demonstrate the superior dust sucking power of a top of the line Electrolux, in the days when top quality appliances were manufactured here and sold door-to-door with a five or even 10-year warranty.

I bought the Electrolux on time payment, because that was the only way to finance such an extravagant purchase in those impecunious times.

I’ve earned a few million (sic. Ed.) dollars since then and that old machine refuses to die. It’s now the ‘downstairs’ vacuum cleaner, although I’ve been known to use it upstairs when (as is a common problem), temporarily unable to source the right-size dust bags.

“That old thing still does the job,” said She Who Told Me in Week 3, “I Don’t Vacuum”. (My Dr. said I shouldn’t vacuum- bad for the back. Ed.)

A while back, when the tiler had finished laying tiles in our downstairs rooms I (without thinking), took the Electrolux out and started sucking up tile dust. It was the smell that alerted me – smoke pouring out the top of the machine. The bag was chockers. I let the Electrolux cool down, put in a new bag and what do you know, it continued on untrammelled, a glass half full version of the Millennial expression, “This sucks”.

I’m completely sure no manufacturer today could produce a vacuum cleaner (or any appliance), that would last 36 years and more.

This line of thinking led me to research robotic vacuum cleaners, which can be bought for as little as $129 or as much as a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla. Choice magazine generally gave all models the thumbs down when marking them on the capacity to extract dust from carpet.

The intelligent vacuum cleaner does a pretty good job on hard floors, although why you’d prefer a round model over a square one (to get into those nasty little corners that harbour ancient dust), is a mystery.

The perplexing thing is this: where does dust come from and why does it settle again after one pass with a vacuum cleaner? As Quentin Crisp said in The Naked Civil Servant: “There is no need to do any housework at all.After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

Dust mites and chronic allergies

I will acknowledge to being a little bit fussy about vacuuming, ever since the allergist did the pin prick tests to show I was hyper-allergic to dust mites. On first discovering this in the 1990s, we hired a heavy duty industrial vacuum cleaner and paid an agile friend to clean the crawl space in the attic of our 60-year-old house. After the fourth big black garbage bag was passed down the ladder to the respirator-wearing assistant, our friend declared that was one job he was never doing again.

It’s not too hard to find out the answer to the question, where does dust come from? Science Daily surmises, not so surprisingly, that most house dust comes from outside. The scientists developed a computer model that could track distribution of contaminated soil and airborne particulates into residences. They found that over 60% of house dust originates outdoors. The study by the American Chemical Society found that contaminants like lead and arsenic can find their way into homes via airborne dust.

Researchers David Layton and Paloma Beamer found that household dust included dead skin shed by people, fibres from carpets and upholstered furniture and tracked-in soil and airborne particles blown in from outdoors.

The 2009 report mentioned above came out in the same year a 500 km wide dust storm the colour of Donald Trump’s complexion swept across New South Wales and Queensland. The Australian capital, Canberra, experienced the dust storm on September 22 and a day later it reached Sydney and Brisbane. Thousands of tons of dirt and soil lifted in the dust storm were dumped in Sydney Harbour and the Tasman Sea. Ah yes, you remember that.

Random dust storms aside, the real culprit feared by those suffering from asthma and hay fever is the dust mite. Scientists agree that dust mites thrive among the aforementioned dead skin discarded by humans and pets. The dustier your mattress and pillows are, the worse the problem gets. As this fascinating but skin-crawling article says, there could be between 100,000 and one million dead dust mites (and mite dung) lurking in your bed. Ugh!

What you need to do, every time you change the sheets, is to strip the bed, hang the bedding out in the sun then attach the nifty little mattress cleaner that may or may not have come with your vacuum and give the mattress a good flogging, so to speak.

Or you could buy a robot vacuum cleaner and instruct it to spend all afternoon roaming around on the bed:

As Hal said in 2001 A Space Odyssey: “I’m sorry (Bob), I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

*(a reference to Tiffany Eckhardt’s love song to her Toyota Corolla)  

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Falls a risk for over-65s

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Elderly couple out for a stroll – falls and the over-65s photo courtesy pixabay.com

You may know this statistic about falls among older people, but it is shocking all the same to learn that 74% of people who were hospitalised after a fall had broken their hips. Head injuries were the next most serious (22%) with limb fractures further down the list.

About a third of all Australians in the 65+ age group will have a fall each year, but most are not serious. About 10% of people in this cohort who suffer a fall end up with a serious injury.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports states that about 100,000 people aged 65 and over were admitted to hospital after falls in 2012-2013. While that is a few years ago, the statistics are part of a 10-year study done at the time, so are representative. Discuss, as people say when posting something contentious on social media.

The falls could be as relatively minor as the tumble I took down our steep terraced acreage recently, which resulted only in bad language and a few minor scrapes. I few years ago I had a rather more serious fall – a broken rib and a bruised thigh – what rugby league commentators scoffingly dismiss as a ‘cork’. I was carrying two folding chairs in each hand while walking down the stairs. Did I mention it was raining and the soles of my shoes were wet? Duh!

Which brings me to She Who Is Ambidextrous (SWIA), who has taken the lead (2-1) in the Domestic Falls Stakes. Excuse me for making light of a poor but not overly serious situation.

SWIA had what’s known in the medical business as a FOOSH (Fall on Outstretched Hand). She sustained the injury as a result of tripping down some stone steps in the front garden.

As a young friend who rather more seriously injured his arm last year said when hearing this news, “At least it wasn’t a PAFO.”  (let me know if you can’t figure it out..)

Yes, it seems we are now in that age group who are more prone to falls, and, having fallen, are more likely to suffer an injury with a longer and sometimes problematic recovery time. Moreover, the fallout from falls can have psychological ramifications, making people less sure of themselves and reluctant to do ‘normal’ things which might result in falls.

It can happen to anyone, anytime.

The AIHW statistics quoted above include the telling observation that 72% of falls occur in the home or residential aged care facilities.

Stay on your feet – join an exercise class

Several Australian states have started a “Stay on Your Feet” campaign, which makes sense when you consider that in Queensland alone, falls cost the state more than $100 million a year.

Most people aged 60 and older are quite aware of the risk involved in taking a tumble and many attend exercise classes designed to shore up core strength and improve balance. So in many ways SWIA’s fall last week is a bit ironic as she is dutiful about attending exercise classes and daily doing what I never do (a morning stretch routine).

One of my regular readers says the thing he likes about the weekly read is that it so often addresses issues affecting ‘our’ age group (he means the over-60s).

So this is for you, mate. Core strength is the overall fitness and flexibility of the core muscles that help us keep our balance, sit down, stand up, lie down, kneel and squat. If your core strength is suspect (like me, down on one knee to get a dish out of the bottom cupboard), you will be found out using your hand/s for support.

Try these tests (and absolve me of all responsibility if you fall in a heap).

Sit on a hard-backed chair for 10 minutes. Now get up without using your arms for leverage. Do the same thing from a sofa, recliner or armchair.

As Billy Connolly says: “Ye know how auld you are by how long it takes to get out of a beanbag.”

The other trick is to stand on one leg for as long as you are able to hold the position, say 30 seconds (no hand support). Now try the other leg. Notice the difference?

The real test is how successful you are at putting on your underpants while standing.

Some people make provisions as they age by retrofitting their homes in some way, for example putting grab bars in the bathroom and toilet. Some even have ramps built to avoid going up and down steps or stairs. People aged 70 and over who live alone are often encouraged to wear a device which they can use to call for help.

Scientists in Australia, the US, UK and Europe are working to develop devices which can prevent falls by predicting the likelihood of a person having a fall. The University of Missouri is collating data from sensors built in to the walls of homes were aged pensioners live. The university’s researchers found that even small changes can predict if an elderly person is about to suffer a dangerous fall.

The risk quadruples if walking speed slows; for example when walking speed decreases by 5.1cm per second, the person has an 86% chance of toppling within three weeks, compared to just a 20% chance with no change. A drop in stride length of 7.6cm predicted a 51% chance of tripping within three weeks. Scientists elsewhere have developed wearable devices which can measure a person’s gait and ability to perform tasks like sitting down and standing up again. These can also reliably predict the likelihood of a pending fall. Scientists are finding these various devices helpful in predicting falls among people who have an illness which affects gait (Parkinson’s Disease, MS, joint pain (arthritis), spinal cord compression injuries and peripheral neuropathy, often associated with diabetes.

If all else fails, there are a range of alert buttons one can wear and press if in need of help. The help buttons trigger a monitoring station which will investigate and, if necessary, dispatch an ambulance.

The main risk of hurting yourself is if you are elderly and live alone, especially in a big, impersonal city. Chances are you could lie on the floor a long time before anyone discovered what had happened to you. I was reminded about this scenario when watching a new TV reality show, Ambulance, which is an inside look at London’s ambulance service. In the first episode, a man in his 90s has fallen to the floor and can’t get up. It’s been three hours and ambulances keep getting diverted to more urgent situations. To add to his woes, an ambulance is about to pull up at his front door when they get sent to help a woman who says she is having a miscarriage. Turns out to be a serial hoaxer

Good thing we live in a small community, where the first responders attending SWIA were prompt, thorough and cheerful. Medical staff at Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital were also very thorough, leaving nothing to chance.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, SWIA needs me to tie her shoelaces, take the lid off the pickle jar, and adjust the recliner… (and explain that the title of this article does not, of course, refer to said SWIA. Ed)

Today marks FOMM’s fourth anniversary. Congratulate me, make suggestions, or send gratuities!

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WWI Pacifists, Conchies and Rejects

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WWI Rejects, Montville Memorial Gates, photo by Bob Wilson

Amidst the salvo of Anzac Day stories, the people least often talked about are those who did not take part in WWI,  either because of a Christian or moral objection, for practical reasons, or because the armed forces rejected them. According to the Australian War Memorial, 33% of men volunteering for the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in 1914 were rejected on medical/fitness grounds. Enlistment standards were gradually relaxed in ensuing years, allowing many of the rejected men to enlist. Key among these changes was to reduce the minimum height of a recruit from five foot six to five feet.

The World War I rejects don’t get much press at all: the blokes with poor eyesight, bad teeth, flat feet, hernias or some  other physical ailment or disability which ruled them out for active service. But once rejected, they often had to bear the same stigma as the despised ‘Conchies’ or ‘CO’s’ – our unique slang for conscientious objectors. In Australia, CO numbers were estimated at less than one in 30.

Globally, there were around 16,000 conscientious objectors during World War I and their numbers swelled to 60,000 or more in World War II. During the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands sought deferment of the call-up or, in the case of American objectors, fled across the border to Canada.

Despite the early fervour to enlist for World War I, the country on the whole rejected the notion of conscription. PM Billy Hughes took the issue to a plebiscite twice during WWI and each time narrowly lost.

Meanwhile in tiny New Zealand (1914 population 1.1 million), the government simply passed a law and conscripted young men for the war effort. And as at least one controversial account claims, they took a very dim view of men who refused to fight on religious or ethical grounds.

Archibald Baxter, father of New Zealand’s late poet laureate James K Baxter, was one such staunch CO – an absolutist to the last.

His autobiography ‘We Will Not Cease’ makes for startling reading as it sets out the cruelty inflicted by his own countrymen on those who refused to fight. Baxter’s son wrote a poem with the searing lines:

When I was only semen in a gland

Or less than that, my father hung

From a torture post at Mud Farm

Because he would not kill.” (Pig Island Letters, Oxford U.P.1966).

Baxter Jnr’s poem, which describes his father’s ‘blackened thumbs’ refers to Field Punishment No 1, also the name of a 2014 New Zealand television movie. CO’s were hung up on poles (on the front line), in faux crucifixion pose, in the hope they would somehow recant.

Baxter never did.

The mistreatment of conscientious objectors in New Zealand has come to public attention in recent years, first through a public exhibit, and later by an opera, ‘War Hero,’ based on Archibald Baxter’s book.

Meanwhile back in Australia, for those who desperately wanted to enlist, particularly for World War 1, being found unfit to serve was a cruel blow that caused many men to become social outcasts. Unless employed in some clearly supportable on-land war effort, when these seemingly able-bodied men of a certain age were seen out and about, they were often subject to much derision.

The nearby hinterland hamlet of Montville holds a unique place in World War I history, as explained in a Canberra Times feature by Chris Sheedy, commissioned by the Canberra campus of UNSW.

The Montville War Memorial lists the local men who served with the AIF, but also the ‘Rejects’, the men who wanted to serve, but were classified as unfit.

Sheedy writes that in the celebrations of the homecomings of soldiers during and after WWI, most communities around Australia ignored those who didn’t serve.

“In fact, many shunned the ‘shirkers’ and were divided into segments of those whose family members had served and those who had not.”

The authorities must have foreseen this by developing badges for those who volunteered but were deemed ineligible to enlist, or honourably discharged because of age, injury or illness.

Sheedy notes that many men chose not to volunteer for practical reasons – they had a family to support or a farm or business to run.

Professor Jeffrey Grey from UNSW Canberra cites Robert Menzies as a prominent person who chose not to volunteer. Menzies had two brothers who went to war but the siblings agreed that Robert (a lawyer), would stay because he was more likely to provide for his parents in their old age.

Australian folk singer John Thompson, who has researched and written songs about WWI, describes it as a time when there was indeed a mood in the country among young, single people to ‘do your bit’. Thompson developed a song about Maud Butler, a teenage girl who so wanted to do her bit she dressed up as a soldier and stowed away on a ship. She got caught, but later made several other attempts to enlist.

As Thompson explains in the introduction to the song, Maud scrounged up the various pieces of an army uniform. “But she couldn’t get the (tan) boots and that’s what eventually led to her being discovered.”

Maud climbed arm over arm up an anchor rope to stow away aboard an Australian troop carrier. Historian Victoria Haskins, who researched the story, recounts how Maud gave interviews a few days after her return to Melbourne on Christmas Day, 1915.

Maud told local media that she “had a terrible desire to help in some way, but I was only a girl… I decided to do something for myself.”

While there may have been an initial wave of patriotism and a naïve yen to support the British Empire, volunteer numbers dropped in the latter years of the war.

The Australian War Museum estimates that 420,000 Australians enlisted in WWI, approximately 38.7% of the male population aged between 18 and 44. So despite the enormous peer pressure on young men to enlist, 61.3% of enlistment-age men did not join the war effort, for whatever reason.

Enlistments peaked at 165,912 in 1915 and declined in the ensuing years to just 45,101 in 1917 and 28,883 in 1918, the year the war ended.

Most of the literature about Australia’s involvement in WWI emphasises the 420,000 who enlisted, rather than the 665,000 or so who did not.

Given that a majority of men aged 18 to 44 either did not volunteer or were rejected by the AIF, it seems absurd to perpetuate the myth of the shirker. Those who stayed behind because of family loyalties, businesses, careers, or simply because they felt it wasn’t their fight, did not deserve to be ignored or worse, handed a white feather in the street or have one left in their mailbox. It is shocking to recall that a formal Order of The White Feather was formed to encourage women to pressure family and friends into enlisting.

As the AWM comments: “Some criticised the practice, arguing that ‘idiotic young women were using white feathers to get rid of boyfriends of whom they were tired.’ ”

It wouldn’t work today.

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