A few days ago, Dr. Curtis Brute Wolf was making jokes as anyone else might about wearing eye protection while using fireworks.
After being the on-call ophthalmologist in the Tulsa-area for the Fourth of July holiday, Wolf said he has changed his tune.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Wolf said during a phone interview. “They’ve just been coming in one after another.
“We’ve got people losing vision this weekend by ridiculous numbers.”
Wolf said 11 patients have been referred to him from area-hospital emergency rooms in the past couple of days, a number he finds incomprehensible given the time frame.
“I’ve seen more serious firework injuries in the last 36 hours than I’ve seen BB-gun injuries in the last 5 or 10 years.”
At one point, Wolf said he received major eye trauma calls from three hospitals at the same time. Luckily, a couple of his “heroic” employees came in on their days off to help him out, he said.
Wolf couldn’t go into too much detail in an effort to protect patients’ privacy, but he said most of the patients weren’t “drunk, crazy people” as one might expect; they were young boys.
The youngest was 5. Wolf said a sibling holding a punk (smouldering stick for lighting fireworks) swung their hand back and accidentally burned the child in the eye.
At least two more, a man in his 40s and a man in his 20s, were injured when they went back to check on fireworks they thought had gone off.
The other patients were boys up to 14. Some were victims of a bottle rocket, which are prohibited in Oklahoma. Wolf said the fireworks were purchased in Missouri.
Wolf said he only received patients who were evaluated by ER doctors and passed on to him for additional care, so he thinks there might have been many more minor injuries.
For his patients from this weekend, at least two are at high risk for permanent visual loss and the rest remain at moderate risk under “very close medical watch,” Wolf said.
The injuries have Wolf considering how most people approach fireworks safety around the Fourth, and he compared it to the idea of a purge.
“It’s like once a year it’s OK for everyone to go ahead and shoot their eye out,” he said.
He doesn’t claim to have a solution to the problem, but he threw out a couple of ideas.
Fireworks stands could pass out or sell eye protection, cities could require users to provide proof of eye protection before issuing permits, or it could be unlawful to sell fireworks to anyone under 18, he said.
Wolf compared the idea to gun ownership: Most gun owners follow a code of conduct and take pride in safety and education, he said.
“With fireworks, there is no such expectation,” Wolf said.
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