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I Tore My Retina on Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

By the time you have read this first sentence, several (maybe even a hundred) people have already commented that “old Clickbait Corless is at it again.” We won’t even get into the nonsense of this, given how straightforward a majority of our headlines are on a daily basis, but let me start off by saying that there is nothing inherently dangerous about riding Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind other than the common motion sickness that many are experiencing. My issue was related to an existing medical condition, but the spinning, backwards-launching EPCOT roller coaster most definitely exacerbated the problem.

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First off, my eyes have always been an issue for me. I have been wearing glasses all day, every day since I was 5, and my vision has only gotten worse. I have a very severe astigmatism. For those unaware of what that is, here is a definition from the Mayo Clinic:

Astigmatism (uh-STIG-muh-tiz-um) is a common and generally treatable imperfection in the curvature of the eye that causes blurred distance and near vision.

Astigmatism occurs when either the front surface of the eye (cornea) or the lens inside the eye has mismatched curves. Instead of having one curve like a round ball, the surface is egg-shaped. This causes blurred vision at all distances.

Astigmatism is often present at birth and may occur in combination with nearsightedness or farsightedness. Often it’s not pronounced enough to require corrective action. When it is, treatment options are corrective lenses or surgery.

The Mayo Clinic

With the elongated, ovular shape of my eyes, I am prone to retinal detachments and lattice degeneration as well. A retinal detachment sounds worse than it is, as many often assume some nerves or such in my eye had ripped clean off, but it’s actually very different (yet still very scary as it can lead to permanent vision loss). It’s actually a situation in which a thin layer of tissue (the retina) at the back of the eye pulls away from its normal position, as seen illustrated below:

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Courtesy of The Mayo Clinic

A few years ago, while riding Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I noticed a flash of light in my right eye. My vision wasn’t impaired beyond this, so I thought nothing of it, but when I went to visit my eye doctor for a routine exam a few days later, he was very concerned. A trip to a retinal specialist gave me the diagnosis that my retina had detached. Between my eye doctor, the specialist, and the surgeon, there was some amount of argument as to what role my profession played in the injury. Some thought it was just bound to happen given my condition, while others thought the constant exposure to g-forces a theme park reporter must face is what led to the damage suffered at such a young age. Either way, I had a surgical procedure where a “Scleral buckle” was placed around my eye permanently. Yes, this is what it sounds like, as there is a small silicon band permanently squeezing my right eye, as seen in the illustration below:

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Before I had this surgery, I was asked many times by the physicians if I had noticed any floaters or flashes of light leading up to my visit. I hadn’t, really.

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Well, what happens in one eye is likely to happen in the other, but I had been postponing getting any sort of preventative surgery as I searched for the proper health insurance. I had been on my father’s plan when this incident happened, but I was removed when I reached a certain age shortly after. After a few years of procrastination, I was lucky that WDWNT extended medical benefits, including a vision plan, to all of its full-time employees, including its owner.

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I was planning to go for an eye exam and to begin the process of finding a retinal specialist to finally get the surgery this summer, but something happened before I got around to that: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opened.

In the process of covering the opening weeks of a new attraction, we generally ride these things a lot. There are a few reasons for this, such as it is best to enjoy these rides during preview periods when fewer guests are present, as it can be years, even decades, before it becomes so easy to access them again. For example, I remember riding Navi River Journey and AVATAR Flight of Passage many times during previews, but still wishing I had more as the wait times for both would constantly be over an hour, and sometimes more than three in the case of the E-Ticket. So, I rode Cosmic Rewind a lot during previews, especially during a D23 event where we could enjoy it as much as we wanted over the course of several hours.

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That week, I started to notice some flashes of light, and, shortly after, an increase in the number of floaters in my left eye. Immediately I assumed the worst, that I had detached the other retina. I immediately made an appointment to see an eye doctor locally, at which point I was luckily told I had not detached it. I had torn it.

A tear in the retina is still bad, in many ways being the first step to a detachment, but still less severe. Regardless, I was then sent to a specialist and told I would have laser surgery a week later. He was sure also to tell me one thing before I left: no roller coasters until the surgery was completed. Mind you, this came unprompted as I had not told the doctor under what circumstances the tear had occurred. They don’t really ask anything other than wanting to know when you started to experience the changes.

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In the end, I asked the doctor and the specialist if a roller coaster could cause such damage to someone with my condition, and the answer from both this time was that it “was very likely.”

Someone in the comments will inevitably ask if this story is news, and we’ll get the usual “MuSt bE a SlOw nEwS dAy,” and to that, I say, it is. I get asked a lot about what happened to my eyes, and honestly, most people are fascinated to hear about the Scleral buckle, what a detached retina is, and how and when the issues occurred. I also hope maybe this will reach someone who has been putting off going to any sort of doctor for some similar scenario, whether it be problems with their vision or otherwise, and inspire them to make an appointment and be sure they are in good health.

Guardians hologram

Oh, and I did complete my 30th ride on Cosmic Rewind just four days after my surgery. Don’t worry; this was something the specialist said was perfectly fine as of a few hours after my procedure.

  1. My best friend is prone to retinal detachments due to an eye condition. Very interesting read, and a good reminder to everyone to get their eyes checked. And if something seems off, don’t put off going to the doctor. Like you, my friend did not have any flashes or floaters when her retina detached, and unfortunately has had permanent vision loss in that eye due to not catching it fast enough. Just came to say I enjoyed the article, and I’m glad all is ok for you now!

  2. I had the same retinal surgery, with the buckle, in April for a detachment that started as a tear 3 weeks before. My tear occurred one night at tennis & noticed the flashing lights & thought there were some bugs flying around, which actually were the floaters. That eye also had astigmatism.

  3. This is a useful article, but the article about bob chapek saying that wdw was the “happiest place on earth” definitely warrants the question “is this news?”

  4. I had a detached retina no symptoms went in for a regular check up and that morning and by the afternoon I had emergency eye surgery. It was the buckle.

  5. Tom, slow news day not withstanding, Thanks for this informative article. It may help others with the same condition ,or, those that experience the same signs but not realize they even have it.

  6. Honestly, thank you for the story. As a young child I tore my retina and shocked both my eye doctor and specialist. I was something like 9/10 years old at the time. We think it could have been the baseball to the eye during a pitching play with my brother some time prior but the cause was undetermined. I still have to get yearly extensive exams. I am slightly traumatized from the laser surgery because I was so young and will forego corrective surgery and wear my contacts forever.

  7. Do the augmented reality rides like Mario Kart have warning signs for eye issues? VR goggles are probably bad too. Hopefully the parks offer a 3D audio attraction for you like getting your haircut or sitting in a rain forest. You just have to pay the $15 upcharge in the app to listen.

    Tell the truth we all know it was the limited viewing angles for Harmonious that tore it or you stopped listening to Kate Bush/figment whatever your happy song is.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story, Tom! Sorry you had to go through this but hopefully, this story helps anyone else with health considerations, it’s so important!

  9. It wasn’t the ride it was probably just your eye getting torn over Chapek vision of his Disney… over and over and over again… it couldn’t handle such.. the sight of such has been known to break hearts and now this…. GET BETTER SOON Tom!! We love you Bro. I will be praying for your eye!!

  10. Tom, I am glad that you are ok. Weather or not if this is news, it is news to us that care about our great leader of WDWNT. Just like, for me, I would care about the well being of any of the staff of WDWNT. Get well and thank you for all you do. 😊👍

  11. So you headline this article that your retina was damaged on GOTG. Then you open with “don’t give me the clickbait nonsense”. THEN you share the fact that you actually have a pre-existing condition within the article is pretty much the LITERAL EXAMPLE of what clickbait is.

  12. Thank you Tom for the thorough explanation of your medical condition and treatment! 😉Congrats on riding Guardians over 30 times! Hopefully, I have the courage to ride it once! I hate the belly flop during drops! 🫣😱😖

  13. I always wondered what type of items the “other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure” might include. This is very good information for others who may also have severe eye conditions to be aware of before riding coasters. Glad you were able to get the care you needed…love your programs and news reports.

  14. Hello Tom and thank you for sharing this information. I am sure there will be others that will go see the doctor thanks to your informative way of explaining what happened to you. As for the haters, well haters gonna hate!

  15. I’m so sorry that you are having that problem with your eyes I have been dealing with the same issues. Also my brother has the same retina problem had the surgery he still has some issues with his eyes. I will be praying that you will not have anymore issues.

  16. My partner had a similar situation after riding Mission Space. He woke up that night with the sensation of dark curtains at the edge of his eye. A call to his opthomalogist and a visit to an eye doctor in Florida and we were on the next flight home for emergency surgery! Needless to say, there are no more turbulent attractions in his life. He did brave Guardians of the Galaxy once, but won’t go again.

  17. I injured my eye riding Expedition Everest, luckily it didn’t need surgery but there is a permanent scare on my eyeball that you can see up close. I still love that ride though and have gone back on several times! Glad you got everything taken care of, it was an interesting read.

  18. Tom – loved the story. Very informative. I am a doctor (not Ophthalmologist) and learned something from the article. Also goes without saying you write very well. Keep doing what you are doing. Always love your articles.

  19. Hey thanks for the article. I’m taking my husband to the eye doctor as he said his vision has been blurry since the ride a few days ago. I would have never thought a roller coaster could do this. Feel better.

  20. Thanks for sharing. As an optician at an optometrist office I see this quite often. Sometimes, sadly, too late because they waited too long to get treatment and they have permanent vision loss. Hopefully this article will help a few folks out. And for everyone, it’s important to have the health of your eyes examined every year, regardless of whether or not you need glasses.

  21. Thank you for sharing. I was waiting to hear what happened to your eye. Since we only get one set very scary. Glad your on the mend.

  22. I actually also have a Scleral buckle as a result of a retinal detachment. I am utterly convinced that it was caused by the twilight of terror in California Adventure (this was just before the rebranding).

  23. 5 years ago I went on Space mountain at Disneyland. After the first turn I felt like I had whiplash. I knew something was wrong. When I got off the ride it felt like I couldn’t focus in one eye and it was like that for the whole day. When I got in the car to drive back to the hotel it seemed like everything that was right of me was in front. I actually had to turn my head to the right so my left eye could see forwards. I pulled over for my daughter to drive. I went to eye doctor who diagnosed sixth nerve palsy. I couldn’t drive for 6 weeks until it cured itself

  24. My husband had a detached retina and laser surgery. His eye is still not right and he sees things wavy in it. He probably will avoid coasters now. He has another eye follow up soon. Hoping they can fix it. They think fluid is trapped. It is frustrating!

  25. I’m glad that you were able to get it resolved! I am always wondering about conditions that prohibit people from riding rides, especially after not being able to ride most rides for 9 months of pregnancy. Somewhat similar to a retinal tear or separation, the placenta can come off of the uterine wall!

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