05:17 PM

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

A patient's journey from a sight loss scare to skeet shooting success.



Written by Richard Linville

The North Valley Hospital ER was not on the itinerary for our vacation to Glacier National Park last summer, but I was sure glad when my wife pulled in there on a Sunday evening last July. We were in the area to visit my daughter, who lives in Whitefish, and to explore Glacier and Waterton Parks. With family and friends, we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road a few days earlier and headed up to Waterton Park in Canada for some camping and hiking.

As we enjoyed the boat ride south into Glacier Park from Waterton Village, I started to notice distortions in my vision. One eye had reduced light and some strange black floating curtain patterns that slightly blocked my vision. I was just starting a backpacking trip in Glacier Park with the group, and there wasn’t any pain involved, so I didn’t pay much attention to the eye issue.

That was a mistake. After we had hiked up into the high country of the Park and camped out a couple of nights, I realized that I couldn’t ignore the problem any longer. Both eyes were affected and my vision was seriously impaired. I had suffered from glaucoma for some time, and I assumed this was a new onset of that disease.

We hiked back down to Waterton Lake and spent another night there. In the morning I caught the shuttle boat back to Canada. From Waterton, it was back over the Sun Road with my wife driving me to the ER at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish.

North Valley Hospital provided two services late on a weekend night that were invaluable: a quick, accurate diagnosis and referral to a local specialist in Kalispell. The physician on duty quickly diagnosed my problem as detached and torn retinas in both eyes, and he also arranged for me to see Dr. Aaron Alme, an ophthalmologist in Kalispell, early the next morning.

The admissions staff were also very helpful, and worked with my wife to help me understand and sign the right documents, which was a little stressful for me as an attorney, since I was temporarily blind. They ensured that everything was accurate—their help was critical!

Dr. Alme was able to surgically correct the retinal damage. It took some time, and several visits to the Surgery Center at The HealthCenter at Kalispell Regional Healthcare. Doctors could only work on one eye at a time, and each eye had to heal for about three weeks before I could travel. So my wife and I spent more than a month in Whitefish and Kalispell last summer, walking the Whitefish Trail system, healing, and getting to know some very well-qualified eye doctors.

After my eyes had healed enough to travel, I came back home to Idaho. Evidently, cataracts are a common problem after retinal surgery, and I had to have a couple of more surgeries in the fall to address that issue. It was all done by December.

On New Year’s day, I was invited to a trap shoot, and won the competition without eyeglasses. I couldn’t have won that event last July before the eye injuries! Even my aim somehow improved.

I credit the medical care providers in Whitefish and Kalispell with restoring my vision, and I am thankful for that. Montanans are very fortunate to have such high-quality health care facilities and providers available to serve a rural area.

Top photo: the author in Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, July 2018; the New Year's Day trap shoot near the author's home in Idaho, January 2019.

[Photo credit: Richard Linville]