Imogen, seven, had recently mastered her wheels and we were spending a sunny afternoon cycling through the park.
Suddenly, a magpie caught my eye. It looked like it was going to fly past Imogen. Then, at the last second, it hooked back and swooped on my unsuspecting girl, pecking at her twice. Hopping off her bike, she clutched her left eye. She’d scrunched both shut, but bloody tears seeped through her fingers.
I think it’s just the eye lid, I thought, carefully examining the damage.
Still, I was on high alert for the magpie. Having worked in wildlife management, I’d relocated territorial magpies in the past. But I hadn’t heard of aggressive birds in this area.
Getting a lift from a kind stranger, I strapped Imogen into the car.
‘I’ll take you to hospital to be on the safe side,’ I told her.
Up until now, my tough girl had barely whimpered. Now, she was shrieking.
‘There’s something in my eye!’ Imogen screamed.
This is bad, I realised, dialling Triple-0.
‘I need you to lift her eye lid,’ the operator said.
Gently prising it open, I was met with a gory sight. The beak had penetrated Imogen’s eyeball and fluid and blood were leaking out. When an ambulance arrived, Imogen was given a sedative.
‘She needs a specialist in Brisbane,’ the doctor at the hospital said.
‘Will she lose her sight?’ I panicked.
But no-one could tell me. I called Imogen’s dad, Brett, who stayed with our son, Koby, nine, while the Royal Flying Doctor Service flew us to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. The next morning, Imogen was wheeled into theatre.
‘I had to remove 90 per cent of the iris,’ the surgeon explained afterwards.
Imogen’s lens and the sack which encased it were also completely destroyed and she needed 10 stitches in her cornea. To fight infection, she had 18 eye drops per day. In shock, I was numb. And there were still no clear answers.
'We are trying to save her eye,’ the surgeon said.
Seeing my baby for the first time, her bed was propped up at a 45-degree angle to reduce pressure on her eye. And my bubbly girl was so lethargic and quiet. I tried to rein in my emotions, but reading my distress, a nurse laid a hand on my shoulder.
‘Darling, you’re taking your baby home. So many don’t get that,’ she said gently.
She’s right, I thought.
We’d get through this. No matter what. Imogen’s left eye was covered with gauze. For the first couple of days she was too scared to open her right. Then, on the Wednesday, a lovely music therapist came to work with her. Singing all her favourite pop tunes, he kept deliberately messing up the lyrics.
After one too many mistakes, Imogen’s beautiful brown eye snapped open.
‘This is how it goes,’ she said, bursting into song.
There’s my cheeky girl, I thought.
Ten days later, we were allowed to fly back home. Rocking baby blue aviators on the plane, Imogen looked very stylish. Being so light sensitive, her cool sunnies were now a necessity.
If only she’d been wearing them when we were cycling, I thought, kicking myself.
I’d slathered my girl with sunscreen and mozzie repellent, and she’d been decked out in pants, long sleeves and a helmet. But I’d left her eyes unprotected...
Just weeks later, Imogen went back to school, but we were back and forth to Brissie for check-ups. A few weeks after her accident, we were walking in our front yard when I saw the shadow of a bird glide past. Dropping to the ground, poor Imogen curled up into a tiny ball, terrified.
She had her moments but then one day she came home with a Certificate of Awesomeness from her Grade 2 teacher, Mr Lowery. For staying positive even when things are at their worst, it read.
Two years on, my brave Imogen, now nine, has kept her sunny outlook, despite three surgeries to reconstruct her eye and more than 25 trips to hospital. Sadly they couldn’t save her sight and she is blind in her left eye. Still, there is hope for the future. With the aid of a special contact lens, I’m hoping Imogen will one day be able to see with that eye.
In the meantime, my girl has a mission.
‘I don’t want this to happen to any other kids,’ she says.
That’s why we’re sharing Imogen’s story. When your little ones are outside, make sure they wear sunglasses. We’re a visitor in the magpies’ habitat. And it’s our responsibility to stay safe.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.