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Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s eye surgery gave him a ‘true excuse’ to work remotely

But he still thinks going virtual is bad for Congress

Rep. Dan Crenshaw has been grounded in Texas for two months thanks to a detached retina. He plans to return to D.C. next week.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw has been grounded in Texas for two months thanks to a detached retina. He plans to return to D.C. next week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Dan Crenshaw had to take a break from making skydiving videos as he continues to recover from surgery on what he’s called his “half a good eye.”  

“If you go above a thousand feet, your eye explodes,” the Texas Republican said. 

Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, is easily identifiable by his eye patch. It’s a constant reminder of the roadside bomb blast in 2012 that destroyed his right eye during a deployment in Afghanistan.

Two months ago, he noticed dark, blurry spots in his vision and rushed in for emergency surgery.

The congressman expects to be back in Washington when the House reconvenes next week. But for the past two months, he’s been grounded in Texas. Even if he had tried to drive instead of fly, the elevation issues would have made it almost impossible, he said.

Doctors found that his retina was in bad shape — something that was always a worry for Crenshaw, who woke up in the dark from a medically induced coma after the 2012 blast. While he miraculously regained sight in his left eye, the buildup of scar tissue eventually began peeling the retina off the back, he said. 

Going into surgery to save your vision would be a daunting prospect for anyone, but especially for Crenshaw, who had been through it before. 

“You’ve got to make peace with blindness at that point when your retina is detaching,” he said. 

Doctors removed some of the scar tissue and reattached his retina before putting a gas bubble in his eye to make sure it stayed in the proper position. He then had to lie face down for a week while his body healed. 

Crenshaw said the worst part is behind him. The gas in his eye is dissipating, and his vision has improved enough to allow him “to get around and, not knock into things too much,” but seeing has been a challenge, and looking at screens for a long time is fatiguing. 

“Put a dive mask on, and then fill it with bubble bath solution, and then put some Vaseline on the lens to make it blurry, and that’s sort of what I see,” he said in a phone interview. 

Crenshaw, who normally doesn’t see well and needs glasses or a contact lens to correct his vision, said his doctors are hopeful he can get back to that. He plans to get new glasses soon — his vision is slightly better than it was before the surgery.

“I might be in a better place than I was a few months ago, you might argue, but I’m always more at risk,” he said. “Once it heals, you’re closer to normal. I mean, you don’t want to get knocked in the head, but any healthy person can get knocked in the head and have a retinal detachment. That’s usually how they happen.”

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He also hopes to get back to doing some of the pursuits he enjoys, including the occasional skydiving jump — a hobby he referenced last year in a widely seen campaign ad with an action hero theme.

Diving out of a plane is a lot less dangerous than people realize, he said, explaining that his adrenaline-seeking activities generally aren’t ones that would cause him to hit his head or reinjure his eye. 

“I’m not going to go learn how to do jumps on a dirt bike anytime soon,” he said. “I’m a risk taker, but I’m a very careful risk taker, which is sort of the mantra of the SEAL teams.” 

In the meantime, Crenshaw has kept his congressional offices running. He attended committee hearings virtually and voted by proxy before the May recess. 

Proxy voting, introduced along with virtual hearings in the early days of the pandemic, was intended as a temporary emergency measure. It’s been continuously renewed in the House since May and initially got heat from Republicans who refused to use it. 

Some members of the GOP have now used the system, and many have appeared in all-virtual hearings. 

As for Crenshaw, he said he looks forward to being back in person. The proxy system and remote work should be avoided to the fullest extent possible, he said, arguing that he was one of the few members of Congress who had a “true excuse.”

He believes remote work can hurt Congress, making it hard for lawmakers to do things like committee work, where members pull each other aside to talk in person. He hopes those practices are not here to stay. 

“There’s a real tradition here to coming in and voting and debating in person,” he said. “And I don’t think we should let go of that.”

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