REAL LIFE

Reno DIY disaster: ‘There’s a nail in my eye!’

Stephan's DIY project went pear-shaped after a split-second decision
Two images side by side. One of a side profile of a man with a nail coming from his eye. The other a man on a stretcher with a nurse
Stephan Giersberg after his nail gun accident
Are Media
  • Stephan Giersberg, 45, from Boyup Brook, WA was renovating his lounge room when he picked up a nail gun – but couldn’t find his safety goggles.
  • Firing the nail gun to secure a window frame, he suddenly felt something in his left eye.
  • Rushing to his bathroom mirror, he saw he’d suffered a freak nail gun accident – and had a nail hanging from his eye!
  • Incredibly, he drove himself to hospital before being flown by air ambulance for emergency treatment.

Here he tells his story in his own words

I was renovating my house and my living room was coming on a treat .

An experienced handyman, I was always renovating other people’s houses. Now I’d taken three weeks off work to remodel my house. I was extending my bedroom into the sleep-out annexe, then transforming that into a new living room.

I’d taken out a wall, sanded floors and patched up other walls, giving it a full makeover.

Growing up in Germany, I’d been brought up with a hammer in my hand. 

My dad was a big DIY fan – he did all the building in our home himself. And my big sister Britta and I were always given jobs to do.

Moving to Australia in 2009, at first I was a chef. Then, in 2017, I moved to Western Australia, where I started working as a handyman. 

Welding, carpentry, building – you name it, I could turn my hand to it.

I felt something flick in my eye!

One thing I was always careful about was wearing good boots, gloves and goggles.

This Thursday, in August, I’d installed a window for a bit more light.

Loading a strip of brand new 1.25mm thick brad nails – which are thinner than normal nails – into the nail gun, I looked for my good safety goggles, but couldn’t find them.

Pulling on my old goggles, I realised they were scratched and fogging up so badly I could barely see.

Stuff it! I won’t be long, I’ve done this a thousand times, I thought, taking them off…

I’d glued the window frame to the wall and was using nails to pin it in place. It was 4pm and, after working all day, I was looking forward to an ice-cold beer with my neighbour when I’d finished this last job. 

Pressing the nail gun to secure the corner where the wood joined, I peered closely to line it up and fired. Suddenly, I felt something flick against my left eye.

Image of man with nail hanging out of his left eye below the eyeball and above the lower lid
Stephan Giersberg’s eye after the nail gun accident (Credit: Are Media)
Man with a power tool in a brick-walled interior room
Stephan Giersberg busy at work before the accident (Credit: Are Media)

What was that? I winced.

With my eye a bit blurry and irritated, I reasoned it must be a splinter of wood.

Heading to the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and gasped. A sliver of silver glinted in the light. To my disbelief and horror, a nail was hanging out of my left eye. 

The 35mm long nail must have ricocheted off the wall and lodged beside my iris in the white of my eye.

‘That’s not good,’ I gasped.

While it didn’t hurt, I knew I shouldn’t pull it out, but also had to get it removed quickly, in case it blinded me or worse.

As my tiny town, Boyup Brook, WA, never has any traffic, I jumped in the car with the nail dangling precariously out of my eye and drove to the Boyup Brook hospital.

Image of side profile of man with nail sticking out from lower left eye
Even the nurse was shocked by Stephan Giersberg’s nail gun accident (Credit: Are Media)
Stephan Giersberg took a photo as he was loaded into the helicopter (Credit: Are Media)

‘It’s bad,’ I said to the nurse, Allison, as I walked in, hand over my eye so she couldn’t see the results of my freak DIY accident.

‘Oh it won’t be, don’t worry,’ she said calmly.

As I took my hand away, she gasped. ‘Ah, you better come with me,’ she said, leading me to an examination room. 

‘You’ll need to see a specialist straight away,’ the doctor said, placing a paper drinking cup over my eye to protect it.

She said I needed to be transported to Perth, but admitted there were concerns about flying.

They were worried about the air pressure affecting the eye and possibly causing the nail to lodge in even further. 

There was no choice though, so ambos put me on a stretcher. I panicked I might go blind or lose my eye, so they gave me meds to relax me. Then a chopper flew me the 245km to Royal Perth Hospital. 

Doctors took me into an hour-long surgery. When I came to, they had good news.

You’re a bit of a medical unicorn, the doctor smiled

‘You were incredibly lucky. The nail was lodged 18mm deep,’ the doctor explained. ‘We cut open the eyeball, removed the nail and stitched it up. If that nail had been a millimetre in either direction you could have been blinded or worse.’

I was especially lucky it was a new nail with nothing on it that could’ve infected the eye, he said.

Although my long distance vision was a bit blurry, I could see fine.

‘You’re a bit of a medical unicorn,’ the doctor smiled.

Doctors dressed my wound with a clear patch. With no pain, it just felt like I had an eyelash in my eye. I was discharged a few days later with eye drops and antibiotics.

As the days passed the blurriness settled. A week later, I popped into the medical centre and took the nurses chocolates.

‘In 44 years I’ve never seen anything like that,’ nurse Allison laughed.

Nurse next to man on a stretcher outside at night in a field
Stephan Giersberg with nurse Allison (Credit: Are Media)

I took a few weeks off work but was soon back on the tools, avoiding any dusty jobs.

When I told Britta she was shocked. ‘You were very lucky. But you should have known better,’ she said sternly.

My mates had a field day. ‘You nailed it,’ they ribbed me.

Astonishingly, my vision is normal. 

I want everyone to learn from my mistake. Whether you’ve just started DIY or done it for years, make sure you wear decent protection.

Accidents only take a second. I can’t believe how lucky I was. I’m sure I had a guardian angel keeping an eye on me!

Protect your eyes with shatterproof goggles

TopHomer safety glasses
Photo: Amazon

01

TopHomer Safety Glasses

$10.99 at Amazon

Designed to withstand impacts up to 101mph or 45m/s, these polycarbonate lenses can be worn over most prescription glasses.

Used in engineering and metal/wood workshops, these are ideal for protecting the eyes during home renos.

DeWalt DPG94-1C Dominator Safety Glasses
Photo: Amazon

02

DeWalt DPG94-1C Dominator Safety Glasses

$24.21 at Amazon

These clear safety glasses are ideal for gardening or yard work and the polycarbonate lenses offer higher impact protection.

They have rubber nose and temple pieces for a comfortable fit.

Image of Tool Klean Professional UV Light Safety Glasses
Photo: Amazon

03

Tool Klean Professional UV Light Safety Glasses

$41.13 at Amazon

These safety glasses are designed to be lightweight but shatterproof, protecting against dust, small particles, splashes and impact.

The polycarbonate lenses are paired with a non-slip frame.

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