Wear good safety goggles!

by David Johns

I recently had the (dis)pleasure of being on the receiving end of a drill bit in the doctors office. And yes, the drill was the cure, not the ailment!


Here’s the story...

I had a rare weekday off last month and took advantage of it by making some progress on the restoration of a 1963 Corvette split window. I’m still in the dis assembly process, so much of the time is spent removing and cleaning up grungy parts. This involves first a bath in a parts cleaner and then usually some liberal polishing with a wire wheel on my bench grinder. Now, wire wheel grinders can really be nasty since the individual wires sometimes let go and fly toward you with dangerous speed. Think little needle shaped bullets.

So I always wear safety goggles. It’s something that’s just been ingrained in me since my teenage days of helping my dad and uncles in the garage. Those were the days of wood shop style goggles. You know, the really ugly ones that look more like snorkeling masks? Anyway, the safety glass industry has made big fashion advancements since then and many safety goggles now look more like cool sunglasses. So that’s what I was wearing while grinding on a rusted Corvette tie rod on my day off. But it wasn’t enough.

The problem with those cool looking goggles/glasses is that they don’t wrap tight to your face. They’re better than standard glasses, but still leave gaps, both above and below. And that gap below is the path a stray sliver of metal took to hurtle into my left eye. I felt it of course, but it was a very tiny particle and didn’t bother me any more than a piece of sand or dirt from a wind storm. I kept working on the Corvette and didn’t think much more about it that night.

The next morning when I woke up my eye still hurt. Again, just the feeling that some little spec was in there and wouldn’t get out. Or I thought maybe I had just scratched the cornea and it would heal up. The human eye heals extremely fast.

Off to Urgent Care

But two days later the pain was no less. Having my wife look closely with a magnifying glass, she was able to actually see the spec. She couldn’t tell what it was, but it seemed stuck in the actual cornea of my eye, not just floating around. Of course this was a Saturday, so I reluctantly headed over the the Urgent Care to sit in an uncomfortable chair for 2 hours.

When the doctor finally got to me and peered at my eye with his slit light it only took him 15 seconds to guess what happened. He said he sees it quite frequently. The tiny sliver of metal was hot when it left the grinding wheel, so when it hit my eye it actually melted it’s way in and stuck there. That’s why normal tears and eye drops wouldn’t budge it.

So then the fun starts. He puts a drop in my eye that numbs it up. This is a weird feeling I can tell you. He leaves the room (probably to take another sliver out of the next guys eye) and returns after the drop has had a chance to really do it’s work. Then he turns down the lights and uses this device to hold my eye open. It looked like a carryover from the medieval days. The doctor then pulls up his tray of picks, needles and other sharp, shiny instruments. He picks out the sharpest one and comes toward my eye with it.

OK, at this point I’m still calm... mostly. At first I thought there was no way I’d be able to keep my eye from flinching as he brought the needle sharp pick near it. But the numbing drops actually worked to counter my natural reaction to blink. Well, that and the device prying my eye lids open. So he starts picking at the sliver of metal. Each time he tried to get it out my vision would shift and blur as the needle actually rotated my eye ball!

Finally it came out and I breathed a sigh of relief that the worst was over. But no, that wasn’t quite the case.

The EYE DRILL!

The doctor explained that the metal spec had been in my eye long enough that it actually started to rust. Through a magnifying mirror he let me look in my left eye with my right. You could actually see a slightly darkened halo in my cornea where the spec had just been. And apparently rust is toxic to your cornea, so letting it fix itself wasn’t an option. So, do you know how they get rust out of your eye? They drill it out!

The drill is a small hand held guy. It reminds me of the drill the dentist uses, which of course doesn’t help my state of mind at this point. The doctors tells me to relax (yeah, right!) and then starts drilling into my eye. What I learned later is that it’s more like grinding, not drilling. The idea is to grind/drill away all the areas where the rust has spread. Once the toxin is removed your eye heals over the spot where they drill. Basically, it’s the lesser of two evils. The drill does damage, but it’s damage you can recover from. Leaving the rust there would do more damage as it spread.

It all turned out fine, but it’s definitely not something I want to repeat. So, now when I work on anything in the garage that has the potential for flying pieces, I wear a complete face shield. I still wear my cool looking safety goggles just because it’s habit, but I have a full face shield sitting right by the grinder that I can put on over the safety glasses. You should consider it too if you spend any time in the garage. Your eyes aren’t exactly replaceable!

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