A stray nail flew from the clippers and lodged itself under my eyelid. I screamed

Darragh Geraghty: I made three grave mistakes when cutting my daughter’s nails on what should have been a pleasant Sunday afternoon

For some reason, my wife thinks I’m accident-prone. Whether through lack of attention or some cosmic game of chance, I seem more likely than others to hurt myself in what should be harmless situations. I’m not so sure about all that, but I will say this: while cutting my daughter’s fingernails yesterday, a stray nail flew from the clippers and lodged itself under my eyelid.

I enjoy cutting my daughter’s nails, or painting them. I enjoy it because she enjoys it; it’s always a nice, quiet moment. We sit and chat with her little hand in mine. Snip, snip, job done. It couldn’t be easier. So yesterday when I noticed her nails were a little long, I asked her to hop up on my lap and we’ll give them a quick trim. Sunday afternoon, the radio on. What could be more pleasant?

At this point I should offer a strong trigger warning. If you have an irrational fear of eyes (ommetaphobia – set it aside for your next pub quiz) or are in any way queasy about matters of the eye and/or eyeballs, I advise you stop reading immediately.

My first mistake was removing my glasses. I’m always slightly worried I’ll nick a bit of skin when cutting nails, so I wanted to get in close for a good look. In retrospect, having my face so close to the nail clippers was unnecessary. That was my second mistake. Things were going well. We were on the second hand when after a clip I felt an instant sting in my right eye.


Even though I realised immediately what had happened, my initial thought was, “This can’t be happening.” Because honestly, who gets a fingernail lodged in their eye? The chances are too slim for it to be something that anyone should ever have to worry about.

Panic was quick to rise. Any foreign object in the eye is uncomfortable, but a sharp fingernail brings with it a certain terror

My third and most egregious mistake was incessantly blinking in the moments after the nail hit my eye. It was a natural reaction, but all that blinking dragged the nail from the front of my eye up under my eyelid and around the back of the eyeball. I’m not going to lie: I screamed. It was absolute agony. I could feel the sharp edge of the nail actually scraping the tender white jelly of my eye.

Panic was quick to rise. Any foreign object in the eye is uncomfortable, but a sharp fingernail brings with it a certain terror. What if I can’t get it out? Will I have to go to the hospital? How would the doctors get it out? Will I need surgery? I can feel it scraping the back of my eye, and that’s bad enough, but what if it twists and turns and actually pierces my eye? What if it gets infected? I could lose my eye. My God, I could die.

I’m not one to usually catastrophise like this, but these thoughts genuinely crossed my mind as I paced the kitchen howling like I’d just been shot in the head. Word went out on WhatsApp, and my mother-in-law had some good advice. When she had a contact lens stuck in her eye she was told to fill an egg cup with warm water to help flush it out.

So that’s what I did. There was a bit of trial and error; the egg cup didn’t fit exactly over my eye so the first attempt just left me with a wet face, squinting at my sad reflection in the bathroom mirror. But I kept at it. Cup after cup, I washed my eye out to no avail. Rotating my eye in the warm water, feeling that cursed nail scrape and scratch was a deeply unpleasant experience.

I gave up. I sat contemplating matters of the body for a couple of hours. Life with one eye would be an adjustment, certainly, but I’d make it work. The idea of an infection spreading to my brain still worried me, though.

I returned to the makeshift operating theatre in the bathroom for one last shot at removing the nail, and after a few rinses, I felt it move lower, toward the front of my eye. Pulling my eyelid up I could see it, drifting down. I grabbed some tissue, fashioned it into a soft spear and fished out the pointy menace before it disappeared again.

So all in all, not a vintage day. But I did learn a valuable lesson: when cutting a child’s nails, keep a safe distance and always wear industrial-strength protective eyewear.