A Bizarre Secateurs Accident

A horrifying gardening accident made the news in the summer of 2011 when an American gardener slipped and pushed a pair of secateurs through his eye socket and into his skull. Remarkably, surgeons were able to extract the gardening tool and the man survived with very little to show for his lucky gardening escape.

Bizarre accident in Arizona

The story was reported by the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona, who published a press release with accompanying wince-inducing pictures of the x-rays. The accident happened to Leroy Luetshcer, an eighty-six year old living in Green Valley, a small retirement community near Tucson, around twenty miles to the south.

The bizarre thing is that when you think of an accident of this nature you assume that it’s the blade end of the tool that did the damage but, luckily as it turned out, it was the handle that penetrated Mr Luetscher’s skull.

The accident

It would appear that Mr Luetscher had dropped the secateurs (or pruning shears, as they seem to be called in the United States) which they stuck into the ground, fortunately with the handles uppermost.

As Mr Luetscher bent to pick up the secateurs, he stumbled. Face down, he fell on the secateurs and one of the handles slipped into his eye socket, going under the eye. The handle went down, to the hilt, progressing into the neck area, fortunately missing the brain cavity.

The other handle slid down the front of Mr Luetscher’s face and this was probably the thing that directed the path of the embedded handle, making it go down toward the throat instead of in toward the brain. But that still meant there was considerable danger. The end of the handle was actually touching one of the vital carotid arteries which go through the neck.

Off to hospital

Mr Luetscher was rushed to hospital by ambulance. The University Medical Center is fortunate in having a well-renowned Trauma Center within the establishment and they went to work very carefully. After examining Mr Luetscher the physicians and specialists decided that it would be safe to remove the secateurs.

Once that had been done the team used a metal mesh (some sources reported the metal used as being titanium) to rebuild the floor of the orbit and the eye was also saved. After the work was complete there was very little outward sign of the horrific accident, Mr Luetscher suffering some swelling around the eye and some double vision.

All concerned were stunned at the success of the operation and mindful of how bad the outcome could have been, and a full recovery is now expected.

Safety lessons

There is little that can be gained from suggesting people are careful in the garden and this accident in particular was very out of the ordinary. But are there lessons that can be learned from the incident?

There are some parallels with another case study we have featured here on Safe Gardening, where a man was <nearly blinded by a cane in his garden. But that wasn’t a fall, and the precautions that he took from then on, placing yoghurt cartons and other bright objects on the tops of the canes, is not something that would have worked in Mr Luetscher’s case.

Care when bending down

We don’t know anything about the actual fall, of course, although a news report a few months after the accident, reported the incident as “losing balance”. It would be no surprise that, at 86, he might have been a little unsteady on his feet and would have been better off if he’d used some sort of support as he bent down. But this is pure conjecture, of course, and Mr Luetscher may well have done that in any case.

Keeping tools close by

And repeating the mantra about always closing and locking the blades of secateurs when they aren’t in use is worthless too, as they were in use at the time. Mr Luetscher dropped them by accident in the first place.

Perhaps the only suggestion that can usefully be made is to fit potentially dangerous hand tools with a lanyard or loop about six to eight inches long, which is slipped over the wrist. Tools which are dropped will then only fall a few inches and bending to pick them up becomes unnecessary.

Safety in the garden Still, you could do all that and then find that someone gets their lanyard caught on a family member’s car as they are driving away and is dragged down the street for half a mile, or something equally bizarre. Perhaps sometimes you have to say that an accident is a chance in a million and leave it at that.