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Why I believe in polycarbonate lenses (or my close call with a garage-door spring).

It was a beautiful, sunny day in Pensacola, Fla., as my wife, Carmela, and I drove up in front of our home. When the heavy, wooden garage door started opening, I noticed it was out of alignment and decided to investigate.

I found that the metal roller on the low end had sprung out of its track. Looking down at the roller from above, I tried to push it back into the track. I didn't know at the time how dangerous this action was or how incredibly fortunate I was to have ordered the pair of glasses I was wearing.

As I pushed the wheel, the entire mechanism to which it was attached also moved, which seemed odd to me. It wasn't until after I returned from the hospital that I figured out what had happened.

The door slammed down, and Carmela screamed at about the same time I was thrown backward into the middle of the garage. As I lay on the floor, I quickly checked to determine what was injured. Being a neurologist, I mostly was concerned about possible brain damage or cervical-spine injury, so I didn't move at first. I felt blood on my cheek and told Carmela to get ready to call 911.

I was alert, could move all my extremities, and didn't have any neck pain. I looked around and everything was blurry, but that was because three pounds of metal had slammed into my glasses and destroyed them. The frames were mangled, and the right lens had been knocked out.

These were my new glasses, my first pair with polycarbonate lenses. I also was wearing clip-on sunglasses; they weren't polycarbonate, as you can tell from the fractured lines that document the impact point. This evidence showed I was struck near the center of the right lens-it was forced out of the frame and into my orbit, cutting my cheek. The lens, however, shielded my eyeball from a horrible injury and certain blindness. [Accompanying photos show what happened.-Ed.]

My vision was not changed. I was able to twist my frames back into shape and replace the lens. The periorbital bruising [black eye] and small cut on my cheek healed, leaving no evidence of what had happened that day.

Using my U.S. Navy flight-surgeon training, I was able to reconstruct the mishap. Here is what happened to the garage door. When Carmela and I had left that morning, I pushed the remote control in my car to close the door. We drove off, not knowing the bolt holding the right side of the door nearly had worked itself out. This problem caused the bottom roller to slip out of the track, which prevented the door from closing all the way.

The bottom of the door is attached to a cable that is under tremendous tension by a spring located over the garage door. The spring helps lift the door, which weighs several hundred pounds. When I pushed on the wheel, the bolt slipped out, and the door fell with a crash. At the same instant, the wheel and metal plate that was attached to the cable recoiled upward and smashed into my glasses. I was lucky in two respects-first, that my glasses and not my nose, neck, ear, mouth, or skull took the impact and second, that my lenses were made of polycarbonate material.

This material is manufactured differently than the material used to fabricate other lenses. An enormous amount of pressure compresses the raw material. The resulting product holds up so well under impact, not because it is hard and unyielding, but, rather, because it is flexible and gives slightly under pressure without breaking. Polycarbonate lenses actually are made of material that's identical to what is called "bulletproof glass." Poly also has been used for astronaut-helmet shields and space-shuttle windshields.

The garage-door repairman was amazed that I hadn't been killed, given the position I was in when the energy of the spring was released. I have developed a lot of respect for the heaviest moving object in my home. Everyone I've told this story to has known someone who was injured in a garage-door accident. As my research revealed, an average of 20,000 people have been treated in hospital emergency rooms every year since 1990 for injuries received in garage-door incidents.

The best advice I can give anyone is don't try to fix a broken garage door yourself. Here are a couple other tips I derived from research:

* Visually inspect the garage door springs, rollers, pulleys, cables, and track on a regular basis. Look for loose or worn parts.

* Do not attempt any maintenance around the springs, which, along with their mounting brackets, cables, and other associated hardware, are under high tension. If one of these parts breaks or comes loose, it can cause serious injury. An experienced individual should do this work.

I was very lucky and often have considered how my life would have been changed if not for the polycarbonate lenses I had purchased only three weeks before this incident. I learned two lessons: First, don't try to fix a garage door yourself, second, polycarbonate lenses provide significant eye protection from injuries.

The author is head of neurology at NAMI in Pensacola.

Cdr. Henry Porter, MC, Naval Aerospace Medical Institute
COPYRIGHT 2005 U.S. Naval Safety Center
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Author:Porter, Henry
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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