Doug Bergeson of Peshtigo, Wis., lies on a hospital bed before having surgery to extract a 3½ inch nail from his chest in June. (photos from Bergeson family)

Nail guns are powerful devices, firing off metal projectiles at speeds of 90 mph. Those using them, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may face injury or death from double-firing, for example, or from wielding the tool while in an awkward bodily position.

Doug Bergeson, of Peshtigo, Wis., checked both of those boxes at once, a double-firing nail gun wielded while he was in an awkward position.

He wound up with a 3½ inch nail lodged in his chest, actually penetrating his heart.

Considering that the doctor who removed it said Bergeson was just centimeters from death, the wounded man tells the story with remarkable nonchalance.

Seven weeks ago, Bergeson told The Washington Post, he was using the nail gun to install a fireplace in a house he’s building for his family.

He had to reach up, standing on his tiptoes, wrap his left arm around and behind the wooden frame, in such a way that the gun would be facing his body when he pulled the trigger, with only a piece of wood in-between.

That might have been okay. But the gun accidentally double-fired, that is, it fired two nails in quick succession instead of one. The second nail, he said, ricocheted and went into his chest.

Bergeson, a farmer who also does construction for a living, said he didn’t initially feel the nail enter his body. But when he looked down, there it was, protruding from his chest through a hole in his shirt.

He said he didn’t see a drop of blood come out of him the whole time.

“Once I felt the nail in me I was like ‘Well I can’t pull that one out,’” he said. “Too many important things over there.”

He didn’t want to call an ambulance because he figured that would take another hour by the time it got there and the paramedics checked him out. He cleaned off the sawdust from his clothes, hopped in his truck and started the 12-mile drive to Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette, Wis.

“Eight miles in it started to hurt quite a bit,” he said.

He was quickly brought to the emergency room. He texted his wife, Donna, who was at church, to let her know where he was, and that he needed a new shirt because they had to cut his off.

Auto-correct did him no favors.

“I tried to text her ‘I’m at the ER’ and it said ‘I’m at the we,’” he said.


The nail removed from Doug Bergeson.

Bergeson finally talked with his wife and told her what happened. 

He said her jaw dropped when she walked in and saw the nail still hanging out of his chest. When she asked for an explanation he responded with a shrug and an “oops.”

Bay Area Medical Center did not have a heart surgeon, so Bergeson was transported to the Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay.

It wasn’t until he was in the recovery room that he found out how close he had come to death.

The doctor, Alexander Roitstein, said “‘I don’t know if you know how lucky you are,'” Bergeson said. “The thickness of a sheet of paper was how close you came to having minutes left.’”

The nail stopped right before it would have made contact with an artery, which would have caused internal bleeding and the heart to stop pumping blood in two to three minutes, Bergeson said. 

“A wrong heart beat, a wrong position and he would have had a much more complicated problem than he was bargaining for,” Roitstein told WBAY. “And so he’s quite fortunate from that standpoint.”

Bergeson was released from the hospital a few days after surgery and said the fireplace still isn’t finished. He said he’s been more conscious of where he points the nail gun since the accident.

The story is coming out now because local media just picked it up.

His son Alex, has also made his father learn from his actions, using his new job at Northwestern Mutual to have him update his life insurance policy.

“I was his first customer,” Bergeson said.

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