Ripley pastor Rocky Gilliam uses nail gun accident to generate gospel conversations
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
Not many people, after all, can use a personal story about being shot in the head with a nail gun as a segway into sharing the gospel.
But Gilliam, pastor of Spirit Filled Baptist Church church in Ripley, believes the traumatic experience — when a three-inch nail was accidentally driven into his skull last November — is a great example of God’s providence.
Gilliam has, in fact, turned the horror story into a love story, and uses the details of the incident to point people to Jesus.
“Well, you know, the Lord has a way of working with nails,” said Gilliam, who remarkably returned to the pulpit just three weeks after the incident.
In the past 12 months, Gilliam’s story, and especially his speedy recovery, has astonished many people, including his doctors and other medical personnel. Gilliam, though, sees it differently.
“That’s the thing,” he said. “People are always so amazed, but I tell them they shouldn’t be. God is in control.”
“People always try to say to me, man, if that nail had just gone in a little higher or lower, you might not have made it,” he said. “But I always tell them, it couldn’t have gone in anywhere but right there. That nail went exactly where the Lord spoke it over 2,000 years ago — before the beginning of the world. He spoke that nail to go there and it couldn’t go anywhere else.”
When retelling the story, Gilliam talks about the peace he experienced throughout the ordeal, from the moment the nail was lodged into his head through his return to the pulpit.
Gilliam said he put his full faith in the Lord, trusting in both His sovereignty and His protection.
“When they were taking me to the hospital, I just said, ‘Lord, it’s in your hands, so whatever you want, that’s what it will be,’ ” Gilliam said. “If you want me to come home, I’m ready. If not, let me know what you want me to do.”
The incident occurred last November, while Gilliam was helping a friend repair a deer stand. Gilliam was in a kneeling position, hammering in some nails, while his friend was standing up, using the nail gun. The friend took a momentary rest, holding the nail gun by his side. When Gilliam raised up, he bumped the gun — and it went off.
Gilliam said he didn’t know exactly what happened, and stunningly, he wasn’t in excruciating pain. He simply thought his friend had accidentally dropped the gun on his head.
“I looked up at him,” Gilliam said, “and I grabbed my head and I rubbed it. I said, ‘Boy, you’d better hold on to that thing. You just knocked a knot on my head when you dropped that thing.’ ”
The friend, though, knew the situation was much more serious than that.
“I never did hear the gun shoot, but he did,” said Gilliam. “And when I looked at him, he was as white as a tee shirt.”
At that point, Gilliam was informed that he had a nail embedded in his head.
“I said, ‘Are you sure about that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah. There’s a nail in there.’ So, I said, ‘Well, I guess we’d better go to the doctor then.’ ”
The two men climbed into Gilliam’s truck, and the friend, who was understandably frantic at this point, drove Gilliam to the nearest hospital, showing little regard for the speed limit.
“He had my pickup truck doing all it could do,” Gilliam said with a laugh. “I told him, ‘Slow down a little bit. We’re not in that big of a hurry.’ ”
They drove to the hospital in Ripley, but Gilliam said the staff there was not equipped for trauma of this nature.
They quickly took some X-rays of Gilliam’s head, which revealed a rather gruesome image.
“One of the nurses, she almost passed out,” said Gilliam. “I said to her, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be treating me?’ ”
Gilliam was then told he would be transported by helicopter to Memphis. An argument soon ensued, with Gilliam saying he had no intention of riding the helicopter. But he eventually went along with the plan.
After they arrived at the trauma center, Gilliam was taken into surgery, where he ran into some complications.
“They couldn’t pull the nail out because it’s a wire bound nail,” he said. “The nails are held together by a piece of wire. And when I broke that wire going in, it kind of made a V-shape going in. So they couldn’t pull it out. They eventually wound up taking a drill and they drilled around that nail about as big as probably a half a dollar and got the nail. And they put a plate back in place of it.”
Gilliam said he never blacked out or even felt faint.
“I remember everything until I got into the surgery,” he said. “I don’t remember the surgery, of course, because they gave me something to put me to sleep. But I never (lost consciousness) until then.”
By the following morning, Gilliam declared himself ready to go home. The staff wasn’t so sure.
“The doctor came in that next morning and said, ‘How’re you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I’m ready to go home.’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know about that.’ ”
A couple of hours later, the doctor came back into the room, and a very similar conversation took place. “He said, ‘Well, how are you feeling now?’ And I said, ‘I’m still ready to go home.’ ”
Gilliam eventually convinced the staff, and — after he passed a few tests — they agreed to let him go. Gilliam was informed that the paperwork might take a long time because no one had ever been released directly from trauma center. Patients normally go from the trauma center to the hospital for the next few days.
Gilliam was soon home, in his own bed. He said he felt “a little off balance” the next day or two, but was “up and doing for myself” quickly. When he went back to the hospital for a follow-up, the doctors essentially gave him the all-clear.
He planned to preach the following Sunday, but the congregation basically insisted that he take the next two Sundays off. He agreed to do so, but was not happy about it.
“I told the congregation that the reason I wasn’t preaching was (because of) their lack of faith, not mine,” said Gilliam with a laugh.
Gilliam continued to return to the doctor for the next several weeks. During one of the visits, he asked if the hospital still had the nail that they took out of his head.
“The doctor asked me why in the world I wanted it,” Gilliam said. “And I told him, well, we lacked one nail finishing that deer stand.”