Stop your green fin­gers see­ing red

Gar­den­ing is a de­light, but be mind­ful of the se­ca­teurs when prun­ing your Euphor­bia

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health - Ge­orge Win­ter

The sea­son of mists and mel­low fruit­ful­ness is fast ap­proach­ing, and there’s plenty of use­ful gar­den­ing to do. Pot­ter­ing about is sat­is­fy­ing, the fad­ing light en­hanc­ing a sense of in­ti­macy with the earth while au­tum­nal plots are tended: sewing grass seeds on those bare patches in the lawn; trim­ming the laven­der; dead­head­ing; plant­ing spring bulbs – just some of the tasks that form part of the au­tumn gar­den­ing cal­en­dar.

A 2013 sur­vey of 1,500 Bri­tish adults, car­ried out on be­half of Gar­den­ers’ World mag­a­zine, found that 80 per cent of gar­den­ers feel sat­is­fied with their lives, com­pared with 67 per cent of non-gar­den­ers. The sur­vey also re­vealed that 93 per cent of gar­den­ers think that gar­den­ing im­proves their mood . . . de­spite, pre­sum­ably, their sore knees, muck-filled fin­ger nails and aching backs.

It’s hard to ex­plain the sense of en­joy­ment that a spell in the gar­den brings, but this is ex­cused by John Carey, who ob­served: “[gar­den­ing] lies be­yond the reach of words, and you wouldn’t need it if it didn’t.” Yes, gar­den­ing is typ­i­cally a word­less pur­suit, but some­times words erupt – per­haps ex­ple­tives – if, say, while shuf­fling about in the gath­er­ing gloom I stand on a rake; trip over the hose; or prune a fin­ger when it should have been a rose stem.

The first rose-re­lated in­jury to achieve wide­spread recog­ni­tion was prob­a­bly that sus­tained in Ox­ford by re­serve po­lice­man Al­bert Alexan­der, who – so the story goes – was scratched near his mouth by a thorn. In­fec­tion en­sued, and although, on Fe­bru­ary 12th, 1941, he be­came the first per­son to re­ceive ef­fec­tive peni­cillin treat­ment, there were in­suf­fi­cient sup­plies to sus­tain his re­cov­ery, and he died.

Mr Cor­mac Joyce, spe­cial­ist regis­trar in plas­tic surgery at the Mater Hos­pi­tal, Dublin, told The Ir­ish Times that black­thorn in­juries are also en­coun­tered rel­a­tively of­ten: “The black­thorn,” he said, “is a plant well known for caus­ing in­fec­tions, and in­flam­ma­tory re­ac­tions in soft tis­sue struc­tures. The black­thorn,” he said, “is a plant well known for caus­ing in­fec­tions, and tis­sue re­ac­tions in joints. The ini­tial thorn in­jury is usu­ally a small and in­nocu­ous punc­ture wound to a fin­ger and med­i­cal at­ten­tion is sel­dom sought. How­ever, the wounds usu­ally be­come in­fected, prompt­ing sur­gi­cal washout and re­moval of the for­eign body.”

One for­eign body that proved par­tic­u­larly trou­ble­some was re­ported this year in the jour­nal In­ter­nal Emer­gency Medicine, de­scrib­ing a 30-year-old male who turned up at A&E nurs­ing a painful, swollen fore­arm. He re­called that a fort­night be­fore, while work­ing in his gar­den, he had jabbed him­self while work­ing close to a cac­tus. Although an X-ray re­vealed noth­ing of in­ter­est, ul­tra­sound de­tected a 2cm cac­tus spine lodged deep in the mus­cles of his fore­arm. The spine was re­moved and, un­like Al­bert Alexan­der 76 years be­fore, he was suc­cess­fully treated with an­tibi­otics.

Per­haps you haven’t yet got round to prun­ing those fruit trees that should have been done at the end of the sum­mer, so take care while wield­ing the se­ca­teurs. And there are other as­pects of prun­ing to be wary of, apart from the risk of in­ad­ver­tent snip­ping of fin­gers and thumbs. For ex­am­ple, in a piece for the Emer­gency Med­i­cal Jour­nal en­ti­tled “Be­ware the or­na­men­tal plant”, Dr Amis­sah-Arthur and col­leagues de­scribe how an 86-year-old fe­male pre­sented at A&E “with a burn­ing, painful, wa­tery [right] eye” and was di­ag­nosed with a corneal abra­sion for which she was treated with chlo­ram­pheni­col oint­ment. Two days later she had con­junc­tivi­tis in her left eye. It tran­spired that she had been prun­ing her Euphor­bia lacteo pa­tio plant when some sap had got onto her fin­gers, which she in­ad­ver­tently trans­ferred to her eye. She was suc­cess­fully treated, and the au­thors note that Euphor­bia sap has been doc­u­mented to be toxic to both eyes and skin.

As for pen­e­trat­ing eye in­juries, it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that when re­searchers con­sid­ered the topic for the Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health, they found that among a pop­u­la­tion of pa­tients who un­der­went surgery for eye trauma, “[a]cci­dents from DIY or gar­den­ing were the cause in 17 of 33 (51.5 per cent) pa­tients, with a fail­ure to wear eye pro­tec­tion in all cases”. The au­thors also found that both DIY stores and gar­den cen­tres were rather poor in their ef­forts to pro­mote eye safety in their shops and on their web­sites.

But away from the herba­ceous borders and prickly fo­liage, once you’ve stepped onto the wide-open, wind-swept plains of the lawn to give the grass its last cut be­fore win­ter, that’s when the racket of fired-up cut­ting ma­chines freights the cool au­tum­nal air with haz­ard: “By far,” says Joyce, “the most com­mon gar­den­ing in­juries we see in plas­tic surgery are at­trib­ut­able to lawn­mow­ers dur­ing the sum­mer months. The ex­act mech­a­nism of in­jury de­scribed by pa­tients is in­vari­ably the same: they turn off the lawn­mower and pick it up to put it away.

“How­ever, the blades are still turn­ing, and they in­ad­ver­tently put their hand into the spin­ning blades re­sult­ing in mul­ti­ple fin­ger­tip in­juries. We usu­ally see a cou­ple of th­ese in­juries every week.”

Joyce has also ob­served a grow­ing num­ber of trau­mas re­lated to ride-on lawn­mow­ers: “Thank­fully they are not as com­mon, but the in­juries sus­tained tend to be far more se­ri­ous.” This is borne out by the re­sults of a 10-year study of lawn­mower in­juries in chil­dren which found that ride-on lawn­mower in­juries had a higher in­jury sever­ity score and length of hos­pi­tal stay – 15 days ver­sus two days – com­pared with stan­dard lawn­mow­ers.

Lawn­mower in­juries

In a re­view of lawn­mower in­juries pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Emer­gency Nurs­ing, nurse Jean Mullins cited ev­i­dence that “[i]njuries from pro­jec­tiles, typ­i­cally rocks, wires, or glass, ac­count for 17 per cent of all lawn mower in­juries”. She also points out that ro­tary mower blades can achieve speeds of 3,000rpm, which means that “a 1.5lb ob­ject could be launched at 232 miles per hour”.

Af­ter lawn­mow­ers, Joyce ex­plains, up­per limb in­juries from hedge trim­mers and chain­saws are the next most com­mon gar­den­ing in­jury: “Th­ese can range from sim­ple lac­er­a­tions to more trau­matic am­pu­ta­tions.”

Gar­den­ing, like lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, is typ­i­cally a word­less pur­suit, al­low­ing one to dis­en­gage tem­po­rar­ily from the world, but please en­sure that you don’t dis­en­gage com­pletely this au­tumn: your safety is at stake.

93 per cent of gar­den­ers think that gar­den­ing im­proves their mood . . . de­spite, pre­sum­ably, their sore knees, muck-filled fin­ger nails and aching backs.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: OLGA PONOMARENKO/GETTY

An in­jury by any other name: the haz­ardous busi­ness of prun­ing roses.

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