Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Important Safety Tip!

As writers, we're accustomed to thinking we work with our brains and our eyes. Often overlooked in the equation is the critical role played by our hands. For a brief illustration of the latter assertion, heed the following story.

Fall is harvest time up here in the North Country, which means it's time to clear the garden and haul out the canning equipment. The cucumbers were a disappointment this year, as were the plums, and we never got the beans planted because of the heavy rains in May, but the Pepper Fairy was especially kind to us. Along with the strings of chillies hung up to dry, we put up around 30 pints of pickled peppers this past weekend. Fire-roasted mild banana peppers packed in olive oil (yum!); pepper relish, mild and hot; chunked bananas and Thai dragons in brine and vinegar; jalapenos and habaneros...

So here's the safety tip: if you're doing home canning, be very very careful about your hands! Yes, you're dealing with sharp knives and glass jars and boiling liquids and all that stuff, and I was reasonably respectful of all those things, but it never occurred to me that simply handling jalapenos by the peck could have a cumulative effect.

As soon as I started working on the thin-sliced jalapeno rings, though, I became acutely aware of every tiny nick and cut on my fingers. Along about the time I packed the third pint, I began to notice that the pads of my fingers were turning bright red. By the time I finished with the last jar, I felt as if I had simply dunked my hands up to my wrists in boiling water. They were as bright red as cooked lobster claws.

I washed. It didn't help. I washed again. It still didn't help. I smeared on moisture lotion. It made things worse. (Another helpful hint: no matter how badly your finger feels like it's burning, do NOT stick it in your mouth! And be very careful not to do anything even remotely like getting your hands near your eyes.)

(And as for going to the bathroom...)

I kept soaking, washing, icing, and soaking some more. Along about 1 a.m. I finally got to sleep, only by clutching two cold packs. I got in about four hours of wretched sleep, then went in to the office, where I found myself trying to work on a keyboard with red, swollen, nearly immobile hands. Fortunately I had lots of paper I could shuffle, and the arthritis-strength Tylenol took the edge off the pain, so I was able to get in a somewhat worthwhile day. Today, my hands are no longer red or swollen, but in places the skin is already starting to peel.

So that's this week's important safety tip. We writers like to think of ourselves as knowledge workers, but we also depend on our hands as much as a sculptor or a concert pianist.

So wear gloves, okay?