I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. I've tried, of course, to be conscientious about hand-washing and so forth, but as many Euphorbias as I have, and as long as I've had them, I was going to get Euphorbia sap in the eye eventually. So here's my report about that.
What happened: On Wednesday night, our weather forecast predicted a low of 58F/14C, which was probably warm enough that I didn't need to do anything -- the plants are all either right next to the house or right next to the garage, they're packed fairly close together, and most are sitting on or near a good-sized slab of concrete. So they're in a relatively warm microclimate to begin with, warm enough that 58F/14C shouldn't be that big of a deal.
But I decided to move the ones that were easiest to move anyway, because an extra layer of protection couldn't hurt. So I intended to wheel the sets of plants that are on carts into the garage. (A couple big plants also had to be moved before I could move the ones on carts, but that's not really relevant to the story.)
One of the carts had a Euphorbia lactea next to a Euphorbia tirucalli 'Firesticks.' I'd been keeping them outside because I've been stupidly hoping that being outside would do something to clear up their fungus problem -- which is still going on, and has been going on for at least a year now.
I'm not sure what's going on with the E. lactea: it's gotten wobbly in the pot. Kept falling over into the E. tirucalli, as I rolled the cart over the rough surface of the concrete. So I kept picking it up again. I noticed that the lactea thorns were stabbing the tirucalli stems here and there, but this isn't the first time that's happened, and I didn't think it was terribly significant. I tried to keep my hands out of the little pinpricks of sap, and pressed forward, because it was already 8:30 PM and I had other stuff I was hoping to get to before bed.
Got everything in the garage, rolled the door down, turned out the light, went in the house, and sat down at the computer to do stuff. Got about half an hour into that when I absent-mindedly rubbed my left eye.
What it was like: Initially, it just felt like there was something in my eye; it was irritating, but not unusually so. So I rubbed harder, to get whatever it was out of my eye. As you do. And that didn't make things any better, so I got up and went to the bathroom to rinse it out in the sink. And that's roughly the point when I realized that this was no ordinary foreign-object-in-the-eye situation.
For one thing, it felt hot. And it was much more irritated, much faster, than if I'd just gotten a piece of dirt in my eye. I could still see through the eye fine. I found the husband and asked him to look at the eye in question and tell me if he could see anything in there; he couldn't. And that's about the point when I thought of the Euphorbia tirucalli I'd just moved, and put things together.
(So how was the pain? Once when I was about 19, I angrily opened a heavy wooden door, while barefoot, so it swung directly into my big toe, not only stubbing it but also ripping off the toenail. It hurt about that much: bad enough that it took some concentration to think about anything else, but not so bad that I completely lost control of my faculties. This, remember, is from what was probably a single pinprick of dried sap, though. Having experienced that much, I can totally believe that getting a squirt of sap directly to the eye would be completely incapacitating, and probably would involve a good bit of writhing on the floor and/or incoherent screaming.)
So. What you're supposed to do for Euphorbia tirucalli sap is, you're supposed to run cold, clean water on the affected eye(s) for 15 minutes, seek medical attention, and then (optionally) run water on the affected eye(s) for another 15 minutes. I didn't do that.
Why didn't you do that? I didn't do that because, although it felt considerably better with the water on it, and almost immediately so, even, I was having a difficult time keeping my eye open while running water on it, because . . . I don't know. I may have an overactive blink reflex, or something. It should also be noted that what my right eye was doing while this was going on was, it was getting to look at the inside of the kitchen sink. Which is not that interesting, so it's not like the time was passing quickly or anything either.
So what wound up happening was, I'd run the water for like 30-60 seconds, feel better, get bored, and start getting annoyed at trying to keep my eye open when every instinct was telling me to close it. So then I'd get up, try to locate the husband, discuss the situation with him, and then eventually run off to rinse the eye again.
After hearing that keeping the eye open with the water on it was a problem, the husband proposed that maybe it would work better for me to lie down somewhere, and have him holding the water, that maybe it would be easier to relax that way. So at one point, he'd constructed this whole thing where a couple of chairs were supporting a piece of plywood that stretched into our upstairs shower, tilted slightly downward so the water wouldn't run all over into the bathroom. When tried, that turned out to be considerably worse (cold water all over my back and scalp, a gazillion little jets of water spraying all over my face -- generally much, much closer to waterboarding than I felt comfortable with), so we abandoned that and I went back to the kitchen sink again.
Why didn't you just seek medical attention? Well, we did consider it. Since it was 9 PM or later through this whole ordeal, though, that would have meant going to the emergency room in Iowa City, which is a significant amount of time to spend in the car without any water to run over the eye, plus time spent parking, waiting in the waiting room to see a doctor, explaining the situation, and etc. At this point, I was having to go back to the sink every 3-5 minutes, so that didn't seem workable, plus the last time I went to the emergency room, it was also for something eye-related, and I didn't want the U of I Hospital people to be thinking that I was some kind of eye hypochondriac.
More seriously, though -- there was really no indication that the hospital would have been able to do anything much for me that I couldn't do for myself at home. I wasn't in unbearable pain, I was still more or less able to think, and there's not actually a cure for E. tirucalli sap in the eye anyway, as far as I could find on-line: basically you just flush it with water in the hopes that the sap will wash out (and because keeping the eye cool dulls the pain), and wait to see how bad it's going to be. And we had running water here already. So.
Resolution: At about 9:30 or 10 PM, I took an ibuprofen, because why not, and some benadryl (diphenhydramine), because somebody on-line had said that antihistamines were sometimes helpful. By about 10:30 PM, things had improved to the point where I was able to lie on the couch and watch TV ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") for a while without pain. Don't know if the drugs and the feeling better were related or not, but I suppose it doesn't matter.
Wound up going to bed at about 1 AM, and slept in until 11 AM. I don't know if the sleeping in is related or not either, but that's almost unheard of for me: I rarely sleep in later than 9:30 AM.
It's possible that my left eye is a little more prone to watering since this, but it's also possible that I'm just paying more attention to it. No lingering effects that are at all life-disrupting, anyway -- no pain, no problems seeing, no scarring.
What next? Damned if I know. I've had at least one E. tirucalli at all times since 2001, and this is the first time anything like this has happened. If I don't have to worry about it happening again until 2025, that's not so terrible.
On the other hand, the whole Euphorbia genus has made itself awfully annoying over the last year or so, with the ineradicable fungus problem, and there have been several occasions when I've been very tempted to just throw out all the affected plants1 and start over. Or maybe not start over, even, since I don't know how to rid the house of the fungus. Also, this was likely just a tiny pinprick of sap. Next time it might not be.
Maybe I'm just done with Euphorbias. I'm certainly going to be thinking about it pretty seriously.
All of these are officially Euphorbias at the moment, even if I've written their names as Pedilanthus or Synadenium.