• Jill

Hypochondria in the Garden



I’ll admit it now. I’m a life-long hypochondriac. I’m very high functioning, though. I can go months without seeing a doctor. But I will worry most of that time that there is something really wrong with me. And don’t try to tell me your symptoms if you have something wrong with you. I immediately think that whatever you have, I have too. I literally have to warn people who want to share their health concerns with me, because their malady can set me back weeks.


On the one hand, it’s kind of funny. I’m lucky; I’ve never had anything really serious wrong with me. On the other hand, you never know. That’s the part that keeps me up at night.


And now, during the pandemic, you might think since my contact with others is practically zero, that perhaps my hypochondria would lessen. But oh no. Not me. I’ve devised other ways to worry about my health directly related to the garden, where I now spend most of my time.

Unfortunately, there are many unspoken dangers in the garden. It’s not all sunshine and roses (both of which can cause deleterious effects on your health!) As a matter of fact, just this week, I punctured a vein with a bougainvillea thorn, and ouch, I’ve been whining all week about it. I was out of the line up for a couple of days. But it looks pretty bad, you have to admit.

(Note: The red dot on the right is where the puncture occurred, the white scarring are stove burns from a lifetime of cooking over a hot stove(!) and the bruising…just appeared after the puncture!)

Here are the dangers that I worry about when I am gardening:

1) Sunshine. I’ve had several basal cell carcinoma patches on my nose, and those are no fun. So I always wear heavy sunscreen, and a hat with a large brim if I am going to be out in the heat of the day (which I generally avoid).

2) Hydration. When it’s warm, I make sure that I am drinking enough water. Dehydration can sneak up on you.

3) Muscle Strain. I don’t restrict myself when it comes to reaching, lifting, or bending over in the garden, but I am aware that one wrong twist could cause me to be benched. So I make sure that if I am getting sore, I take it a little bit easier, and maybe just work in the raised bed garden. And I make my husband take care of all the heavy trash in my garden bin!

4) Thorns. As I learned again this week, Bougainvillea have thorns. Big ones. And I wasn’t wearing rose gloves, because, you know, bougainvillea can’t hurt you. (That’s a myth.) But even though the bruise that I got from the bougainvillea thorn looks bad, I took care of it right away so it didn’t get infected. My lemon and lime tree also have thorns that give me pause. And roses are another story. I always wear my long sleeve rose gloves when I am pruning my roses, because there’s bacteria and fungi on roses that can really hurt you. When I was a young adult, my family doctor was a gardener. He told me a story about a time when he was pricked by a rose thorn, thought nothing of it, and later almost lost his arm to sepsis because he didn’t take care of the infection soon enough. That story has stuck with me so I am VERY careful around my roses. They bite. (P.S. I just checked the internet about effects of bacteria and fungi in wound punctures from thorns…and that was a really bad idea. I now think I have something more serious that I thought I had when I started writing this.)

5) Bugs. I don’t know which bugs in my garden are pestering me, it could be just mosquitos. I currently have a few itchy red spots which I know are insect inflicted. Luckily, I’m not particularly prone to reactions from bug bites…but my husband is! Once when we were vacationing in Alaska, he got bit by a flying something on his neck. And I am not exaggerating when I say that the site of the bite protruded 2 inches from his neck!

6) Plant Medicine. Insecticides, even organic ones, need to be handled carefully. And I always read the directions about when fruits or veg can be harvested after application of anything. Last week I was spraying my marigolds late in the day, and the wind blew a droplet of the spray into my eye. I was a mess for the rest of the evening, even though I was perfectly fine.

7) Poisonous Plants. Some of the most beautiful, and most useful garden plants can be dangerous if you ingest them or don’t take care when you are pruning.

Here’s the list of things in my garden for which I have a healthy respect.


a. Foxglove: Has a toxic substance that can cause sever poisoning. Foxglove is sometimes confused with comfrey – which is used to treat bruises and burns, so misidentification can be a problem. Don’t pick in the wild!

b. Heliotrope: All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.

c. Daffodil: All parts of the daffodil are toxic if ingested. The lesson here is – don’t eat your garden plants unless they’re fruits or veg!

d. Azaleas: Also have toxins, dangerous to humans and animals that want to nibble on them. Causes heart problems.

e. Euphorbia: The milky latex or sap is toxic and may cause intense inflammation of the skin and the eye if it comes in contact with them. Ugh. My euphorbia is just a baby, I hate that it will grow up to be a danger in the garden.

Here’s a list of things NOT in my garden that I know can cause trouble.

a. Hydrangea: Gorgeous lavender, pink, blue, lime blooms. Just don’t eat them. You don’t want to know the symptoms.

b. Oleander: I think oleander is my least favorite plant. They do have a nice bloom, and are exceptionally hardy. That’s why you see them on freeway medians everywhere! But because they were in my backyard as a kid, my mom warned me about them, and told me to never get near. That’s all I needed. They’re poisonous. A long time ago, one of my neighbor's dog's ate the blooms and keeled over, so that's a definite no for me.

c. Mistletoe: In Christmas tradition, when you get caught under the mistletoe, kisses are in store. It’s very big in Hallmark movies. So, it’s hard to reconcile how a plant with such a fun tradition can be so deadly. But, yup, all parts are poisonous if you eat them. And really mistletoe is a parasite, so how it gained such an esteemed place in our holiday traditions, is something I need to research.

I know that there are lots more that could be on this list – these are just some that have come to my attention over the course of my years in the garden.

All to say, be careful out there. Whether you are a patio gardener, a container gardener, or a backyard gardener, there can be danger lurking beneath all those gorgeous fruits and flowers.

This week, with my prominent wrist bruise, I feel like a garden warrior. But honestly, I’m very grateful that it didn’t turn out to be something more serious…even though I know I’ll keep worrying about it until some other imagined malady takes its place.

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