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Safety in the garden

By DR THOMAS KAISER [email protected]

Dr Thomas Kaiser is the Medical Director of the Vale do Lobo Medical Centre and is a specialist in traditional General Practice for the whole family, state of the art aesthetic and cosmetic medicine.

Gardening is such a wonderful activity. It is fun, fulfilling, healthy and relaxing. As a doctor though, you get conditioned by experiences and that sometimes spoils things a bit.

To give you an example, if I see a palm tree, I do not, like everybody else, associate it with summer, fun, beach and holidays. My associations are the palm thorns that I have been digging out of my patients’ hands.

I would like to give you a few essential tips on how you can enjoy working in your garden safely.

1. Make sure you always wear protective gloves, sturdy shoes, glasses and sometimes safety head gear. The dangers from thorns, twigs and stones are underestimated and infections occur easily from those little cuts, grazes and foreign bodies that enter your skin easily, unless you wear good gloves.

2. Be very careful when cutting palm tree leaves. The ‘thorns’ near the trunk of the trees are vicious and they often enter the skin in a flash of a second, where they are difficult to see. The thorns cause nasty inflammations and are often of astonishing size. I have removed many, some more than five cms long, one from my own knee.

3. I do not have to tell you that many plants in the garden are poisonous. What is not so well known is that the sap of some can cause severe toxic reactions if in contact with the skin, worse if they get into your eyes. From irritation to quite significant visual disturbances, everything can happen. Use those glasses! They will also protect you from the spikes of the palms and cacti.

4. Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are tricky and can cause serious damage to your health. Read the instructions, do not mix them. The interaction of different substances can cause very toxic combinations. The inhalation of the poison is often more dangerous than ingestion. Do not store them in old food containers that can lead to fatal confusions.

5. Maintain your tools in good condition. A dodgy spade or shovel is bad for your back. If it breaks it can injure your leg. Keep the cutters sharp, then you can work with less force and more efficiently.

6. Cutting wood is my favourite pasttime in the garden. I am very meticulous with the quality of my axe and saw. I have seen too many frightening injuries caused by them. If the axe is not very sharp it can easily slip off the block of wood and end in your leg. A faulty saw is bad for your back and  can snap.

I am scared of power saws and their users. You see that being a doctor has damaged me quite a bit. But particularly, please have those instruments maintained by experts and do wear the safety equipment that is necessary. A power saw can cause a lot of damage in seconds.

The same applies to the strimmer, a tool that I really love. The fun with it can be spoiled quite a bit without shin pads.

7. It is easy to get carried away on a lovely sunny day during your garden work. It is also easy to get dehydrated, sunburnt or sun stroke on those days. So do not forget the sun hat, glasses and the essential bottle of water next to you.

8. Digging, weeding and lifting stones and rocks are a danger for your back. Always keep your back straight and do not try to be Hercules. Lifting heavy rocks is best done in a team effort. Here again safety shoes are essential.

9. In the caterpillar season we need to be cautious near pine trees. It is, as you know, the fine hair of this pest that can cause severe allergic skin reactions but also conjunctivitis and in susceptible patients, asthma. Their itch can drive you insane and to protect yourself is not so easy, because the hairs are virtually everywhere. If you start to scratch, you can cause secondary infections.

10. The keen gardener should be up to date with tetanus vaccinations and be suspicious of cuts and grazes that become red, hot and oozy. Infected wounds need to be cleaned by a professional and sometimes antibiotics are essential.

Enough said about the dangers of gardening. With a bit of common sense and preparation, it is really quite safe and a fantastic activity.

I wish you many enjoyable hours in your garden in the good spring weather that will, hopefully, soon arrive.

Dr Thomas Kaiser can be contacted by telephone on (00351) 289 398 009 or by emailing [email protected]