March 24, 2010
Thorny Emergency Poses Puncture Problem
Q. I came in contact with a cactus while working. I was punctured by it and need to know if I should be concerned. Any help is appreciated. Thank you.
A. Yes, you should be concerned. Besides the formidable tissue damage that a spine entering your body can do, puncture wounds from plant spines can cause other problems as well. Spines such as those found on cactus, bougainvilleas, roses and other ‘armed’ plants can carry soil born bacteria like tetanus etc. If your wound is deep (has gone past the skin ) you should take the same precautions as you would any dirty puncture wound -see a doctor immediately or go to an emergency room. Cactus-like plants with spines such as the Euphorbia may also contain irritating chemicals and can be quite painful for a period of time afterwards, and spine wounds from certain species of Agave can cause a painful swelling in some individuals that can last weeks.
So if your wound has broken the skin, please, see a physician immediately and pay attention to when you last had a tetanus shot. Deep cactus spine punctures are considered ‘dirty wounds’ and if you have not had tetanus shot within 5 years it’s a good idea to have a booster within 72 hours of receiving the wound.
When dealing with spiny plants it’s best to take several precautions. Plants with large spines can enter your boots and pierce your feet, so when you are trimming them remember to place the trimmings in a discreet pile that you can avoid walking on, wear boots with thick soles, and wear thick, long sleeved shirts, gloves, and goggles. Garden centers carry long sleeved leather gloves for pruning roses. It’s a real bad idea to trim spiny bushes or palm trees with a chain saw, as the chain can catch a spiny branch and whip it into your face (if you insist on doing this besides the clothing mentioned above wear a helmet with a full face, clear snap down visor, although your neck will still be vulnerable; it would also be a good idea to take out life insurance -using a chain saw to prune anything but large, woody branches over 3 inches thick is a real bad idea).
Trimming and handling cactus is best done with the cactus parts to be handled or trimmed wrapped first in thick cardboard or layers of newspaper wrapped around the stems so that the wrapping material remains until the procedure is through. Large cactus should be trimmed with a hand-saw. If you are moving or transplanting a cactus wrap it in a sheet or sheets of box cardboard and use duct tape to keep the cardboard from unwrapping . Fit the cardboard so that it has a taper below the main part of the cactus so that it does not slip out of the cardboard sleeve when you move the cactus. You may also use tie-down straps to secure the wrapped cactus and provide a grip for handling the plant. Wrapping the cactus in carpet will work as well as tying it up with old garden hose.