Warning: Cactus sap can be hazardous

Tibor Machan

Back in the early 1970s a friend of mine in the Louisiana state house told me a lesson he learned. Trying to indicate to his colleagues the absurdity of government micromanagement of the state’s economy.

He introduced a bill that would have government regulate water diviners. By his lights, these folks were not professionals of any kind, just hoaxers, would be magicians. Regulating them would be totally ridiculous. So he thought, that would teach us all!

Sadly, a sizable portion of the body politic of his state didn’t get it and nearly enacted the absurd law he proposed. Which goes to show you that to the absurd, the demonstration of the absurdity of something may appear to be a signal to practical action, one quite the opposite of what had been intended.

All this is to preface a little story of my own that I must cast in somewhat circumspect ways so as not to give anyone the absurd idea that perhaps what’s needed here is for the state and federal government to butt in.
I had purchased a smallish cactus tree on my way home from on the evening of my last day of classes, so as to place the thing on top of the stump of a dead tree I recently had to have cut down right in front of my house. The proprietor and I stuck the seven or so feet tree in my vehicle, with the leaves lying down next to me in the passenger seat.

On the way to my house, in the course of making one particularly sharp right turn, the tree moved against me and I tried to resist it by pushing it back out of my way. As I did this, I broke a leaf and, as cacti are won’t to do, this precipitated the emission of a small amount of sap that got on my right hand.

Not thinking clearly, I didn’t do anything other than lightly wash my hand after moving the tree out of my vehicle and sitting it on to it’s new spot. After that, I went to my computer and did some e-mail reading and then had a snack.
In the course of watching some instant news program my eyes started to sting a bit, so I brilliantly attempted to relieve this by rubbing them, you guessed it, with my right hand. In time the sting got stronger and stronger, eventually so bad that I was intermittently emitting small screams running around my house, trying to relieve the pain that was mounting in my entire face.

It was late and I hate to bother neighbors with my problems, so I called, with great difficulty, my ophthalmologist. He could recommend nothing other than I should get myself to an emergency room. Well, that wasn’t my first preferred option since of course I could not see much, being unable to keep my eyes open for more than about 4 seconds, after which the sting would get intolerable. But, well, after calling a friend who also urged me to get myself to a hospital, and after I tried to remedy matters by taking a shower, sticking my head into cold water, putting an ice pack on my eye and simply dancing around in circles out of sheer panic, I finally got into my vehicle and undertook the 12 mile drive to the hospital’s emergency room.

This ride wasn’t what one might call the safest. At least 45 to 60 percent of the time I had my eyes squinting so badly that I was virtually blind. Fortunately, there were no other cars on the road and I managed to catch every green light, so I did get to my destination and was treated by very competent and friendly staff, including a 30 something female intern who sounded like she was 13 years of age but had the self-assurance of a veteran. They flushed my eyes three times, administered some drops and ointments and after an hour — and the collection of co-payment — sent me home, now with vision that wasn’t perfect but certain had improved about 70%.

OK, what a dope I had been! It is pretty ordinary knowledge that cacti contain toxic substances to be protected from birds and other predators, so I ought never to have taken the spill of sap onto my right hand so nonchalantly. I was being stupid and paid for it not just with the ordeal of pain and panic but the cost of the visit to the emergency room. Lesson learned and, luckily, with only minor after effects.

Alas, I suspect that at this point a bunch of people would be screaming for government to enter the picture, provide warning labels for cactus plants, etc., so we would all be told of the pretty evident fact that these things can be dangerous if their sap gets into one’s eyes. And there probably are some eager beaver attorneys who would recommend we sue someone, anyone, since it is clear that I had been seriously victimized.

Absurd, I say. I was being foolish, careless, reckless and paid for it, actually quite lightly this time. And one simply cannot anticipate all the ways that people can mishandle stuff in their lives. So they just will have to learn from their errors and maybe teach others a thing or two in the process.

But the victim mentality rampant in America has come to be so ridiculous that ordinary misdeeds like those of mine now bring on hordes of meddlers who would propose absurd remedies where the only one that’s applicable is to pay better attention to what one is doing.