MY sister made a grand entrance to a family event a couple of weeks ago with a dramatic account of how a pot plant attacked her and it ended up on the news.
Everyone turned to me when she said that. I’m a journalist, I write news stuff, hence I had to have the latest global updates on pot plant attacks, was their thinking, in the same way that people expect me to have the very latest on Donald Trump, alien landings, golf results, climate change, the Middle East, Beyonce’s marriage, housing affordability, the cost of Lego, whether Tanya Plibersek should be Labor leader instead of Bill Shorten, anything to do with the Catholic church, the Academy Awards, quinoa, the best Norwegian restaurants, Australia’s dodgiest politicians, and if they should invest in bitcoin (answer: no). But I was having a day off. I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about and said so.
“It was on the news. I’m one of the people who ended up with a pierced eardrum because of a pot plant,” she said.
"It was on the news. I’m one of the people who ended up with a pierced eardrum because of a pot plant,” she said.
Everyone turned to me again. I still didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, but when someone says something like that – even a sister who seems to specialise in weird and wonderful events – my interest is piqued. She rushed on.
“I walked out the front door on my way to work and I thought I’d move the pot plant a few metres from where it was,” she said.
She didn’t know what type of plant it was but it had spiky leaves, although that wasn’t apparent to her at the outset. I’ll say right here that my sister is not the gardening type so that didn’t surprise me. There could have been a koala sitting in the pot plant and she wouldn’t have noticed because plants and gardening in general just aren’t her thing. The only sure thing is that whatever was in the pot must have been the world’s toughest plant because she can kill a plastic weed if it’s left in her tender care for too long.
But back to her story. She said she bent over to move the pot plant, which was a little heavier than she was expecting, lost her grip and suddenly had a stunning pain in her ear (I can’t remember whether it was her left or right).
She was telling the story while a few of us (all siblings) were sitting on a beautiful, wide, old-fashioned covered veranda at the back of a lovely old home beneath the botanical gardens at Tamworth where we stayed the weekend to attend a family reunion on a property outside town.
I want you to picture six or seven adults drinking tea and eating biscuits while watching our sister recreate, in a booming voice and with matching hand and body movements, her encounter with the pot plant, the spike entering her ear (yes, ow), and how she staggered round for a few seconds before dropping to the ground in agony.
At Tamworth she was wearing clothes appropriate to a recreation, including a dramatic fall to the ground. On the day it happened in early January she was wearing a skirt and high heels.
We discovered the news story wasn’t specifically about my sister – although I wouldn’t put it past her; she was once interviewed for TV while skiing at Thredbo wearing a moose head – but it did feature a Melbourne ear, nose and throat surgeon warning about the dangers of spiky plants causing gardening-related ear injuries.
Professor Stephen O’Leary wrote a paper about 28 patients he’d seen over a five-year period who’d suffered serious ear injuries because of spiky plants like the yucca that have “fronds that can pass straight down the ear canal like an arrow”.
For some, like my sister, the spike perforates the ear drum which is bad enough, but eardrums can recover. Others have permanent hearing loss after spikes “head straight into the little bones of hearing and into the inner ear itself”, said Professor O’Leary.
My eldest son loves gardening and has done wonderful things with his backyard.
The other morning he hobbled into work. I started bagging him about hitting pre-season soccer training too hard after Christmas good cheer, but he shook his head.
“A plant got me,” he said.
On the weekend he decided to tackle a spiky palm in a lousy spot in his garden. The plant won.
“One minute I was trying to hack at some big leaves while I worked out how to get at the trunk, and the next minute I had spikes in my hand and my leg and they were killing me,” he said.
A day later he was at the doctor after the leg injury started swelling and numbness in his hand wouldn’t go away. The doctor removed the barbs from his hand and leg and while he was at it checked out an unusual spot in a delicate part of my son’s anatomy. I’ll spare you the details but he was suddenly undergoing minor surgery with stitches and wasn’t impressed with any of it.
He booked a tree surgeon to remove the palm. The fellow said my son was not the first to come off second-best after a palm encounter.
On Tuesday I decided to tackle a section of my garden where jasmine runners were frolicking where I didn’t want them to frolic. I didn’t pay much attention at first when my legs started itching.
It didn’t even worry me when I lifted a pot plant and a tiny redback spider flicked onto the top of my hand. My house is something of a redback resort area. I don’t sit on any outdoor furniture without turning things upside down first because the little critters are everywhere.
But the itching on my legs turned feral and spread to my arms, which is when I noticed the tiny squashed and half-eaten mangoes hidden amongst the jasmine runners, mulch and native violets, left by possums and birds from a nearby mango tree. Which is when I became the third family gardening victim in a matter of weeks and blew up like a weird puffer fish. I am (tragically) very allergic to mangoes.
It was Rudyard Kipling who said “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade.” Now there’s a man who’s slammed a gardening fork into his foot or pulled a back muscle digging up pennywort.