Category Archives: Gardening
Today I shall maybe saving the life of someone you know. I might be saving your life but I assume that if you have the kind of mind that doesn’t mind wading through my writing then you are probably capable of making sure you don’t need saving. Or if you are going to be killed then it will be by some means that I have no power to save you from.
I read today of one of the country’s first mushroom fatalities of the year. Reportedly the culprit was amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. The coroner passed a verdict of misadventure saying that there was nothing that could have been done, even had she been taken directly to hospital at the first indication of trouble. The woman affected was very ill and there was no transplant organ available to replace the damaged one.
This struck me as being a somewhat political verdict. Admittedly amanitas are fatal a lot of the time and admittedly there is very little knowledge about how their harm may be prevented. However I felt the verdict was largely to protect the doctor that had been consulted at first instance. Most doctors will probably never come across a case of amanita poisoning and if they do it is probable they will never do so again. Due to this it is hardly surprising that most cases end in death. There are a few treatments that are beginning to come to light but our ability to find more is probably scuppered by the fact that people rather sensibly do not eat all that many death cap mushrooms.
The first is that proposed by Doctor Bastien which has been used with a remarkable level of success since 1957 on the continent. Dr Bastien has even had so much faith in his technique as to consume fatal quantities of amatoxins on two separate occasions in order to prove that it works.
“The treatment consists of giving, as soon as possible, intravenous vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 3 g/d, oral nifuroxazide 1200 mg/d and-dihydrostreptomycin 1500 mg/d. The three drugs are administered for 3 days during which time carrot broth is the only source of nutrition. At the anti-toxic centres in France this treatment is combined with ‘the indispensable reequilibration of fluids and electrolytes and a course of penicillin.”
Beyond the mention of vitamin C I have little idea of what the substances are, but the important thing to remember is that this treatment appears to do the trick. So much so that Dr Bastien is prepared to risk his life to prove it.
The second treatment is one which seems far more likely to become available in England. The principle involved is that when the amatoxins enter the system they are processed by the liver, which is damaged by their presence. The liver passes the amatoxins back out into the bloodstream but sadly some time later they once again enter the liver to try and finish off the damage they earlier began. The only way out of this cycle is to have faith in the kidneys. The kidneys have the ability to actually send the amatoxins out of the system so they can no longer do any harm. The problem is that in order for the kidneys to do their job they need to be kept sufficiently hydrated. The process is so lengthy that they often become dehydrated and death results. The primary part of this treatment is therefore to keep the kidney’s hydrated. In order to do this just make sure you get enough water. Sadly many hospital treatments that are tried before the hospital realises what is going on will lead to further dehydration, e.g. pumping the stomach, which is ineffectual anyway as the poison has already moved on if it is causing damage.
The second part of the treatment is a substance called silibinin. This is given intravenously and has the effect of maintaining the liver during this trialling time. The substance is originally obtained from the milk thistle plant, silybum marianum, so if it is not possible to get to a hospital on time then that would have to be your last/first resort as an alternative to being given medication. Whatever happens always maintain your water intake to give as much support to your kidneys as possible.
There are other options such as plasmapheresis to cleanse your blood or an organ transplant if things have gone that far, which they do, very rapidly. The most important and obvious way to avoid any complications though is to never eat any death caps, destroying angels, or galeriana’s. If you do discover that you have been unlucky enough to have done so then make sure that before anything else you tell the doctor of this suspicion because these poisonings are rare and it is unlikely your doctor will realise this is what is ailing you if he is not told of the possibility.
It recently occurred to me that there is a very easy way to avoid back pain when gardening which no one had ever thought to tell me. After looking at a dozen or so websites I began to wonder if the idea had actually ever occurred to anyone else. Despite spending what felt like a considerable length of time reading through the top search results on google I largely came across the same sort of advice, none of which included what now seems obvious to me. It is almost as though the people giving advice had never actually done any gardening themselves. Certainly the advice on offer is good advice but it seems as though everyone is just spouting the same wisdom that has been around for decades and no-one has made the link between gardening and modern techniques for preventing muscle damage.
The typical advice you will see is stuff that is worth doing along with the advice that I will offer you because any one piece of advice can always be helped by adding a little more positive advice. Obviously you want to take a break when you get too worn otherwise you will find yourself doing more damage in the long run. However, if you have a lot of space that needs digging or weeding then taking a break as often as you need might not be an option that you will appreciate. Luckily I have worked out how to prolong the period before you are likely to be bothered by back pain. In fact I have personally discovered that I end up having to stop out of exhaustion before the back pain gets to me, which feels like quite a feat considering how much my back used to hurt in the past.
Naturally you should make sure not to do your gardening without warming up first, and you should avoid letting cold breezes blow on your back. So many times I have been absolutely fine until the point the wind blows and I have been hit by agony. One tip that I particularly liked the look of is the use of a gardening apron that works something like a weight lifter’s belt to hold your back in shape. I thought that was quite original. Likewise I read a great deal of advice about bending knees when lifting and making sure to use the right size tools for your body shape, whether that be using a small spade or a long handled spade. But nowhere did I see any mention of balance.
The way to avoid back pain when gardening that no one seems to have realised is to focus on maintaining a balance in the way you use your muscles. Anyone who spends time in the gym working on weights knows the importance of balance. In fact one of the main reasons that people progress to using weights instead of exercise machines is to maintain this sort of balance. The problem with the machines is that they force you to continue exercising your muscles in a very rigid fixed manner whereas free weights allow your muscles to move in a far more natural way. Gardening lies somewhere between these two. On the one hand you are able to move in a manner which is far more natural as you are not tied into such a rigid pattern of motion as an exercise machine, but on the other hand people tend to enforce a repetitive pattern of motion on themselves anyway. By escaping the repetitivity and lack of balance you will quickly find that instead of pulling your back out of place you will begin to pull it back into place.
My tendency when digging is to stand on my left leg and then use my right leg to push the spade into the ground. I then apply pressure on the spade handle by pushing it down on my left hand side, before bracing and lifting the spade with the strength of my right arm whilst balancing the weight with my left arm. Often the only additional advice that would be offered is to make sure that you do that lifting with the aid of your knees. The problem with this is that after you have done a few dozen repetitions you start to feel your back aching and you have to stop for a break and stretch out your spine. This is caused as you have some muscles getting tired more quickly than their corresponding muscles on the opposite side of your body. My first thought was that this could be helped by exercising all your muscle groups in the gym. That certainly helps to a degree because it does help to build up an energy store and create muscles that are far less easy to tire out, but most gardeners are too busy in the garden to waste time going to the gym. It also does not prevent the imbalance that is the root of the problem, it merely delays it.
The technique that I developed was simply to swap my spade wielding hand every 5-10 repetitions. When doing this I immediately found that I was exhausting both sides of my body at an equal rate. This prevented the usual back pains because I no longer had one side with strong fresh muscles pulling on my spine and pelvis while the other side with tired worn out muscles was feeling to weak to pull back. The sensation of making this swap felt unnatural at first. As a right handed digger I had to try and teach my body a new trick. It was a bit like learning to play pool or snooker with my left hand instead of my right hand, a trick that Ronnie O’Sullivan has used in the past and seemingly amazed the commentators with. It immediately made a difference as it felt as though the aches were actually being pulled out of my be the usually troublesome opposing muscles.
Having tried this with digging I then decided that it would be a good idea to use the same technique with trowel weeding. Many people overcome the problem of imbalance when weeding by putting both knees on the ground at the same time. The difficulty this causes is that you then become far less mobile. My tendency is to put my right knee on the ground so I started to alternate by putting my left knee on the ground. Surprisingly this was far more difficult for me than alternating my digging stance. When descending towards the ground my body tried to continue doing things as it always had and it we tricky adjusting the way in which I knelt whilst in descent. As I became more adept at alternating my knees when weeding I began to discover the pain in my hips was far reduced as well as the pain in my knee and if I was picking up something I had unrooted with a spade or a fork I also found that the arm which continued to hold the spade/fork upright felt far less pain as well.
So it is as simple as that. I am now far more able to dig for far longer without back pain. In addition to reduced back pain I have also discovered that the energy I have available for digging is also increased due to using the abilities of twice the muscles. It seems so obvious when you think about it but it is that initial habit of doing it in the one way that is hard to overcome. It does feel unnatural when first trying it, a bit like juggling or rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head, but if you stick with it you will find that you will be able to do far more gardening work with far less effort. You will feel far less back pain and you will no doubt be able to continue gardening into a far more advanced age. This may also have knock on effects to maintain health into older age both through the exercise and the chance to continue eating your lovely homegrown greens.