The sting of jalapeño on my skin after chopping it always reminds me of my dedication to playing ultimate frisbee. Lately the farm supplying my vegetables this summer has delivered a lot of jalapeños. I’m enjoying them. I like spicy food and I enjoy their flavor more than cayenne pepper.
One afternoon in my junior year of college, it was time to get ready for frisbee practice. That year the team made it to the finals of nearly every tournament and won a few. We took it seriously. Everybody made every practice, at least among the first-string players.
Packing my bag drilled a short mnemonic into my thoughts that I still think when packing to play: “lights, darks, cleats, contacts,” meaning bring a light shirt and dark shirt to prepare to play on either said when we scrimmaged, bring cleats to wear on my feat, and put in my contact lenses.
After packing my clothes and shoes, I prepared to put in my first contact as I normally would. I took it out of its storage container, put it in the palm of my left hand, poured solution on it, rubbed it around with my right forefinger in the solution to clean it, put it on the tip of my right forefinger, and put it in my eye.
Pain! Suddenly, intense pain! My eye felt on fire. It teared up like never before. The white part of my eye turned as bloodshot as I’d ever seen. I couldn’t think or do anything but get that contact out of my eye. What happened?
When I could think again, I realized what happened. Earlier that day I had made my famous vegetarian gumbo, which meant chopping jalapeños. The oil stuck to my fingers and got into the contact. This was before disposable contacts. This lens had jalapeño oil in it.
What could I do? The lens had jalapeño oil on it. So did my fingers. No way could I get new lenses before practice, which I had to leave for now.
I also figured the eye could flush out oil in time and that while jalapeño oil stung, I never heard of it being poisonous. All I knew was I wasn’t going to miss practice. I figured if I washed my hands enough, I’d get the oil off my skin. Likewise for the lens afterward. Still, I had little time before practice so I could only wash so much. I also figured however painful it felt, the amount of oil wasn’t enough to injure me.
I washed and washed and washed my hands and the lens as long and thoroughly as I could.
Then I put the lens in again voluntarily. The first time was an accident. This time I did it intentionally. What else could I do? At the time skipping practice was out of the question.
The moment the lens touched my eye it hurt as much. I don’t think soap cuts through jalapeño oil at all. I think it all stayed. I couldn’t think straight from the pain. All I could do was blink and blink and blink. I may have taken it out and put it back in a couple times to handle it. After a few minutes of intense pain, the tears got the oil out and everything worked. Holy cow, it was intense. Looking back, I surprise myself that I did it, though I also remember that’s how seriously we took playing.
I still had to put in the second lens. I had cleaned my hands before handling this one so got less oil on it compared to the first. It hurt bad but not as much.
Both my eyes stayed as bloodshot as I can imagine eyes getting for a while.
Then I went to practice and played. My eyes have been fine since.
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