Mix the Lime and the Coconut: A Funny Story with a Valuable Lesson

So, today I wanted to share with you yet another embarassing health moment in my life, in hopes that it will save you some trouble.  (If you missed my other embarassing health moment, you can read all about it here).  It all started with a weekend trip to my future in-laws.  The whole family was there, mom and dad, siblings and significant others.  The hubs and I had been engaged about 3 months, and I was pretty anxious to make a good impression since this was the first time we’d all been together after the engagement.  Should’ve known I was in for some trouble.

It all started when we decided to go out on a friend’s boat and make some margaritas from scratch.  Sounds like a great way to spend Memorial Day weekend, right?  So there we were, in the boat’s little kitchen area, squeezing limes, talking away, attempting to get enough juice to make a whole pitcher.  Needless to say, we had to squeeze a LOT of limes.  We finally got our pitcher and went topside to enjoy the sun.  Everybody put on sunscreen, we laid out, and it was a beautiful day. I was charming the family, having a great time, and glad to be fitting in so well.  I thought I was golden.

The next day, I noticed a bit of a rash on my hands, right below my thumb.  I asked my sister-in-law what she thought it was (she’s an oriental medicine practitioner), and we both agreed maybe it was a late developing latex allergy from the gloves I used at work.  I didn’t think much of it.  The following day I was back at work, on memorial day.  By 7:30 AM I had a couple small, fluid filled blisters.  By 8:30, they were red, swollen, and the blisters were spreading all over my hands.  Since it was, of course, a holiday and employee health was closed, I ended up in the emergency department, waiting to find out I had contracted leprosy, which of course was the only plausible explanation.  Everyone was freaked out by my now alien looking hands.  My charge nurse didn’t want me around patients in case I was infectious, the ER resident looked with disgust and said “I don’t do rashes”, and to be quite honest, I was pretty grossed out myself.  After receiving a shot of steroids in the butt (of course from a male colleague that I still see in the hallways, lovely benefit to getting healthcare at your workplace), I was sent home.

Would you believe I was out of work for a WHOLE WEEK?  Yes, a week.  My right hand was so swollen I couldn’t bend my fingers, and there was no way I could fit a glove over it or take care of critically ill patients with only one hand.  I finally got in to see a dermatologist, after a week’s worth of panic over whether or not I had flesh eating bacteria, an allergic reaction to latex, leprosy, or, some as yet unknown disease that would be named after me.

Thankfully, the dermatologist cleared things up pretty quickly.  She kept insisting that it seemed like a plant reaction, until finally I just recounted every step of my day.  “We got up, went to the store, got on the boat….oh we did squeeze a bunch of limes for margaritas…”  Her face lit up!  “That’s it!”  She said.  “I see this in bartenders all the time.  Some people are especially sensitive to limes, and if you combine that with the sun exposure, you get a chemical burn on your hands.”  I was floored.  Chemical burn?  Lime juice?  What the…?  She said some people even got it after eating key lime pie and walking around in the sun in Key West.  Who knew??  Apparently its a compound in the limes that causes temporary photosensitivity in the exposed area.  Other plants that can also trigger the same reaction include celery, parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace.

Long story short, after a few months of creams, lotions, and some gnarly looking hands, my skin was about 98% back to normal.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to wear long gloves for the wedding, as I’d feared might be the only acceptable solution.  I can still tell a slight discoloration in a couple places, and its been 5 years now.

So as you enjoy the sun this summer, please keep in mind this little tidbit so you can avoid lots of embarassment and the discomfort of “margarita dermatitis”, as its commonly known.  You’ll be glad you did.


2 thoughts on “Mix the Lime and the Coconut: A Funny Story with a Valuable Lesson

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