Man hospitalized after encounter with pencil cactus plant

- Spring is in the air, and that means gardeners and lovers of landscaping all over the Bay Area will take to their favorite pastime. But beware -- there are hidden dangers lurking in the landscape that could land you in the hospital.

For Tampa resident Eric Shrader, it started innocently enough. "It was midafternoon so it was pretty warm out and that cactus plant needed to be cut down."

But what happened next was something he will never forget.

"I had no idea and it has a milky substance in it that kind of oozes and pours out of it after it's cut, almost like it's bleeding," Shrader explained.

Without knowing it, Shrader had just been poisoned by his pencil cactus plant.

"My eyes started to burn a little bit more and more, and I thought, ‘Gosh this is strange.’ This isn't something that really I feel was allergies," he recalled.

After a frantic search for answers on the internet he was rushed to the hospital, and that's when his nightmare truly began. For almost an hour, Eric's eyes were forced to stay open in a desperate attempt to purge the poison.

The continuous drip, drip, drip of a saline solution nearly drove him mad.

Alfred Aleguas, the managing director of the Florida Poison Information Center, will be the first to say, when it comes to gardening, what you don't know can hurt you.

"It can be potentially very dangerous,” he warned.  “The sap is really very irritating if you don't do anything about it. It can cause corneal ulceration or even temporary blindness."

There are other poisonous plants you may encounter in your garden, and Patrick Gray of Green Thumb Nursery in Town 'N Country says there are some things you need to know.

"If anything has a milky substance on it, just a word to the wise is, just don't rub it anywhere around your mouth or your eyes or someplace where you can ingest it," he offered.

And if you do think you've been poisoned, the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa is ready to help.

"If you call us, we'll gauge what your initial symptoms were, what happened, tell you what to do and then we'll follow up and decide whether you need to be seen or not," Aleguas continued.

As for Shrader, his pencil cactus days are a thing of the past.

"I'm doing great now. They do want me to follow up with an ophthalmologist in about six more months. I guess there'll be no more pencil cactus for me."

For more information about the Florida Poison Control Center you can visit: http://www.poisoncentertampa.org/

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