or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 8/7/11

   August 13th, 2011

Hot pepperA woman, wearing glasses, comes up to the desk and says she has two things to ask me - then relates this story:

Last night I was chopping peppers while cooking dinner. I wasn't using gloves because the peppers were from my own garden, and I didn't think they'd be very hot.

However, after dinner, I took my contacts out and could feel my eyes burn a little, which must have been from pepper juice left on my fingers.

This morning, even after showering, shampooing my hair, and washing my hands thoroughly, I could still smell and taste the pepper juice on my hands. That worried me, because I think it must also still on my contacts.

So my questions are, is there some kind of home remedy to get pepper juice off my hands, and how can I tell if my contacts are safe? It was my last pair of disposables and I actually have an eye appointment in a couple weeks, so I only need them clean enough to make them last.

Whew. I figured I could find information about pepper juice remedies, but I wasn't about to suggest anything having to do with her eyes*.

I did a few different keyword searches for cleaning pepper juice off of hands, and there were indeed tons of websites and suggestions. The two I saved for her were:

Although there didn't seem to be a consensus of what method was best - just lots and lots of suggestions.

For an idea of what to do about the contacts, I thought I'd call my own eye
doctor, because they've always been very friendly and helpful. I explained why I was calling, and the receptionist kind of laughed and put me on hold to consult with the doctor.

When she came back, she said to just throw them away. I kind of figured that's what she'd have to say, but I don't think it was just to protect against a lawsuit. She said contacts absorb pretty much everything they come into contact with, so there is just no way to safely clean them.

She did suggest the patron contact her own eye doctor now, even before her upcoming appointment, as they might be able to give her a temporary pair.

I conveyed all of this to the patron, who was appreciative - however, she said she was already using a temporary pair from the eye doctor, which were supposed to carry her through to the upcoming appointment.

Oh well - she was able to clean her hands, but she's stuck with glasses for the next couple weeks.


*That's the public reference librarian's mantra after all: no medical, legal, financial, or tax advice, ever.

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