As I mentioned earlier, during Sarkis and Margaret’s stay, they bravely helped us begin tackling the huge volumes of olive prunings which now needed to be cleared.
It was around this time that Paul began to suffer from sore, burning sensations on his hands and forearms. At first he thought he must have accidentally caught his wrist on the hot oven shelf, however he could not recollect doing so. Then huge sore blisters began to erupt on his skin. We were at a total loss as to the cause, even our friendly doctor was not sure but gave Paul a prescription for a course of steroid treatment.
Puzzled, one night I sat up for hours scouring the internet to try and find some helpful information. Eventually I succeed in tracking down an article regarding some tree workers in New Zealand who had demonstrated surprisingly similar symptoms, after felling a fig tree. Suddenly the penny dropped. Yes !!! Paul had recently cut down a Fig tree that was competing for space with some of the olive trees.
Fig trees seem to thrive around “Tre Cancelle”, in fact they sprout up all over the place like weeds and can be something of a nuisance. We are lucky to have both Red and White varieties, which give us an abundance of deliciously sweet, sticky figs. A fresh fig straight from the tree first thing in the morning is a real treat, or chilled in the fridge after lunch. Of course, you have to be careful not to consume too many lest you end up with “Vesuvius Tummy”. They make a fantastic jam too.
Anyway, it transpires that Fig trees have a substance in their milky sap which can cause a phototoxic reaction, by rendering the skin hypersensitive to sunlight, which can lead to burns and blistering. The article also went on to say that certain other plants including citrus fruit, parsnip, celery, dill, fennel and carrots also contain chemicals which when combined with exposure to ultra-violet light can cause this kind of unpleasant skin reaction. Paul’s burns took several weeks to heal, and have left a slight change of pigmentation of the affected skin. Since Paul already suffers from a condition known as Vitiligo (a lack of pigmentation in areas of the skin) this could well make him more at risk. We live and learn ….. now gloves and long sleeves are used when dealing with fig trees !!!