Blood on the guacamole: Is avocado hand reaching epidemic proportions?
Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel just wanted something to eat.
The man makes his living thinking about food, writing about food and, of course, eating, so surely, in the comfort and safety of his own home, Vettel could find something to snack on. In fact, he found the perfect thing: an avocado.
Let’s just say it: Avocados are good. They are green, yet unctuously, seductively fatty. They are, against all odds, given their deliciousness, healthy. In fact, if you don’t like them, you’re probably friendless and alone by now, because Americans consume about 7 pounds each, every year. The UK is onto the craze too. In Mexico and Latin America, where the fruits are native, they’ve been gobbling them up for centuries.
Vettel just wanted his share.
But there was a stumbling block between man and the silky flesh of his avocado. Vettel didn’t count on the avocado’s reputation for danger.
Here’s where our story gets a little dicey. “I had just had my knives sharpened,” Vettel says. And so, when he split his avocado into two perfect halves, the blade slid through the fruit as if through butter. His anticipation increased. But the pit, that woody, pingpong ball-sized orb in the middle, was stubborn. “I couldn’t get it out,” says Vettel, “so I started to dig in with the tip of the knife.” Unfortunately, he was holding the avocado and pit in his unprotected hand, which is where the freshly sharpened knife ended up when it slipped, jamming deep into his finger. He remained calm. He waited. But the bleeding wouldn’t stop. And so Vettel wound up at the emergency room, where he found out that he wasn’t the first foodie to fall victim to his love for avocados.
In fact, injuries connected with avocados are so common there’s a name — a hashtag, even — for them: avocado hand. This week, talk show host Joy Behar missed work on “The View” because she was hospitalized for an infection after an avocado hand incident. “Bachelorette” star Andi Dorfman posted on social media about her surgery for avocado hand. Even Meryl Streep had it, showing off her bandaged hand in 2012.
The rise in injuries is attributable to the fruit’s rise in popularity. Starting in the 1990s with the advent of NAFTA (and a ready supply of Mexican-grown avocados), avocado consumption in the U.S. has skyrocketed. Since 2002, our consumption of the fruit has increased by 250 percent. Throw in a few billion servings of avocado toast, and you’ve got a lot of lacerations. Here’s how bad it’s gotten: Last year, the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons recommended that warning labels be placed on avocados.
“I see it fairly frequently,” says Dr. Scott Dresden of Northwestern University’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “Patients try to stab the pit, the knife slips off the pit and they stab the hand. Or patients do a sort of hacking motion with the long blade of the knife into the pit, and hack into the webbing between the thumb and the forefinger instead. Those are two really common ways this happens. And they can be pretty nasty.”
If you fall victim to the avocado hand, Dresden says the most important thing to remember is basic first aid. Elevate the hand, and apply direct pressure to the wound with a couple of fingers. “This may be painful, but it’s the quickest way to stop the bleeding and much better than a big wrap like a towel, which just absorbs blood.” If you’ve stopped the bleeding, irrigate the wound with cold tap water. “Turn the tap on all the way.” And “if you can’t stop the bleeding or it’s a particularly gaping wound, come to the emergency department, and we’ll stitch you up.”
Dresden says patients typically are sent home with a big bandage and a few stitches. But the hand is a complex mechanism — “there are a lot of tendons in there … so it can be tricky.”
If you cut a tendon, you’ll be looking at an appointment with a hand surgeon for further assessment. “We want to make sure you regain good function.”
Even if you make it through the ER without much drama, you’ll still have to weather the avo hand attitude of your friends and family. Be prepared: The injury may be common, but it’s also commonly mocked. “Avocado hand, the most millennial injury ever …” goes one social media post.
You want to provoke people at a party? Bring up avocado hand, and prepare to be bombarded with everything from passionately held opinions about the “right” way to prep an avocado to assertions that you probably deserve to bleed as penance for your sheer stupidity. This is because, admittedly, there is probably no more preventable injury on earth. Even Vettel seems a little embarrassed: “It was a combination of impatience, stupidity and poor knife skills,” he says. “I know better.”
When I broached the subject with Tribune food writer Louisa Chu, a trained chef, she narrowed her eyes and shook her head in disbelief. “Why?” she said, “just … why?” In Chu’s world, avocados are a fruit that can be peeled with your fingers — provided they are properly ripened. Once you’ve stripped away enough of the peel, just hold the fruit and smoosh the flesh out through the opening. (You were going to mash it up anyway, right?) And if you insist on re-enacting that split-it-into-two-perfect-halves technique, she says, just scoop the pit out with a spoon. Don’t do any thwacking, chopping or stabbing. Please. “There is no reason to bring a chef’s knife to an avocado fight,” she says. “It’s gratuitous.”
Vettel says he has learned the lesson — he’s been using an avocado slicing gadget someone sent him. His finger is healed but still pains him, so he’s headed to a hand specialist. Experience in the ER has taught Dresden to shy away from the knife too — he’s a committed spoon guy. But there are plenty of cases of avocado hand just waiting to happen. “You go to a restaurant, and they’re making tableside guacamole,” the ER doctor says, “and they start hacking at the pit, and you’re just sitting there cringing …”
Excuse me, but is that blood on my avo toast?