Thursday, October 15, 2009

Soapmaking accident

Earlier today (technically, yesterday, since it's after midnight) I broke two cardinal rules of soapmaking. I was distracted, and I wasn't wearing eye protection. I had to leave the house at 1:00, and it was 12:45. I had already mixed up all the oils before having lunch, so I only had to mix up the lye solution, add it to the oils, mix, and pour. That didn't sound like such a big challenge for 15 minutes, right?

Unfortunately, I chose a fragrance that tends to make the soap seize, meaning it turns the soap into mashed potatoes, and you're supposed to pour when it's the consistency of a runny pudding. And instead of pouring into my long, rectangular molds, I was pouring into Pringles cans, which meant I had a pretty small target. The soap was getting thicker by the second and coming out in clumps and plopping all over the edges of the cans, so I leaned over to see better, and PLOP! SPLASH! The mixture was in my left eye!

I screamed and ran straight to the sink and stuck my head under the faucet. I couldn't hold it there for very long, because it's just kind of weird to hold your eye under running water. I have a room out in the barn where I make soap, and I was alone, so I realized I needed to get help, which was in the house. Adrenaline is an amazing thing. I have never run so fast, and if I was winded, I didn't even notice. I got into the house and was screaming to my son Jonathan (the only person home) that I got lye in my eye. I tried to stick my eye under the kitchen sink, but it wasn't working as well. I got a syringe (no needle) and laid down on the guest room bed and tried to squirt water in my eye, but it was not easy. It was excruciating when I tried to pull my upper lid up and squirt water there. I went to my laptop, which was on the dining room table and googled, "soapmaking lye eyes," and immediately saw an article written by a woman whose toddler spilled 2/3 gallon of 40% lye solution over his entire body. I hadn't read much when I looked across the dining room table and out the window. My beautiful pond was blurry, and my distance vision has always been better than 20/20. That's when it clicked. I could be blind in that eye if I didn't get all the lye out, and I told Jonathan that we needed to go to the ER.

Information on lye safety always says to flush the eye for 15 or 20 minutes and get medical attention. I never quite understood why you did both. Well, now I know. Both are necessary! As we were driving to the hospital, I was doing the math ... 12.75 ounces of lye + 26 ounces of goat milk + 88 ounces of oil = 1% lye. That's not so bad. I probably don't need to go to the hospital. (My husband corrected my math this evening -- that's 10% lye!) Well, as Jonathan drove, it started to feel like there was something in my eye, so while one side of my brain said 1% lye wasn't a big deal, the other side disagreed, and luckily I didn't tell Jonathan to turn around and go home.

When we got to the hospital, another patient was at the triage window, but I piped up and said, "Excuse me, I have lye in my eye - L - Y - E - lye." Someone immediately said, "Through here," and took me straight to a room. Within a couple minutes, a nurse had asked me about drug allergies and put a drop of something in my eye to numb it. She then placed a giant contact-lens-looking thing in my eye, tucked under the upper and lower lids. There was a tube attached to the middle of it, and the other end of the tube was connected to a liter of fluid. The nurse informed me that they would need to flush the entire liter through my eye. If this sounds painful, well, it was. I was wrapping my ankles around each other, squeezing my hands together, pressing my shoulders in the bed, and telling myself to relax. I knew I was hyperventilating, because my hands were tingly, and I was dizzy. The numbing drops would only last for about 200-300 ccs, and then I'd need more numbing medication, so we had to remove the lens thingy, add another stingy drop, and put the lens thingy back in and start over again. I told the nurse, "The last time I had this much fun, I got a cute baby at the end."

She laughed and said, "This time you're just getting a bill." She was very nice. She kept telling me I was doing a great job and was really tough. She even looked at Jonathan and said, "Your mom is really tough." Yeah, I thought, she probably tells that to all her patients, but it sounded good to me at the time.

The doctor came in after the eye was flushed and asked me what happened. When I explained to him that the lye was already mixed up and I was pouring it, he said, "So, really it's just like you got soap in your eye."

"No." I took a deep breath. "Let me explain to you how soapmaking works." Then I proceeded to explain the whole process and said at the end, so it's probably about 1% lye -- which he did NOT correct! He just said, "Well, it's still a pretty caustic substance."

I can't even begin to tell you all the things they did to me after the eye was flushed. I lost count of the different drops they put in it for all the different examinations, but the vision in my left eye was not good. At the end of the exam, the doctor said that there was "significant damage" and he wanted to call an ophthalmologist.

I went from the ER to the ophthalmologist's office, which was half an hour away. I laid down the car seat and put on sunglasses, which didn't help, so I put a towel over my head. They had dilated my eye, so light increased my agony. Jonathan asked if it was okay to drive 75, and I said, "No. I'm not dieing. It doesn't really matter how fast you get there."

At the ophthalmologist's office, they repeated a few of the exams. The doctor dictated a lot of incomprehensible non-English words to his assistant, which sounded really bad. I asked, "So, I have a chemical burn on my cornea?"

"Yes." He told me about a couple different options and said the best one was to put a contact lens in my eye to protect it from my eyelid. I have to laugh because my mother always said, "Never say never!" Well, I really figured it would be safe for me to say that I'll never wear contact lenses, but apparently not. I am sitting here with a contact lens in my left eye. He was right -- it feels weird, but it feels much better than my eyelid scratching my eyeball every time I blink. That was horribly painful.

I have antibiotic drops for my eye, as well as drops that he described as "like ibuprofen drops," which are for pain and swelling. I'm also taking extra-strength Tylenol, which I'm surprised seems to help. I know when it wears off after about six hours. It also helps with the headache that's probably just a result of stress.

So, I learned some really valuable lessons today! After six years of soapmaking, I had become much too relaxed about the fact that I am working with a caustic substance that can do serious damage. I get splatters on my skin every now and then, and it's not a big deal. It burns, I rinse the skin, put vinegar on it, which neutralizes any lye that didn't get rinsed off, and that's the end of it. Getting it in your eyes is a very big deal. (Of course, spilling a lot of it on your skin would be a very big deal too.) The doctor said my eye will probably heal, but we'll know more when I go in on Friday to have the contact lens removed.

If you're a soaper or if you ever want to make soap in the future, PLEASE wear eye protection! I feel unbelievably stupid. As the ER doctor said, no one expects to get in a car accident, but we wear our seat belt just in case. Like I tell my children, they're called "accidents" because we don't do them on purpose!

Both doctors said that I averted a lot of damage by flushing my eye immediately. So, if you do get lye or a lye solution in your eye, irrigate it as much as you possibly can, then head straight to the ER! But if you're wearing your eye protection, the odds of getting lye in your eyes is pretty slim. My entire ordeal could have been avoided if only I had been wearing goggles.

And the really weird twist to the story is that I was supposed to teach a soapmaking class last night at a local community college. Obviously, the class was canceled. I'll certainly have a lot more emphasis on safety when that class is rescheduled!


SkippyMom said...

I am so glad you are okay. Yes, yes, yes eye protection. The worse I ever did [and I felt like I was DYING for days] was burn my foot...nothing like the eye tho'

I am so happy you are okay. Did you, at least, get a cool colored contact lense? A la' David Bowie? heehee!

[My confirmation word is: in you neeeeeed to resssst. Hugs!]

SkippyMom said...

PS - I meant the worst thing I ever did WHILE soap making :D

Donna said...

OMG...I will make sure to have on safety glasses when I do my soap! I have always been very lazy about it (in the past)! No more....I'm buying a pair of glasses today! Take care...I'm glad you reacted so quickly!

Melissa said...

Wow Deborah! What a story. I'm hoping to someday make my own soap and I know that when I do this story with stick with me and I'll be sure to wear goggles...
Sending healing vibes your way and hope your appointment tomorrow goes well!

BlueGate said...

Sending this to all my soap-making friends right now! Thanks for sharing and hope all is back to normal soon!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to read that you are ok - talk about scary. I've not made soap yet but when I do, goggles are so in place!
Glad you had someone home to drive you.

Cricket said...

I am so glad you are okay. It is hard to imagine that a tiny bit of something can do so much damage, and yes, we all get careless about safety with the things we do all the time. I don't make soap, but I have been known to paint ceilings and sand without eye protection, only remembering to put safety glasses on when something gets close to my eyes and reminds me. So this is a good reminder for me as well: take care of your eyes. Keep them safe. I hope your eye heals well. My thoughts are with you.


Wow! Not funny! I'm so glad you were smart enough to know to rinse your eye well and to get to the ER. Thank Goodness your son was at home with you to drive.

My husband and I make Irish bagpipes which requires using a lathe. I was boring out a hole down the length of a piece of delrin when BAM!! the bit broke! It flashed past my face slicing my nose as it went. It didn't hurt and I wasn't worried until I felt something wet on my face. Wiped it and BLOOD. I went calmly upstairs to show my husband. He was duly impressed. Luckily it was a small cut and he put a butterfly bandage on it to keep it closed. It healed very well.

I have a full face mask (like a welders mask but make of clear plastic) which I now use whenever I get near the lathe or the band saw or the sander... anything that might spit bits of brass, etc. at me.

We both have learned valuable lessons.

Thanks for sharing with us.

Keeping all fingers crossed for a good clean healing for your eye.

Keep us posted.

MaskedMan said...


Well, if nothing else, this confirms your 'expert' status. That is to say, amatures make mistakes, but to really screw up, it takes an expert. Plus, you can't be an expert until you've got at least one personal horror story.

OK, so... Now that you've earned your 'expert' badge... Don't do it again!

Follow the doc's orders, and heal well. Best wishes for an uncomplicated recovery.

Mom L said...

I know the best lessons are the ones we learn the hard way, or at least the lessons stick with us then. But wow! I'm impressed with your quick actions, glad Jonathan was there, and I hope it heals well.

Nancy in Iowa

Nancy's Soap Recipes said...

Wow that's a scary story! It's great that you went to the ER straight away... I hope you don't have any permanent damage. This post was extremely helpful to me, because I can get lazy at times and not use all the appropriate protection... So, thank you!

Jenny Holden said...

Oh what an awful thing to go through and what a horribly hard lesson to learn! Sending you get better hugs across the pond x

~*~ Shar ~*~ said...

Thank you so much for your article and cautions! It's well written and I was feeling your pain along with reliving my daughter having cut her cornea when she was about 4!

I've got everthing but the time to learn to make soap and I have now learned another valuable tip that I hadn't read or learned..... wear the goggles all the time once starting with the lye and even through the pouring! I thought I only needed them for the lye mixing into the goat milk and the oils!

I'm sorry for your injury and am sending healing vibes for your eye to recover completely! Thank you for educating us!

Deborah Niemann said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments, and thanks to Masked Man for confirming my "expert" status. No, Skippy Mom, no cool color, just a clear contact.

I was hoping to teach this afternoon, but have been staying in my bedroom with shades down all morning. When I went in the bathroom I saw that my left eye was still dilated. I called the dr office, and they said it will be dilated for 12-24 hours. Yikes! Now I understand why he said that today would be a good day to catch up on sleep or just lay in bed and listen to music.

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing, and I hope your eye heals without incident or damage. No matter what we do it is easy to get complacent and forget to take prudent precautions. You give us all a good reminder!

Angela Rountree said...

Wow, I hope you sustain no permanent corneal damage, Deborah.

FYI, if all you did was clench your fists, cross your ankles and hyperventilate, you are definitely one of the more stoic ER patients. And, yes, eye inuries give their victims horrific headaches.

Good luck and happy healing.

Sharon-The OKI StampQueen said...

Deborah - my prayers that you sustain no permanent damage are with you-and that the pain will subside soon if it hasn't already! I suffer(ed) for years with what's called corneal erosions---and I KNOW your pain! Those numbing drops/ointment don't last nearly long enough! Rest, rest, rest--particularly with your eyes closed! Book(s) on tape are my suggestion! If one eye is open, the other is moving and moving = irritation...sigh. Take care and be good to yourself. Blessings, Sharon ps/e-mail your address and I will send you one of my herbal eye pillows-relaxing and soothing.

Caprifool said...

And what do you do after all this? You go home and write one of your longest blogpostes ever, with one eye :-)

Get a lot of rest! Take care of your self. Or even better, get every one ells to take care of you. Pamper you even. Chocolate.....and lots of it, helps.

Anonymous said...

Just a FYI for everyone.

The kitchen sprayer on a medium water pressure makes a great way to wash your eye.

Your head is in a natureal position. the water runs off your face, not into your hair. and you have much more control of the water.

KimS said...

THANK YOU for this reminder!! Yikes! I need to remember: all it takes is one time! Praying for your eye to heal completely & this to just become a part of your lessons when you teach!

Becky Utecht said...

Oh my gosh, what a story! My prayers are with you for a complete recovery. Thanks for sharing your story, I just got home from buying soap ingredients and was planning to make a batch this afternoon. I'll keep those goggles on!

Tammy said...

Wow...I'm so sorry to hear this. What did you find out from the doctor today? You are so right--they call them accidents for a reason and sometimes they just happen. I think that this has been a good reminder for all soap makers, unfortunately at your expense. :-( It sounds like you did everything right after it happened though. Some might have reasoned themselves out of an ER visit and caused much worse damage to themselves. I hope the news is good. (as an aside, years ago, my neighbors, who were in to allot of the self sustainable things, got careless and left lye under the sink. Their two year old daughter drank some of it. She survived, but had to have multiple surgeries to repair the damage. The pain was extreme for her. I know she is an adult now, but since they moved away, I've never heard if there was any long term damage. Scary stuff...)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J said...

I'm new to soap making and have been doing extensive research on lye safety because Material Safety Data Sheets never recommened vinegar. But every soap maker, blogger, and soap supply company seems to! I really hope people learn from your experience. I've seen too many videos where people are so relaxed about proper safety, it's ridiculous! GOGGLES, not glasses, are best. And even if you wear eyeglasses, those are not enough!! Put GOGGLES over your glasses. I'm not saying this to you, just those that may read it. You learned the hard way. FLUSHING with water is the key, not rubbing, spraying or dousing with vinegar. This is a myth!!! Read the MSDS for lye. I hope you're fully recovered!

Deborah Niemann said...

I certainly hope you didn't read anything that said to put vinegar in your eyes. I know lots of people to say to put vinegar on your skin, which does neutralize small amounts of lye because I've done that. But you definitely do NOT want to put vinegar in the eyes. That would do as much harm as the lye would.


Related Posts with Thumbnails