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  • Writer's pictureTara DeVincenzo


Warning: there is some value in this tale that no one told me. I beg of you, wear gloves when preparing jalapeños.

10:20 PM “I’m clawing an ice pack after having tried every other remedy I could find on Google, including a paste of baking soda, the highest proof alcohol we had (Georgi), both vegetable and olive oils, lemon juice, sour cream, and a washcloth soaked in milk.

It is safe to assume the oil is completely absorbed into the skin.

I smoked enough weed to give me the giggles, but that was only because I had reached the point of tears from the pain.

Three hours in, and the heat is immense. I probably won’t sleep. I have taken 800 mg of ibuprofen. The next stop is melatonin.

I cannot see it getting worse, which I guess is good. However, it is so bad I’m thinking in extreme scenarios, including calling the nicest person I ever knew, a childhood friend, to bring me a leaf of aloe vera from PA; A, because it’s the only remedy I haven’t tried and B, because some guy on Reddit said it was the only thing that brought him relief.

This is trench warfare. This is the inferno. The only place to go is deeper.

It all started on a Tuesday.

I had a brown bag in the fridge that was busting at the brim with peppers. My boyfriend, Rich, would be home within an hour, so I thought I’d make some jalapeño poppers as hors-d’oeuvres before I began making dinner.

The jalapeños on hand were small, truly bite-sized. I couldn’t maneuver well with a spoon, so I decided to simply scrape out the seeds with my fingers.

Each tiny jalapeño held a menacing secret. And they held it well.

They took about 15 minutes to prepare, 12 minutes to cook, and 10 minutes to enjoy. And I did enjoy them. They were filled with a creme cheese and cheddar concoction, accented with bacon and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. The pepper still had some crunch, and the heat was low enough that we finished the full fresh batch over a glass of wine.

It was about 7:30 when they were polished off. It was about 7:31 when I began to feel the heat.

10:25 pm “I don’t even have the mental capacity to watch television. I can only lie here, urging myself not to succumb to the sheer pain.

Nature is metal.

I started just by washing my hands. The cool water gave me a triumphant sensation of beating the beast. Little did I know I was dealing with an untamable titan.

With Rich’s help, we finished dinner – a dinner I could hardly stomach, as I struggled with my fork to feed myself.

Then I began the cascade of home remedies. I soaked in milk, sloshed around in sour cream, drenched in vodka, dripped in oil. Nothing worked.

I tried to sit through a new episode of Big Mouth, but even the hilarious havoc of pubescent hormones couldn’t distract me from the scorching dominion that those poppers had over my digits.

Reduced to tears, I took an ice pack and took myself to bed.

10:37pm “My fingers are cramped. My skin feels tight. Every finger feels like it’s dripping flames.”

Part of the horror lies in the fact that without dexterity, I had to revert to recording this event in a voice memo and then *gulp* playing my own voice back to recount it.

10:48pm “Whether it’s the 800mg or the ice pack I’ve been clutching, I feel some relief.

It must be the ice pack. As soon as I took my hands away from it, the burning returned. It was a slow, creeping burn. It started distantly… like a single arrow was shot from the center of my bones aimed outwardly at the skin. Then I began getting rained on by pain, millions of tiny little arrows that joined into a chorus of excruciation.

I’ve flipped the icepack over, but my fingers don’t fit as nicely as they did in the crevices I melted into on the other side.

Pretty sure I still have a few hours left of this.”

Rich found me in bed, my head propped up, staring at my trusty ice pack. I had taken two tablets of ibuprofen after dinner. He suggested I take another two.

 10:55pm “It must also have something to do with the Advil. The pain stays away for a few seconds when I’m removed from the ice, but it never stays away indefinitely."

It had been a rough couple of weeks. I had been stressing so much about money that I could have made myself sick. Looking at the aftermath of my mental breakdown, I think I had. One morning I woke up fine and within a few minutes, I had a dizzying, debilitating headache. I did my research on that too (calling in the help of some actual professionals for that as well) and the conclusion was similar: this wasn’t going to go away quickly and easily.

“All the while, as if Alfred Hitchcock himself were directing, I have vertigo.

It’s almost 11 o’clock. I’ve added two tablets of melatonin to the internal anti-burn arsenal.”

I was whinging, I was brooding, I was furious.

Every night I stand over my pub-style table scrolling through Pinterest for recipe inspiration. This night was no different. None of the recipes I pulled up about jalapeño poppers alluded to the danger or offered precautionary advice. I had few options except to try to sleep it off.

“The misery has spread.

I can’t seem to stop this. It’s a monster that’s been set loose in my nervous system.

Though Rich has drugged me, he left some time to explain the science before I spiral into oblivion. Because your brain thinks you’re on fire, which, essentially, you are, it produces dopamine as a means to combat the scorch.

Not quickly enough, but that’s the theory. More on that when I have functionality over my hands again to research.”

I slept through the night and awoke free from the clutches of enflamed fingers. There’s a slight lingering that I’m not sure if I should attribute to the residual beneath-the-skin burning or chalk up to the aftermath of attempting to scrub the capsaicin from my pores.

The strange thing about pain is that you can’t really quite grasp it until you’re in its midsts. At peak inferno last night, while reading through Reddit threads of how others have coped with the affliction, people’s accounts of the pain pinpointed what I was trying to relay.

One person said it feels like they had just “fisted satan” while another user, who made the utter apocalyptic mistake of touching his genitals with capsaicin-soiled hands, noted that it made him “question his will to live.”

In the light of day, with a clear head, I can attest that as I soaked, scrubbed, and iced my emblazoned fingertips last night a menacing thought crept into my head: cut them off.

If you’ve never felt the sting of dozens of jalapeños injecting their juices into your skin, it may sound undeniably insane. When the burn initially started, I equated it to pressing my fingers against a hot stove.

After a few hours over an open flame, not having fingers sounded much more manageable.

The only way I could fight fire was with ice. Foregoing my pillow pets, I slept with an ice pack. The towel I draped over it (so as to perhaps not do further damage to the skin with direct contact) began to take on life-like qualities. In actuality, it was just sitting against my bent knees being gripped by my wretched jalapeño hands. To me, it seemed more like a caped-crusader, a cloaked-vigilante whose foe was an army of angry oils that infested my nerve endings.

I have always been a fan of spicy food and, miraculously even after this event, I won’t give it up. I learned so much more about it than I had ever known like the terrible danger it possesses and, as I was told while being tucked in, the underground allure for masochists.

It’s true. The very active, very hot compound in peppers that burnt my fingers is a big part of its popularity. Some of those far-too-hot-to-handle peppers, like Carolina reapers and ghost peppers, are so jam-packed with sensory danger that the brain is inclined to produce dopamine. Get some peppers that are really high on the Scoville scale and you may start actually getting lifted. Some people report hallucinating and it’s believed that the Mayans figured this out and used it to get hopped-up.

Is the high worth the fry? For me, not a chance in Hell. This October night was a horror scene like I’d never encountered. My only hope now is that I never encounter it again.

Happy Halloween.


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