August 22, 2006

Transformation

I am shedding. Layers of translucent skin, white and ragged, scrape off as I wriggle my fingers.

Last week, I could barely use my hands, they had so reacted to the delicate toxins of the poison ivy plant. The skin between my fingers swelled up until my hands looked like they belonged in a Harry Potter book, a reaction to a spell or a potion gone wrong. When the itching drove me crazy, I held my hands under hot water. The hot water made the itching even worse, an intense urgency that is borderline erotic, but then when I pulled my hands away from the heat, I could feel the relief, sort of like the chemicals that come after a good cry or sex.

I've read that you should never break the blisters, but when some of them puffed to the size of kidney beans, I considered taking a sterilized needle to them. Of course, I did not have the patience to find the sewing kit or sterilize a needle -- I am not a patient person even when I don't have a weird itching rash all over my body -- so instead I took a thumbtack out of a band poster in the boys' room and popped the blisters with that. Yeah, all the oozing fluid was a bit disgusting, but at least I could close my fingers again.

Poison ivy rash keeps me awake on a hot August night, making me toss and turn and think about all about all the usual demons that come in the dark of the night -- doubts, insecurities, stupid mistakes. It's as if the plant knows how to trigger the fear and sadness trapped just under our skin.

But now, more than a week later, the skin is sloughing off, peeling away. The edges hurt, even after I soften my skin in the shower, and yet, it seems miraculous. All the soreness, the puffiness, the angry red welts have disappeared.

And underneath grows clear new skin, the colour of spring petals, smooth and beautiful.

30 comments:

BrightStar said...

I admire that you can find a beautiful metaphor out of something that sounds so painful.

Mona Buonanotte said...

The feeling you describe of your hands under hot water...same feeling I get with Dr. Bronner's liquid peppermint/hemp soap. Sponge some of that on your body, in a hot shower, and you start shivering, it's soo good.

I'm with you...my good intentions of sterile equipment don't always make it to the forefront of my energy reserves, and I end up rubbing sandpaper on my rough elbows or using a very sharp knife on that sliver. It's a wonder I'm not dead.

Chip said...

yikes, sounds awful (the rash part). I've somehow managed to survive this long and never (as far as I remember) get poison ivy. Maybe I'm not doing something right...

jo(e) said...

Chip, you must be one of those lucky people who isn't allergic to it.

And you probably shouldn't have told me that because now I am likely to beg you to come and help me do yard work.

RLT said...

I'm so glad that ordeal is over for you - especially with such lovely results. One more metaphor for something wonderful coming out of something ugly and painful.:)

Yankee, Transferred said...

I'm so glad you're there to make something so unpleasant have an "up" side.

Glad you're on the mend.

turtlebella said...

I get poison ivy rashes too, not that bad though, and I always have to pop the blisters I get. It's just too satisfying not to. Probably doen't help the healing process, but in anycase, your new skin sounds lovely!

Sara said...

I am curious why it is ill advisable to break the blisters... risk of infection perhaps. I also suffer from poison ivy, and poison sumac if I am so careless. It may be completely unfounded, but I always feel like it heals quicker after breaking the blisters. A good way for the squeamish to do this without needles is with a washcloth--wet it down with hot water and maybe a little rubbing alcohol, and scrub away. The abrasion usually does the trick.

Anyway, glad you're feeling better.

Silver Creek Mom said...

Poor You.

I'm glad you getting better.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

jo(e), I so love your blog. This was beautiful.

That borderline erotic feeling you described -- I feel that on mountain bike rides when I've been pedalling gradually uphill for awhile, then need to make a big push up something steep. I don't know if it's the adrenalin or the bike seat : )

Erin said...

You've been remarkably good natured about the whole thing, really. I would have been miserable and complaining.

Erin said...

I have a fairly mild reaction to PI, but I discovered some summers ago that I also react to the skin of mangos, which apparently contains the same alergen. I wouldn't want to miss out on any of the flesh, so I'd slurp madly at it. Needless to say, I stopped that ladylike behavior after my little alergic reaction.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Knowing how much poison ivy you have on your land, it's not surprising that you have it! I use the same heating my skin to almsot unbearable temperatures to relieve the itching. I've never found any potions that really help, though I've tried calamine and ivy dry etc. I avoid anything with steriods as they are so VERY bad for you.

Linda (FM) said...

This is a nice, even though a bit gross, image of transformation. But, if it's all the same to you, I won't be using it for my tattoo. ;-)

pPB said...

I'm still itchy, just reading this, transformation or no.

Chip said...

uh-oh....

Dr.K said...

I have a friend who eats poison ivy all the time. He's not allergic to it, though. He's a landscaper, and some Shawnee guys he used to work with would eat it all the time, swearing that it gave them immunity. He started, slowly at first, and he tells me now that the yellow flowers are especially delicious--sweet as candy, with this lovely flowery undertone. Lest you get any ideas, he also told me about the woman who heard of this technique, sat down to a bowlful of poison ivy greens, smothered them in 1000 Island dressing, and ate the whole salad. Unfortunately, she died. So, just keep washing your hands!

jo(e) said...

Dr.K: My friend PlantsWoman, who is both a botanist trained in western science and a native woman who has learned from native elders, says that when she accidentally touches poison ivy, she looks for jewelweed and rubs the juice from the plant on herself to prevent the poison ivy rash.

Unfortunately, where I live, I've got about 50 acres of poison ivy and very little jewelweed.

turtlebella said...

Jewelweed does indeed help! You need more wettish area on your land, jo(e), they like that.

Allergic reations to poison ivy can develop over repeated exposure so anyone who thinks they aren't allergic should take care, lest they someday start developing the allergy, after which it just gets worse and worse. I'm not an MD, I'm just a poor hungry doctor in botany but I would not advise eating the stuff, regardless of one's initial (non-)reaction.

Rana said...

I can't resist popping blisters, either. Or scratching itchy things. ;)

(You're lucky that the end result is beautiful new skin. Alas, some of us end up with scars or weird brown spots. :P )

Acre said...

I was incredibly interested and relieved to hear from a doctor friend of mine that even (some) doctors, at the height of a very bad cold or intense pain or the like can be taken by that irrational feeling of wanting to die or thinking death likely. Even if you know, intellectually, that you will be fine, it's as if a part of your body loses the memory of what it means to recover, so that you learn it over and over again. I love that stunned relief of learning that lesson again and the intense gratitude for healthy body (or whole skin) that comes with it. Thanks for such a beautiful post and a reminder of that gratitude.

Arbitrista (formerly Publius) said...

Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew.

molly said...

So glad you're healing. Just a general comment. This has become one of my favorite sites. Your writing and photos are always a welcome stop as I travel along my day. I can't believe you'd get hate mail. I sit here wishing that I could ever be lucky enough to be a student in your class. Keep it up. You make my day a bit brighter.

Dr.K said...

Jewelweed is one of my favorite plants. I learned somewhere that it takes the itch and pain out of nettle stings, and nettles are a real issue in moist river bottoms around where I live--ouch! It works, too, almost immediately. When I go into a nettley looking area I pick a sprig of jewelweed to take along. And by the way, I think eating poison ivy is nuts. No one should do that.

Sara said...

Jewelweed works for mosquitos bites, too, in that it is soothing and reduces the itchiness. Truly a wondrous plant.

Mommy off the Record said...

Yikes, poison ivy sounds painful. So glad you are getting over it.

This was a wonderful post. I loved how you used this experience to show that even though painful experiences may leave their mark, there is an end to pain and it can even lead to something beautiful.

BeachMama said...

You truly amaze me, finding beauty even in poison ivy. Not many would find the beauty, but you sure did.

purple_kangaroo said...

Only you could make poison ivy so poetic. You're a wonderful writer.

Pure Luck said...

I am not sure but I think I might be one of those immune people (at lest for now) I have done my fair share of bushwhacking in areas likely to have poison ivy and have never had anything like that reaction. I got a mild itch on my calf once that might have been it. Anyway I do have a story to share about it, but it's not mine. Some time ago a friend of mine was in the woods when the call of nature came in and he did not put it on hold, being without the accoutrements of civilisation he used some handy leaves. Those leaves happened to be poison ivy. If you think having it on your hands is bad...

Anyway what is this jewelweed you speak of? Any link to a picture and where it grows?

A said...

Delurking briefly to marvel at your lyric description of poison ivy! I have a wicked case right now on my neck and face, described by one of my colleagues as "leprous": I eagerly await the emergence of the "spring petals"!