June 21, 2013

Poison ivy: the price you pay


“No, it’s not leprosy,” I said to the teenager who kept sneaking horrified glances at my bare arms while she was ringing up my groceries. “It’s poison ivy rash.”

Last weekend, I wore the blue dress I wear to every wedding because the swirly skirt is great for dancing. The short sleeves showed off the oozing, bumpy rash on my legs and arms. I kept the itching at bay with my secret strategy: I periodically went into the restroom and ran hot water over my limbs. The hot water made my skin itch intensely, but then the nerves would go numb for an hour or so.

Artist Friend, who was sitting next to me, observed the rash with interest and began to reminisce about the bad cases of poison ivy he’s gotten over his lifetime. We both like shady places near rivers and streams, or the edges of the woods where just a little sunlight filters in. So does poison ivy.

“I don’t get it as often as I used to,” Artist Friend said.

That made me think. The same thing is true of me. But it doesn’t quite make sense. Humans don’t build up a tolerance for poison ivy. In fact, the reverse is true. The more you get it, the worse your next case will be.

Perhaps it’s that my habits have changed as I’ve gotten older. I tend to sit in chairs instead of sprawling on the ground. I’m more careful as I hike, and I watch where I’m going instead of just running recklessly through the woods. I spend more time inside on the computer during the summer than I used to. I rarely play hide-and-seek in the dark, or stumble through the underbrush while chasing friends. It’s not that often that I flop to the ground without looking first to see what’s there.

When I was a kid, I can remember looking down at my legs in the bathtub after returning from a camping trip. Once the dirt was washed away, I saw bruises, scabs, mosquito bites, and patches of poison ivy rash. Usually, the more beat-up my legs looked, the more fun I'd had that week.

So this summer, I'm making a resolution. I'm going to try to get poison ivy more often.


Susan said...

oy, the bruises, scabs and msoquito bites I can handle but not the PI. More power to you. (And more Zanfel!)

Janice said...

When I was eleven, I rode a horse through some smoke which turned out to be underbrush burning, including poison ivy. Airborne poison ivy gets you itchy evvvvvvverywhere. Ugh.

These days, I'm more afflicted by mosquito bites, especially as we work to house-train our new dog.

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

I'm going to try to get poison ivy more often.

I'll be sure to bring some along on the family camping trip. :-)

Val said...

This is great writing, jo(e).

radagast said...

Agreed, Val. So good it makes me itch.

Anonymous said...

My son is very allergic to poison ivy and when he was about nine, he got in some and it was on the weekend and other than going to the ER where they would just give him beanery, which we had, I had to wait until Monday. My aunt said wash him with diluted but not to much diluted vinegar and she said it would neutralize the oil which cannot be washed off with soap So I did it and the good news, the ivy quit spreading because the oil was neutralized and my son said it quit itching By Monday, his oozing sores began drying up and I took him to the doctor and asked him about the vinegar and he said, makes sense but he gave my son the steroids anyway. My goal was to avoid the steriods as much as possible. Now, he is in his mid thirties and he keeps vinegar in his truck and the first sign of itching, he uses the vinegar.

jo(e) said...

Val and Radagast: Thanks.

Anon: Yeah, it's important to get the urushiol off. I usually wash with dishwashing liquid, which works pretty well. I also take my sneakers off without touching them with my hands (I just kick them off on the edge of the porch) and leave them to dry in the sun. I've got poison ivy in my front yard so I have to take precautions every time I cut the lawn.

mommo4.5 said...

I hear what you're saying about the more scrapes and bumps you had as a kid, the more fun you'd had. But...I can't imagine making an effort to get poising ivy!! It's one of the worst things I've ever dealt with. Even one small spot on my arm can sting to distraction. I applaud your dedication to fun!!! I hope you have a wonderful summer. (But I'm NOT going to hope you get poison ivy.)

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

You sound just like me! I too use the hot-water strategy, I too loved getting all bunged up running wild in the woods as a kid. Poison ivy, bug bites, scratches, scabs--they were all badges of adventure! YAY!

Rana said...

Even a cold-water rinse right after contact will help; my brother is very allergic, and was always getting in it, and he figured that trick out.

(Of course, he also had the theory that maintaining a small patch of it helped immunize him against subsequent exposure... But the cold-water rinse really does work.)

Jennifer said...

Be careful--not with the PI, but with ticks. Lyme disease seems to be even more rampant this summer--at least in Western Mass, and I suspect upstate New York, and the wretched little critters can hide underneath general summer mud and bites. Not a reason to stop exploring, but a reason to be attentive.

Jeff C. said...

My worst poison ivy encounter was after I returned home from a trip to the Amazon. I didn't get poison ivy there as I was super-alert in keeping up with any meds and bug repellent as well as watching where I walked. It was upon my immediate return that I seemingly abandoned common sense and worked in removing overgrown vines spreading like wildfire in my wooded backyard. I just got back from the jungle...I can do this!

Well I not only was rewarded with poison ivy but took some steroid medicine from a GP which had the effect of making everything worse. I finally met with a dermatologist; an older, silver-haired soft talking man who looked me over and shook his head. He prescribed some cream (this was 20 years ago so I forgot what it was) but also told me to change my habits in regards to a continuous replenishment of towels and clothes.

Since then I become almost paranoid - I still work in the woods but with a guarded eye and wash immediately with any kind of soap I can get my hands on after I finish my work.

L said...

Oh, I wish I'd read the comment section of this post earlier! I'm writing my own post about PI & citing you, but I had never heard of Zanfel!! I will buy it and use it next time!